An Ode to Orange

– Posted in: Garden Design

Of all the colors, orange is the most maligned. Maybe because it’s a cross between lurid red and zippy yellow, fiery orange exhibits a kind of hyper hybrid vigor—it’s more than the sum of its parts, way more. Perhaps because it is aggressively in your face, orange is a color that almost forces people to take sides. No one is indifferent to orange. You either love it or hate it.

I love it. I happened upon the charms of orange while tinkering with whites and yellows. I was looking for colors that could hold their own at twilight, colors that did not disappear when the sun set. I soon gave up white, and went to yellow, what with yellow having more pigment and all. Plus, I just felt drawn to warmer colors. Then I stretched yellow out, exploring its cool chartreusey side, and its hotter, orangey red aspect. Again, the warm side drew me in, like the cozy coals of a crackling campfire.I slipped through orange, tangerine and went all the way on to salmon. Something about those sunset shades called to me, the way they lingered in the dusk. Along the way, I discovered the moderating power of dark foliage, whose moody grandeur had the power to soothe and soften orange’s fire. Then there was no looking back.

The idea was to dress up our patio with colors that carried their hues into the evening, so when we ate outside at night, we’d still feel as if we were in a garden. How could I resist the charms of Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’ (top), which not only has handsome foliage and those fetching orange bottlebrush flowers—it’s one of the only Hedychiums to bloom in summer here in Connecticut. Why shy away from the utterly gemlike hues of Goldfinger (Juanulloa aurantiaca) (above), whose digit-size blooms last and last?

Likewise, Lantana ‘Tangerine Dream’ contributes its cheery polka dots almost all summer long. I have it paired with Duranta repens ‘Golden Edge’ (above).

And how about the scorching hot orange veins and stickers on this wacky Solanum pyracanthus (above). I wonder what they’re saying to the orangey, terra-cotta tinged seedling coleus behind them. And for floral firepower, it’s hard to beat this Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’ (below). Luckily that blue bowl helped quench the fire these hot colors kindled.

More orange inspiration came from Peter Wooster’s phenomenal garden in Roxbury, Ct. Peter always parks his orange Chevy pickup strategically, especially when his garden is open to visitors. That truck has been on the cover of the esteemed British garden magazine “Gardens Illustrated.”

I decided I like orange so much, I had to get out the spray can and do some of my furniture. Just this morning I was listening to Felder Rushing’s Gestalt Gardener podcast. He was talking about his purple-painted old-tire potato planter and said “You and a can of spray paint trump anybody with a bad attitude.” I couldn’t agree more. Especially if it’s orange paint.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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jodi February 24, 2008, 10:41 am

I am SO with you on orange, Steve. In the garden, it makes me instantly happy, especially if there’s something blue or purple nearby, which I usually plan–as much as I plan anything, that is! Some of what you’ve shown here wouldn’t grow in NS except as an annual, of course–I think Lantana is a national treasure in any colour, but especially orange–but we have orange asclepias, and both true and daylilies, and an amazing fireball azalea, and oriental poppies, and lots of annuals…orange you glad this colour was invented?

Jodi–I’d like to think…orange we all glad orange was invented. I grow most of that stuff as annuals, though I certainly have some orange perennials. It’s just that the aunnuals give me a much better run for the money, color-wise. And heck, I didn’t even mention orange cosmos. Ahh, if only oriental poppies had more staying power. Orange and blue is indeed fetching. Sometimes, I think it was made to accompany salvias or agapanthus. –Steve

Priscilla February 24, 2008, 11:51 am

I don’t like orange for anything but plants. Orange looks great in nature! I’m in love with the orange chairs in that blue and green area, it’s stunning. I don’t think I have any oranges except for some gaillardia. The pinks and reds always draw me in more.

Priscilla–My affection for orange started with plants, but is beginning to trickle out into my wardrobe, my diet (sweet potatoes –yum!) and elsewhere, though I am not yet one of those driving around an orange- or copper-colored car like those I’ve seen around town lately. For that, I’m sticking with my cerulean blue truck, though I do park it next to those orangey colored cars when I get the chance. Yes, it’s a color that sings in nature–where would fall foliage be without a healthy blast or orange?–Steve

Kylee February 24, 2008, 12:15 pm

I love orange, and I loved this post! I need to make a trip to Walmart for some paint…

Kylee–Yes, yes go out and get some orange paint, but not to Walmart. Cheap paint is cheap paint, and it takes a lot more coats to cover something with cheap paint. Besides, the only reason Walmart seems cheap is that they don’t pay for their employee’s health care–you and I do. But, don’t get me started…let’s just say I never shop there.–Steve

Curtis February 24, 2008, 12:30 pm

I really like orange. I really like that orange coleus. Of course I am a big coleus fan.

