Deeper Into Orange

– Posted in: Garden Design, Garden Design


Okay, I know, I know. You either love orange or you hate it. It’s hard to be indifferent to a color as rollicking as this one.  In case you were wondering, yes, the color orange takes its name from the fruit. The moniker comes from a sanskrit word, naranja, which is what the fruit was called in South Asia. Until 500 years ago the color was known–in the English speaking part of the world– as geoluhread, or yellow-red, which might be more appropriate. Color analysts say the color orange combines the high-voltage energy of red with happiness of yellow, so it is a hue associated with joy, sunshine and the tropics. What’s not to like about that? No wonder I love the color. And every year I create an ever-bigger blast of orange in my container tableau, amassing numerous plant-filled pots to explore the endless variations on a single color. So I’m always on the lookout for good orange players, both in flower and in foliage.

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One of the things I like best about orange, especially the paler oranges, is their ability to linger at twilight. Long after the blues, reds and most other hues have degraded to white, black or gray in the dwindling light, orange still holds its own. White does that especially well (but I’m not so fond of that color), as does yellow, but to me orange is a richer, more compelling hue, and its variations all the more interesting. When you think about it, oranges run from apricot and salmon to rust and brown. That’s a lot of territory. While the bolder more in-your-face oranges command attention, the paler versions, the pretty, peachy hues, like this cuphea ‘Caribbean Sunset’ (Cuphea cyanea ‘Caribbean Sunset’) are downright friendly. So orange covers a lot of emotional territory too. I think that makes it a more complex and more rewarding color to work with, so what the heck…

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As I mentioned I’m always on the lookout for good floral players and would like to highlight a few worthwhile representatives of the orange-flowered clan. I mentioned last year my passion for this color in An Ode to Orange, and to say the least, it’s a continuing affair. In a future post I’ll look at foliage that helps to make the most of that color and provide a few images of my orange extravaganza. Some of the flowers I find most useful are exotic, some common as white bread. At the top of the post is a portulaca, one selected from a grab bag color mix, but it’s an awesome orange. So is Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’ (above), a tireless contributor to garden gaudiness. BTW, on that topic–gaudiness–well, that’s the way to go in summer. Sure those pastel pinks and pale blues and such are lovely in spring, but once the summer sun blazes it’s time to go full strength on color, and make the most of those bold, super-saturated tropical hues that evolved to compliment a hot fiery sun.  


Get a load of that screaming celosia. Now that’s orange! This too was plucked from a mixed-color six-pack–it’s often hard to find single color six-packs at some of the local garden centers, so I fall back on the combos. Yes, a few might wind up getting tossed, but those that make the grade, well, they’re super saturated for sure. 

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Early July 09 044-1Calla lilies have long been a favorite of mine because of the sheer beauty of their blooms. Even the white ones (and if you recall, that color doesn’t do much for me) transport me straightaway to the tropics. If only they bloomed longer. This one is ‘Mango’ (Zantedeschia ‘Mango’), which is every bit as delicious as its namesake. Another bulb whose all-too-brief flower display is nonetheless winning is the astounding blood lily (Scadoxus spp). Its flowering orb, comprised of hundreds of smaller blooms, edges toward red, but stays in the orange camp. Its intriguing texture makes blood lily welcome in all kinds of combinations, especially with dark-leaved cannas or the kaliedoscopic Canna ‘Tropicanna’).

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A stalwart for orange is the Hibiscus tribe. I just get the ‘Home Depot’ variety because they’re cheap and exhibit an orange that fits in well with the rest of the gang. Plus, that flower practically screams tropical. But then, that’s the idea.

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

Steve Silk

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Les July 15, 2009, 6:16 am

A gardener after my own heart. I will not garden without my Profusion Zinnias. My favorite hues of orange are the smoky ones, and one of my favorite John Prine songs is ‘Bruised Orange’.

Hi Les–I’m going to have to tune in to that John Prine song. Might be good music to garden by!–Steve

Lisa at Greenbow July 15, 2009, 6:52 am

I would like to see an overall photo as to how you use them in your garden. I love orange flowers and when you put them into a flower bed they take the stage.

They certainly do get attention, Lisa. My orange extravaganza is still evolving, but I’ll post a pic of the whole scene once it hits its peak.–Steve

Randy July 15, 2009, 10:10 am

I’m really just now starting to appreciate orange in the garden. I think in the past I’ve concentrated so much on blues and purples for Jamie I’ve never taken into consideration the colors I enjoy. Just recently orange has been a color I’m really drawn to when I see it in bloom.

Sounds like you are in luck Randy. I can’t imagine better color companions for orange than blue and purple.–Steve

Susie July 15, 2009, 3:03 pm

So glad you highlighted orange, such a range of possibilities & one of my new favorite colors! I chose the same color for bloom day this month. Thanks for showing so many options!

Oh, that’s just the tip of the orange iceberg, Susie. Once you start looking, that’s a color that keeps on coming–Steve

Phillip July 15, 2009, 4:00 pm

I’m on an orange kick this year. I love it!

Go with it Phillip. It’s a whole new realm of color to enjoy. –Steve

Loree / danger garden July 15, 2009, 5:47 pm

Orange rules! We even painted our “newly” built shade pavilion orange.

