Color Charts

Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chartspix by Shields Gardens

Royal Horticultural Society Colour Charts
pix by Shields Gardens

This year, 2013, for the first time, I plan to register iris into the American Iris Society. Naturally I’m thinking about how best to describe colors. I’ve seen the (Greek to me) parenthetical references to colors (many of them obscure and not much help to people who don’t have the color reference to guide them.

For instance, here is the AIS description for Keppel’s iris, ‘Local Color': Standards roman purple (M&P 44-K-10); style arms slightly lighter (42-K-9); falls dark purple (47-L-12), narrow violet (42-JK-8) edge, slight white patterning near beard; beards orange vermilion. I don’t have the slightest idea how ‘roman purple’ differs from ‘dark purple’. I can imagine the color ‘dark purple’, but that doesn’t mean it is the color Mr. Keppel has in mind.

The point is, still using Keppel’s description for ‘Local Color’, here is an iris with four shades of purple in the description. I can’t help but think that Mr. Keppel knows what he’s doing; that must be the best way to describe an iris like that.

I presume, though I don’t know for certain, that Keppel (and others) are using the RHS Color Chart (Royal Horticultural Society). The full-blown set of charts is expensive. However, the RHS Mini Colour Chart is available for 26 pounds (which calculates to $42 on today’s exchange). I believe Santa will be bringing me a belated Christmas present.

There is no question in my mind but that I’ll be using the RHS Chart for my AIS descriptions. What worries me is the technical description might not mean much to the average gardener, who is likely to prefer just plain English. In the end, I suppose it’s best to follow the leaders.

I’ve noticed, however, that descriptions submitted to AIS vary widely. In fact, there seems to be no uniformity at all. It makes me wonder who, if anyone, is steering the ship.

Historical Note: I’ve also heard mention of the Wilson Color Chart; turns out the two charts are one and the same. Robert  Francis Wilson first prepared the chart for the RHS in a short text of 100 pages of color standards, each showing one hue with four color samples together with explanatory text on the history, foreign synonyms and horticultural examples. The first 64 colors are full hues arranged in a spectrum. The remaining 36 are lighter, darker or grayed versions of the full hues. Mr. Wilson pioneered the standardization of colors and color names used for horticulture. It has since been revised and published as the RHS Colour Chart. Unfortunately no information is available as to how to replicate the exact colors in inks available for print.

In other words, what you see may not be what you get – exactly.


Mona L Spaulding Baisch

* Follow the link to connect with the Royal Horticulural Society site.




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