Hey Curtis, as one one coleus fan to another, they’ve got lots of great orangey coleus, try ‘em all. I’m planning on doing just that myself.–Steve

Melanie February 24, 2008, 5:14 pm

Count me in on the orange love-fest. Wow, I never thought of painting the furniture orange. Last year I picked up two iron bed frames for the garden and haven’t decided yet what color to paint them. Orange would be so cool!

Hi Melanie–Go for that orange furniture! But from personal experience, it can be hard to arrive at the shade of orange that’s just right. It’s a very difficult color to judge based on those little paint sample chips. So buy a quart to experiment with before you commit to a gallon. Or if it’s canned spray paint–which is great for iron furniture with zillions of tiny openings–the choices are far, far fewer, so you’ll have to be happy with what’s available. I used a rustoleum-based canned spray called, I think, Tangerine Orange. Have fun with it.–Steve

Frances February 24, 2008, 6:41 pm

Living in Tennessee, orange is a color that is available in every aspect of life, clothes, food, furniture, wallpaper…you get the idea, it’s big orange country! But in the garden it is my favorite. It brings warmth and happiness, I like how you mentioned the coals of a fire and the sunset, both beautiful oranges.

Frances at Faire Garden

Frances–Wow! Tennesee sounds like my kind of place. I couldn’t agree more that orange brings a sense of warmth and happiness–how can you be down in the dumps when there’s orange all around you. Red would rattle me, yellow’s too bright. But orange…ahh. –Steve

Jeff Joyner February 25, 2008, 3:53 am

One of my favorite plants is Senecio confusus, an easy vine with purple tinted stems and foliage and screaming orange daisy-like flowers. I grow it near purple Salvia leucantha, and the orange/purple combo at Halloween is amazing. The Salvia is marginally hardy here; not so the Senecio, but cuttings are ridiculously simple to root and carry over, even in a glass of water in the kitchen window, if need be.

Hi Jeff–I like that Senecio confusus too, though I can’t say it blooms as profusely for me as I’d like. That purple orange combo sounds vivid, guess I’m going to have to try the vine again. –Steve

Kathy February 25, 2008, 7:13 am

My favorite (so far) is passalong Oriental poppy with Campanula ‘Joan Elliot’. I thought your second paragraph was wonderfully well written.

Kathy–Thanks so much for the compliment. It’s been a long time since our paths crossed. You’ve certainly created an amazing presence in the blogosphere.

PS-Loved your interview with Nan. –Steve

Elly Phillips February 25, 2008, 8:16 am

Great post, Steve! Peter’s orange truck is the best–or maybe I should say that Peter’s orange truck and Felder’s attitude are the best. (But I’m still holding our for a blinding, candy-apple-red tiny truck myself.) As a native Nashvillian, I agree with Frances that Tennessee is a fabulous place to garden, though my Pennsylvania home place is a far cry from my parents’ exquisite Colonial house and landscaping…

I, too, once thought that white was the way to go for night color, but I learned otherwise when I attended a class on waterlilies at Longwood years ago, given by that lovely man, Patrick Nutt. By the end of the class, it was dark, so I went out to look at Longwood’s lily display one last time before heading home. I instantly saw, to my astonishment, that it was not the white but the purple water lilies that came into their own at night. (To that point, I’d wondered why anyone would even bother growing them, when all the other colors were so much lovelier.) My concept of a night garden has never been the same!

Love that orange truck too, Elly. Think I mentioned in response to another comment that I have a cerulean blue truck; but, unfortunately, I don’t have a strategic parking spot for it, like Peter does. I say go for that candy-apple red!

Don’t know where you are in PA, but that’s not too shabby a place to garden either. When I worked at Fine Gardening and got to go to gardens all over the country, I figured there were three great national gardening Meccas–most of western Oregon and Washington, central and piedmont North Carolina, and, last but not least, Pennsylvania, specifically, the Brandywine Valley area.

I know Patrick Nutt. you couldn’t do much better for a water lily mentor than that! And it is funny the colors that go bump in the night. Sometimes as you point out, it’s what you least expect.–Steve

Catherine Kaufell February 25, 2008, 11:04 am

It’s amazing how a pretty orange can make all the other colors pop out in a garden, and if your afraid to introduce an orange plant, your idea of painted furniture is a great alternative.