I will admit to sometimes remixing those pony packs at the garden center so I get the colors I want. Figuring that the person who then gets the all pink and purple one will thank me for taking out the yellow/orange/red selections. Is this bad?

An orange pavillion? YOU ROCK! And I am so stealing your idea for remixing those packs. I bet most folks don’t want the orange stuff anyway–Steve

Town Mouse July 15, 2009, 10:44 pm

I love orange! Had the dining room painted orange in a previous house, felt like it was always sunrise.

What a great idea to make some containers with orange! I’ve got to try that myself.

Town Mouse–I like those forever sunrises and sunsets that orange brings too. Containers are fun to experiment with and to try out in different areas of the garden. Enjoy!–Steve

Jeff July 16, 2009, 4:31 am

My favorite combos this year are intertwined vines in complementary colors of orange and purple. One is Thunbergia battiscombii combined on a 12′ bamboo tripod with Senecio confusus, the Mexican flame vine, and the other is a trellis of “Sungold” tomatoes growing intertwined with Clematis “Roguchi”. Last year I had a windowbox containing orange nonstop begonias (they’re touchy here, but those survived, and I stored them over the winter), scarlet Kohlerias (a tropical gesneriad that I root from stem cuttings every year for container use), and Achimenes ‘Purple King’. It was great to look out the dining room window and see that every morning.

I’ve been wishing for oranges to use in the winter landscape, but most persistent winter berries tend more toward yellow, red, or coral. Bittersweet’s tempting, but I don’t need yet another thug to manage in the “jungle”!

I like the sounds of some of your combos-esp the tomatoes and clematis. Do you have any pictures of that up? Stay way from bittersweet-thug is an understatement. You might try some of the pyracanthas with orange berries, or that Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’. Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’ also makes orange-tinged yellow berries.–Steve

Bri July 16, 2009, 1:11 pm

Though it is not as commonly a landscape plant as it is simply a wildflower, one of my favorite shades of orange is found in Butterfly Mikweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love seeing the fields and roadsides blotched with vibrant glowing orange in summer!

Butterfly milkweed-there’s a plant to appreciate wherever you see it. I have lots in my garden.–Steve

Mimi July 17, 2009, 12:48 am

Orange and pink. My garden is so alive!
I even have some roses that start out orange, then turn pink, then yellow and orange. I think they are “Rio” roses.

Orange and pink–a coneflower writ large. I have a friend who says if a color combo appears in nature, that means it works.–Steve

Shawn July 18, 2009, 4:10 am

Steve, I have to agree – orange is a vivacious color and I love how it looks against some of my purple foliage plants in the landscape. One time I bought a daylily, never having seen the bloom, (but liked the name) ‘Caprician Fiesta’. When I first saw its tangerine color from a distance, I was a bit dismayed at having an orange daylily. However, upon closer examination, its nearly 6″ tangerine blooms and rosey throat sprinkled with diamond dust as it were, are stunning against my bronze New Zealand Flax. Just as you have described, they shine in the landscape. Caprician Fiesta has become one of my most favorite daylilies for its lively, voluptuous blooms. Go Orange!

That sounds like a lively combo, Shawn. Love those phormiums, and as for orange daylilies there are certianly some that leave the roadside regular in the dust. Sounds like you’ve got one that does that for certain.–Steve

Nell Jean -- seedscatterer July 19, 2009, 12:45 pm

Unlike magenta, Orange is a better mixer.

I copied a noted designer’s recipe for purple, chartreuse, palest yellow and all shades of orange for my prominent front garden.

Orange in the Upper Garden dances with Fiesta Colors: red, yellow, orange, magenta, blue.

Faded to pale apricot, orange takes on another life. Gotta love it! Orange roses are my favs.

Wow Nell Jean–Orange and magenta–aren’t you the bold one. That must stop traffic. Those designer’s notes sopund well worth copying, but why not throw in some blue too, while you’re at it? And I sure agree on the pale oranges–they have a quality that’s all their own. Always nice to see another orangeophile (if that’s not a word it should be)–Steve

healingmagichands July 26, 2009, 9:21 am

I love orange too. You are right, it does hold the color best late in the afternoon, it reflects the sunset colors splendidly. I am so fond of it I have been looking for it in spring flowers too, and am very happy that the daffodil breeders have figured out how to incorporate it into the narcissi so the spring garden has some orange spice amidst all that pastel.

BranchGarden November 13, 2009, 1:36 pm

Sorry for the late comment, but I just came upon this discussion of orange, once my most disliked color. Fortunately, I’ve “grown up” and orange is now one of my absolute favorites – I’m always searching for new plants/combinations in all shades of orange, whether palest peach or screaming tangerine. One accidental pairing in my central MD garden: a huge ‘Tuscawilla Tigress’ daylily in front of a large blue chastetree, Vitex agnus-castus. Both are long-blooming show-stoppers . . . . Many thanks for your continuing ode to orange!

P.S. One treasured assist in my “orange evolution” was/is Nori and Sandra Pope’s exquisite book ‘Color by Design’ (SOMA Books 1998).

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