Observing the many 4th of July floral displays, one would think that our national colors are red, white, and purple.White's no problem. More accurately, "almost white" is no problem. Pretty much white. Close enough white. I'll magnanimously forgive a tinge of cream, even yellow, or pink. And red is easy, though I will have more to say about that in a moment.

Blue. Now, that's tough. It's not that there aren't any blue flowers. There are. Some great true blue flowers. They're just not the right size for floral bunting.

Delphiniums come to mind. A wonderful perennial for an eastern exposure in well improved soil. With full afternoon sun and crappy soil, they die young. You may already have learned that for yourself.

Bluebells are blue sometimes. Lobelia. Some fine tender salvias. Gray leafed plants often have true blue flowers. But not petunias. Not geraniums.

So you can have a bed of red petunias and white petunias, but you have to fudge on the blue. The marketing department sells the sizzle, not the steak, and if they think you want blue, they'll call it blue.

If they are imaginative about seeing blue flowers, they forsake reality completely with "blue" leafed plants. But I get sucked in every time.

The "blue" hostas are at best wannabe aqua. I got a Blue Mist fothergilla shrub which sure looks green to me, and it does-n't have the flaming fall color that you plant fothergilla for.

Gray and silver leafed plants are a little more honest, but not always. Certainly my Scot's thistle, planted once years ago and now growing everywhere, is six feet of stunning silver, as is the tiny Dichondra Silver Falls. The many dusty millers - a dozen different plants are called dusty miller - are reliably gray. Licorice plant, not so much.

Gray leaves make a great foil to plant with bright colored flowers. So does black, but black is as carelessly labeled as blue. Black Magic elephant ears and Black Lace elderberry are pretty close. But "black" flowers are usually dark red, and often not all that dark.

Numerous flowers are described as rose colored. I'm not sure what color that is, and seeing the widely different flowers claiming to be rose doesn't help.

And then there is my Nemesis - red.

Sounds simple. Red. And there are lots of red flowers. But there is red and there is red.

In sight out my window is one of the new Big Sky series coneflowers, Echinacea, this one called Sundown, in warm red. It is a beautiful plant and I cringe every time I look at it because it is scarlet.

There are two strains of red - scarlet and crimson. Scarlets are the warm reds, leaning orange and yellow, often associated with sunset or sunrise. Crimsons are the purplish reds. And they hate each other.

You can plant any blues together, even combine them with purple, and it looks fine. There are no yellows or oranges or greens that don't get along. But mixing crimson and scarlet is like fingernails on a blackboard, at least for me. Maybe it's a glandular condition.

I like the crimsons. They're great with gray and silver and black. But that scarlet coneflower caught me in a moment of weakness, so now it's a love hate thing.

We have truth in labeling for food, with exhaustive detail most people don't read anyway. We have volumes of federal regulations on labeling pesticides. Why can breeders get away with saying green is blue and dark red is black and treating both scarlet and crimson the same?

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