Gee, thanks Catherine. One of the great things about paint is that it’s so forgiving–if you try it and don’t like it, just paint it another color. I often experiment by painting just part of a chair–by the time you have an arm, leg, and seat of the chair painted, you know if that color’s going to work.–Steve

Karen Arms February 25, 2008, 12:57 pm

Well, now, that’s a fairly brilliant idea. Some seed potatoes are on the way and I don’t have room for them in the vegetable garden. But there is a tire in the marsh that I have been meaning to retrieve for some time. I will try and extract it, paint it orange, and plant it with potatoes!

Karen–That sounds like a bold plan! Go with it! Could look great with colorful foliage vines–like that ‘Carolina Bronze’ sweet potato vine–or other spillers tumbling over the edge of that tire too. Hope you post some pix. Good luck with it.–Steve

Jan February 25, 2008, 5:19 pm

I never liked orange, but last year a friend gave me some soft orange amaryllis. When they started to bloom, I put in some orange impatients, and I was hooked. In the right place, orange is great.

Jan Always Growing

Jan, I think orange is one of those colors that grows on you, no pun intended. It’s not the first color you might rush to get into your garden -unless you’re grabbing a few flats of marigolds–but once you give it a chance, you won’t go back. So, here’s to more adventures in orange.–Steve

Anna--Flowergardengirl February 26, 2008, 12:39 am

I enjoyed the post and the comments that followed. It’s almost more fun to read this kind of writing at the end after folks have chimed in. I don’t know if I like orange or not–I’ll let you know.

Anna–I’m counting you among the few fence-sitters on orange. It’s one color people tend to be either for or against. I hope that once you give it a shot, you’ll be among the converts.–Steve

Pam/Digging February 26, 2008, 1:36 am

Austin is burnt-orange country thanks to the University of Texas, but I much prefer the brighter oranges that you mention. Luckily, we have a lot of great oranges to work with in our hot, dry climate: flame acanthus, lantana, cigar plant, narrowleaf zinnias, bulbine, crossvine… Orange is completely fabulous paired with intense blue, as you have done on your patio.

Pam–I like orange in all its incarnations, and burnt-orange country sounds appealing to me. But yeah, when push comes to shove I have to give the nod to those perkier oranges, especially since they linger so long at dusk. And yes, I think any blue will do, whether you’re pairing pastels or going for deeply saturated duos.–Steve

Lisa at Greenbow February 26, 2008, 7:05 am

I am with you on the orange Steve. I found a new favorite last spring… Crossandra infundibuliformis ‘Orange Marmalade’. If that doesn’t whet your appetite for this spring planting nothing orange will. It performed so well during the drought and bloomed and bloomed in partial shade. Has intersting seed pods. Just can’t say enough good about it.

Hi Lisa -Just came back from Logee’s with one of those Crossandras in hand; can’t wait to try it out.–Steve

Kris at Blithewold February 26, 2008, 8:42 am

Judging by the long list of orange lovers in the comments, I think it might not be a much maligned color anymore! I think it was the weird aesthetics of the 70’s that overdid orange but it’s baa-aack! Orange snuck up on me a few years ago and now it’s stuck like glue to my imagination. We have to be careful now at Blithewold to use a few other colors too…

Hi Kris–White gardens, blue gardens, red gardens….I think the time has come. We’re ready for an all-orange garden. That would be smokin’, and would no doubt burn its way into many an imagination. What do you say?–Steve

Dee/reddirtramblings February 26, 2008, 1:17 pm

Great post on orange. I have always loved it, but especially more so now. I really enjoy the daylilyl, H. ‘Primal Scream’ for its stature in the garden. I have a large garden, and orange draws people in. I love your coleus and the Duranta repens. Your orange chairs have great interest too.~~Dee

Thanks Dee–I never knew there were so many orangophiles out there. Yep, orange is like a beacon–draws people just as effectively as it does bees and hummingbirds.–Steve

Annie in Austin February 27, 2008, 11:53 am

Fun post, Steve!

Although orange isn’t a color I can wear, orange plants like winter pansies, orange cupheas and asclepias are attractive to me and with milkweeds you also get orange & black Monarch butterflies ;-]

I must admit that I love gaudy Bengal Tiger cannas with striped foliage and orange flowers, too.

But the orange I really covet would be delicious Satsumas growing on a tree in my garden!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Sounds like you’ve got orange all over the place, Annie! You may as well start wearing it. I love those cannas too, but usually clip the flowers as they rarely seem to go with some of the things I use to accompany those luscious stripey leaves. As for those satsumas, maybe you’ll just have to settle for supermarket tangerines, or a greenhouse. –Steve