Rhymes With Orange

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Design

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Mid July 09 140Last month I started my seasonal orange bender. It being the color of all kinds of wonderful things, from mangoes to sunsets to campfire embers. I can’t get enough of it–in the garden or elsewhere.  So I shared some of my favorite flowers and promised a return to the topic with a post on good leaves for orange themes. Here goes:

 Since I’m endlessly enamored of monochromatic color schemes, or at least mini-chromatic color schemes, I like to explore the subtleties of a single color in a container, container grouping, or–less frequently– as part of a bed or border. Sometimes the intensity I strive for in a pot looks overdone when the same scene is exploded into the more sizable scale of the garden at large. So I try to keep it fairly simple. Contained.  So when it comes to the leaves, a nice deep green is always good–it’s the one garden color that unfailingly goes with all others–but I want leaves that add to my color scheme, not those that simply hold a place, or contribute  solely shape and texture. I want it all. So, I want orange. As it turns out there are a surprising number of plants that bear orange foliage.

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Perhaps best known is coleus (Solenostemonspp. and cultivars). I can name a few off the top of my head…’Sedona’, ‘Rustic Orange’, ‘Copper Queen’…those are almost all orange and there are a whole slew of cultivars which boast smoldering tones of orange or that  yummy deep bronze that looks so smashing with orange. But with coleus I just don’t care a whole lot about names. I care about availability, so I usually just grab whatever I can find that comes close to doing the job for me. Maybe I’m just lucky since I can almost always find ‘Sedona’ or ‘Rustic Orange’ at one of the local garden centers.       

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A good coleus is all the companion a good orange flower might need but it gets better if you throw in an additional player. My go-to plant for for elevating a basic two-fer is Canna ‘Tropicanna’. The bold swaths of its leaves–luridly striped in pinks, bronzes and a whole panoply of orange–are a sure to get attention. I usually place them at the rear of any composiition since they create a stunning backdrop. They even get orange flowers, and though they aren’t the most appealing of blooms (I often lop them off) they do add a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to any effort aimed at going right over the top.

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More subtle is the tropical smokebush (Euphorbia cotinifolia). Its smoldering, garnet-colored leaves are companionable with almost any sizzling hot color, especially reds, and most especially oranges. Salmon-tinged oranges in particular sing with this fantastic plant, but pure oranges make beautiful music as well.

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Orange leaves 003I’m never sure how to pronounce Acalypha, but you don’t have to be able to say it in order to like it. And I do like it. Or, more precisely, I like them. There’s an awful lot of acalyphas out there, and near as I can tell they all look good with orange. So many leaf shapes too. There’s one simple leaf shaped cultivar bigger than my outstretched hand; a little silver dollar or so sized one with dark burgundy centers surrounded by a ring of orange, and there’s one with raggedy little leaves almost like a fern that boasts an orange variegation to boot. And that’s just for starters.  

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Orange leaves 020Last but certainly not least comes the spikey stuff: phormiums, dracaena, those burgundy pennisetums, cordylines. Any of these in colors ranging from an outright orange to rusty brown and bronzey burgundy look stunning with orange. The spikey foliage like that of Cordyline ‘Sundance’, above , or the Dracaena “Home Depot” *actually I think its ‘Tricolor’) at left, complements most any flower I can think of (and most any leaf too) so its hard to go wrong using these with orange. So go ahead, give it, or any of these a try. Orange being a love-it or hate-it color, all you have to lose is your reputation for good taste.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Melanie August 16, 2009, 3:46 am

Steve when were you born? For those of us born in the sixties in Australia and who therefore grew up in the seventies amidst orange kitchens, orange carpeted lounge rooms and whose mother drove an orange car can’t stand this colour! I have no orange flowers in my garden and reject any red flowers that have the slightest hint of orange within. I loathe orange! Or do I? I’ve noticed a subtle weakening of my attitude to this colour and very much fear that what an older gardening friend once told me is coming to pass “all good gardeners come around to orange in the end” he said “just you wait!” Well I will be in good company – Christopher Lloyd came around to orange in the end too!

