Visual Culture

This Duo Catalogued the Colors of 400 Flowers to Help You Find Your Favorite Blooms

Brienne Walsh
Oct 2, 2018 6:50PM

Anemone. Courtesy of Phaidon.

Hydrangea. Courtesy of Phaidon.

Flowers are one of the most prolific wonders of nature, but if you try to classify one, you might find yourself at a loss for words. What is the name of that one you love, the one you saw at that beautiful event? Its petals are curved like one of Man Ray’s nudes, and it comes in deep shades of purple, but you can’t remember what it’s called, let alone the season it blooms in, or from where it originates.

Enter Flower Color Guide, a reference book on flowers written by Darroch and Michael Putnam, the duo behind the renowned floral design brand Putnam & Putnam.

The book, which is 5 by 7 inches, is designed to be portable, containing 400 varieties of flowers, with each bloom given its own page. It’s organized by color gradation, starting with a white rhododendron molle azalea and ending with a “black star” zantedeschia calla lily, with shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, and blue in between. At the end of the book are notes on basic flower care and suggested color palettes, as well as the seasonal availability of each flower catalogued.


Michael, formerly a professional photographer, photographed each flower, sourced from the Chelsea Flower Market, against a white backdrop in Putnam & Putnam’s West 28th Street office. Although the book could have contained thousands of varieties of flowers—“we could have just done a book on 400 tulips,” said Darroch with a laugh—the duo curated the selection to focus on flowers that are current and trendy in the moment. “These are the flowers we are using in our work,” he noted. They see the book as a widely accessible tool for flower, fashion, and interior designers, as well as brides and floral enthusiasts.

Darroch and Michael Putnam first came up with the idea for Flower Color Guide when they were opening Putnam & Putnam in 2014. The pair met in 2008 at a Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles, and fell in love. Together, they moved to New York so that Darroch could pursue a career in fashion photography, and Michael could attend an interior design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

While interning at an interior design firm, Michael discovered that he felt trapped behind a desk and preferred to work with his hands. On the weekends, as a sort of release, he would buy flowers at the farmer’s market and arrange them. Darroch was impressed by his partner’s talent, and posted photographs of his arrangements on social media. Friends and acquaintances began asking Michael to do the flowers at their events and weddings; before long, the pair were doing enough business to quit their jobs and focus on building Putnam & Putnam together. Four years later, their clients include Harper’s Bazaar, Dior, Jason Wu, and Louis Vuitton. This past April, they designed a multi-page spread in Vogue featuring model Mia Goth.

Astilbe. Courtesy of Phaidon.

Rose. Courtesy of Phaidon.

In making Flower Color Guide, the Putnams are continuing the ancient art of cataloguing flora. The earliest surviving illustrated botanical work dates to the year 512: a copy of Greek philosopher Dioscorides’s De Materia Medica, which was used for 1,500 years as a guide to herbal medicine. Botanical illustrations were especially popular in the 18th century, when artists such as Elizabeth Blackwell, Georg Dionysius Ehret, and Pierre-Joseph Redouté—whose work was reprinted for this year’s Taschen volume The Book of Flowers—used idealized depictions of floral specimens to both educate and entice a new generation of botanists, gardeners, and naturalists.

But the Putnams, who are completely self-taught in the lexicon of flowers, have always been frustrated with the lack of contemporary educational resources in their chosen field. Contemporary flower guides do exist, but they tend to be staid reference tomes that aren’t designed for amateur use—for example, the American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers by Christopher Brickell features over 8,000 varietals of fauna, but the images are small, and the pages are daunting to navigate. Flowers have been a popular subject to capture since the dawn of photography, but classic images of flowers by famed photographers Karl Blossfeldt, Imogen Cunningham, and Robert Mapplethorpe are more concerned with the formal aesthetic properties of a blossom than they are with practical reference.

Calla Lily. Courtesy of Phaidon.

Fritillaria. Courtesy of Phaidon.

Flower Color Guide is different, more akin to a book on colors by Pantone. Browsing through it feels joyful and clean, like walking into a well-appointed house where all of the books on the bookshelves are arranged by color. Even if you have no formal use for the guide, you’ll want to keep on browsing through the pages. And if you do have a formal use, you will learn quickly without feeling overwhelmed.

Eventually, the duo would like to launch a digital platform based on the book—but for now, they’re basking in the achievement of having the book published in the first place. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Darroch said.

Brienne Walsh