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Oh, my aching muscles...

Ideas for using fiery color in the garden

By Pam Richards

Imagine—in your mind’s eye—a warm summer evening outdoors in a garden you’ve planted in warm shades of orange. (This is an image that will help you through next winter!) If you were to plant such a garden, this is how it might look.

Three ‘Tamora’ roses bloom beside a garden path, each flower a scoop of delectable orange sherbert surrounded by cream.  A froth of white perennial geraniums surround them, and in July an orange lily (like the amazing ‘Cathedral Windows’ or ‘Loreto’—an apricot flower whose petals are blotched with purple) will bloom above the cranesbill.  At the beginning of the path is a small hebe covered in white, and at the end an orange honeysuckle rapidly scaling a pillar of a rusting metal arbor.

Like many David Austen roses ‘Tamora’ is a soft sweet orange, (however just last week the flowers had a pink tint to them).  The white of the geranium and hebe, and the pure orange of the honeysuckle and lily surround and set off the roses.  This look lasts all summer, providing color and scent and a gentle beauty.

Elsewhere, a drought garden features Agastache ‘Apricot Sunrise’, a solid orange, or A. rupestris—orange and purple—to provide color and spicy scent throughout the summer.  Agastache—or hyssop—is two to three feet tall, a mass of fine stems covered with tiny flowers and pointed leaves.  The foliage is gray-green, so a silvery prairie-scented Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ behind them further sets off the flowers; and a gray-leaved santolina makes a good edging. Add mounds of lavender and Ballota acetabulosa ‘All Hallow’s Green’—the chartreuse foliage will pop amid the gray and purple.

At a distance from the agastache, but still in the drought garden, plant an orange-flowering achillea (yarrow), another summer-long bloomer.  The orange flowers of yarrow fade to terra cotta, and the plant itself is stiff; surround it with Nasella tenuissima (Mexican feather grass), a knee-high grass that sways in any breeze and turns orange-yellow in the fall.  A nearby cluster of butterfly-winged, deep-purple flowering lavender ‘Quasti’ adds to the drama.

Finally, in the drought garden accent an orange-flowering crocosmia (montbretia) with Lavandula viridis, a lavender with yellow flowers and lemon scent.  A tall, purple-red allium could bloom among the lavender in early summer, and a bronze fennel behind them would add a punch of color and another fragrance later in the season.

Orange comes in a variety of shades, from hot orange-red to serene peach to warm salmon-pink.  When combining shades of orange flowers, I like to buy them in bloom so I know the hues will work together.  Lime, purple, pure red, or a brilliant yellow perform with bold oranges, creating a spirited garden to accent with bright glass spheres floating in a pond and dotted with rusted metal structures.  Plant an orange echinacea in front of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Coppertina’, a large shrub with black foliage that glows with traces of coppery orange.  The opulence of the shrub and the delight of the orange echinacea will satisfy throughout the heat of summer.

A more calming look can be created with softer oranges accented with blue and chocolate.  Plant a mass of orange daylilies, back the planting with tall blue switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’), and edge in front of the daylilies with chocolate colored heucheras.  Center a blue container in the dayliles and plant it with chocolate cosmos surrounded by a ruffly orange heuchera. All of these yummy  heucheras seem to be named for foods—’Creme Brulee’ and ‘Marmalade’ and ‘Peach Flambe’—and look as delicious as they sound. Site this planting near a birch with peeling orange bark and a chocolate Carex, ‘Cappuccino’ or ‘Milk Chocolate’, at its feet. 

Finally, add a chaise lounge with many pillows and treat yourself to chocolate mousse served in a hollowed-out orange.  NWGN


More Plants for the Orange Garden

Heuchera ‘Amber Waves’

Old-fashioned annuals: zinnia, calendula and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) California poppy and nasturtiums

Kniphofia species and cultivars

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’

Dahlias and cannas with orange flowers. Cultivars with bronze or purple leaves, such as Dahlia ‘David Howard’ or Canna ‘Tropicanna’ offer extra punch.


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