Bring ‘Living Coral’ to life

How to leverage Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year in your garden center’s merchandising.

“Living Coral,” or PantoneTM 16-1546, is the 2019 color of the year. IGCs can inexpensively incorporate the color into displays with fabric to see how customers respond before investing in products.

The Pantone Color Institute’s 2019 Color of the Year is “Living Coral” — a cheerful, peachy shade of orange that “embodies our desire for playful expression,” according to Pantone’s announcement.

“Living Coral emits the familiar and energizing aspects of color found in nature,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “It’s a color that appears often in our natural world via sunsets, undersea reefs, flora and fauna. Because it plays so well off of natural greens, it can bring a soothing warmth to any garden.”

Because of its nature-inspired vibes and stunning versatility, Eiseman thinks “coral would make a great addition to any garden color palette.” But some independent garden center retailers we spoke to seem unsure about how to leverage this bright shade effectively, so we spoke with some experts to get their advice for making Living Coral come alive in your garden center.

Coral is a strong statement; IGCs can stay on trend by offering accessories that provide a pop of color or lean more toward pink and orange hues.

Look for regional retail trends

Jason Whidden noticed plenty of coral-colored clothing and other items on retail shelves, even before Pantone’s announcement this past December. Although he already grows some standard coral-hued flowers like petunias at Forest Glen Greenhouses in Nova Scotia, he’s not sure how quickly this color trend will impact garden centers.

“Coral has been gaining popularity in the last couple years,” says Whidden, grower and co-owner at Forest Glen, which grows annuals and perennials for local Loblaws and Home Depot stores. “But we don’t like to go too heavy on trends. We play a little conservative and wait to see where trends go.”

Further south in Miami, Erik Dietl-Friedli is used to seeing vibrant colors more frequently. As retail manager at Casaplanta Garden Center, he was thrilled to see Living Coral selected as the Color of the Year.

“This trend definitely speaks to my market, because we are not afraid of color; we really embrace it,” Dietl-Friedli says. “But I remember when I lived in New York, how slow and unwilling people were to embrace color. They need to see it in many applications before they choose it for themselves.”

That’s why the amount of coral you’ll see in your region will be directly related to your local customers’ tolerance for bold trends.

“It all depends on your demographic. You have to be really conscious of your consumer,” says Whidden, explaining that his customers are more loyal to traditional reds than to the latest trends.

Because of those regional variances, Dietl-Friedli predicts that coral will take off in coastal areas, but it might be a harder sell and a slower acclimation elsewhere.

“I don’t necessarily see the color translating (into garden centers) immediately, but we’ll start to see it more,” Dietl-Friedli says. “For now, it’s good for us as retailers to know that it is going to be the hot color, and over the next year or two, you’re going to see it featured prominently in décor, in fashion, and in people’s lives. It would be smart to keep that in mind when you’re (planning) your color selection.”

Play with shades

Coral-colored bougainvillea

At Lowland Gardens in Nova Scotia, Gerrie van den Hoek “didn’t give it much thought” when she read the announcement about Living Coral. Like many seasonal retailers, she already placed merchandising orders last September — and besides, coral hasn’t been a popular flower color there previously.

“People in this area are very traditional in their colors and stick to what they like,” says van den Hoek, who owns Lowland Gardens with her husband, Tony. “We’ve tried coral and salmon colors in the past, but they weren’t really successful because our customers are looking for pink or dark red.”

When Lowland Gardens offered a coral Diascia a couple years ago, customers gravitated toward a darker pink variety instead. When they tried a coral begonia, customers opted for a brighter orange.

With this in mind, Dietl-Friedli suggests that retailers in more color-conservative markets incorporate the coral trend by experimenting with shades that veer more orange or steer toward pink instead.

“If you want to try but not jump in, a more conservative market may go more on the orange side of that,” he says. “My market might go more on the pink side, which gives it a more tropical feel.”

Take a “complement”

If you’re still not sure about Living Coral, consider using it as an accent and focus on complementary colors instead.

“You don’t necessarily have to go heavy on that color,” Whidden says. “You could bring in pops of it to show people how it can work with other colors.”

Pantone published five color palettes featuring Living Coral to “illustrate the dynamic nature of this color within various combinations,” according to its website. The “Shimmering Sunset” palette combines coral with a spectrum of pink and orange, while “Under the Sea” matches it with shades of green and blue.

Blues and grays are popular right now — especially if you look at home design trends, Whidden says. He’s noticing more containers in those colors, which make a great accompaniment when potting coral flowers.

Adding a pop of coral can liven up existing color palettes in your stores and in customers’ homes. For example, turquoise and dark brown were a popular color combination several years ago, especially in home décor. “Coral is a great complement to that color palette,” Dietl-Friedli says, “so it gives people who might have a dated look an opportunity to really freshen it up.”


Make displays pop


As a color that occurs naturally, Living Coral has unlimited potential in gardens.

“A wide gamut of flowers and plants can showcase this color,” says Pantone’s Eiseman. “There are opportunities to present the color in hydrangeas, roses, peonies, dahlias, hibiscus, zinnia, gerbera, lantana, impatiens and many more.”

However, growers like Whidden don’t expect production of new coral varieties to spike anytime soon. Instead, promote this trend by combining fresh accessories with familiar coral blooms. At TPIE and other recent tradeshows, Dietl-Friedli has seen coral popping up in new IGC merchandise, from pottery to patio furniture and pillows.

Not convinced your customers would go for coral-colored products? Then start by incorporating the color into a few displays before you place any orders.

“It’s cheap to go to a fabric store and buy a few yards of fabric, and use that as a backdrop for displays,” Dietl-Friedli says, suggesting a simple way to make existing merchandise of any color pop by incorporating coral. If you’re willing to take a slightly longer-term color commitment, Dietl-Friedli suggests painting a wall, floor, or bench in bright coral.

“The product doesn’t necessarily have to be that color,” he says, “but if IGCs use that color, then their customers might feel more confident using it in their own décor.”

Brooke is a freelancer writer living in Cleveland and a frequent contributor to Garden Center magazine and other GIE Media Publications.

February 2019
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