I was born long enough ago to have experienced that orange craze, but don’t recall one here in the states. Avocado, yes, but not orange. Still, I can see how an orange car could be potentially traumatizing to a developing mind. I’m sure you’ll one day transcend those early color complexes and one day you too may come around to orange. Enjoy it when you get there!–Steve

Kimberly August 16, 2009, 4:05 am

Oh my, I think you just listed all of the plants in my garden! I have spicy red containers, and most of my plants are orange! I do prefer foliage plants, and lots of texture, so coleus, dracaena, phormium, codyline, and tropicanna were perfect for me! I even have a fuchsia plant. And as a bonus, orange marigolds and orange nasturtium to accompany my edibles.

I like marigolds and nasturtiums too, Kimberly. Maybe that’s obvious. I’ll have to hop over to your site and see what sounds like an eye-popping display.–Steve

Kimberly August 16, 2009, 4:06 am

Also, this is a wonderful write up. I’m just jealous that I didn’t do it first.

Thanks Kimberly. You can still do it, just give us your own version. I, for one, would love to see it.–Steve

Susan aka Miss R August 16, 2009, 6:53 am

Cruising around yesterday’s GBBD offerings, those that were the most visually interesting to me were the ones in the very color range you describe. Rich, bold, intense oranges and reds. Luscious.

Janet August 16, 2009, 7:29 am

Wow what an explosion of orange!! Not usually my favorite color in the garden, but your combo is really great!

There’s lots to explore in the world of orange–all kinds of discoveries await.–Steve

Carol August 16, 2009, 10:26 am

Steve… you may enjoy contained and simple planters, but one thing you have in abundance… freely overflowing… is imagination, as this wonderful post illustrates. Great taste… in hues and textures. As always I so enjoy your unique eye in plant forms and colors.

Gee thanks Carol. That for me is the whole fun of gardening, seeing what new ideas I can come up with. That may be why I like the annuals and tropicals –such instant gratification.–Steve

Helen at Toronto Gardens August 16, 2009, 6:33 pm

I also like hot colours with a snap of chartreuse. And you’ve shown (I think) one of my favourite dependables for containers, Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’ which is more or less self-cleaning, has purplish overtones on its foliage and seems to go with everything in the hot family.

I agree on the chartreuse, though its doesant fit my monochromatic efforts as well. As for Gartenmeister–what a plant, you can never have enough. It is very easy to overwinter dormant indoors in a cool basement or whatever, which gives you nice big specimens with lots of splash.–Steve

Susie August 16, 2009, 8:02 pm

I have been on an ‘orange’ thing also the last couple years….I can’t get enough of it! And I used to dislike it! I have just come to find that it really makes all my other favorite color pop. It is gorgeous with purples, blues, white, and my favorite magenta.

Orange and magenta–Wow! now there’s a bold combo! I may have to give that a try.–Steve

Les August 17, 2009, 7:03 am

I saw a pie chart in a trade magazine recently that broke flower colors down by popularity, and I am glad orange had the smallest slice. I would not want my favorite color to get overused by other people.

Plant me firmly on the “love-it” side.

Les, guess we’re both planted on the same side, but I often follow all the color prognosticator’s stuff-you know, what colors will be fashionable next season etc,-and orange is often in the line-up. But it hasn’t made its break-through yet. Maybe that’s a good thing!–Steve

healingmagichands August 17, 2009, 9:53 am

I love orange and there is lots of it in my garden. There is also lots of purple, pink, red, yellow, blue, green and colors in between. What I don’t have a lot of is white!

I’ve never been able to impose the discipline on myself to have just one color or family of colors in my gardens or containers. I run around the garden centers like a disciple of Iris (the Greek rainbow goddess), grabbing up handfuls of colors in all hues and then getting home and saying to myself “What shall I do with this?”

I actually went with a plan to have a planter that was all red and white once, that resolution didn’t make it past the petunia display.

I have to say that your color coordinated plantings are extremely beautiful. Maybe you could write a post on how to discipline ourselves!

By the way, another player in the orange foliage line-up are the heucheras — the peach flambe and peach melba varieties I have put a lovely soft orange note in the hosta dell, which tends to be more green and white and purple.

Discipline is easy: get all that stuff you want, then just use one color’s worth and plant the rest elsewhere! After all, I like my mono colors, but I celebrate Iris too. And yes those heucheras are super with orange, the peachy ones certainly, but many of the burgundy ones are good as well. –Steve