Photo by Melody

In praise of the colour orange

By Sue Taylor (kniphofiaAugust 25, 2011

Orange has long had a reputation as being the most 'difficult' colour to use in the garden. I've personally heard gardeners say they don't like the colour or find it too 'strong'. This bemuses me as orange is one of the most 'natural' colours in nature. Consider sunsets, autumn leaves, crackling fires, molten lava, pumpkins and well, oranges! Using orange in the garden can produce truly inspiring results. I hope fans of the colour will enjoy this article, and those who've never used it or are a little frightened of using it will give it a try.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 3, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  

Using a colour wheel when designing your garden or individual borders can be very useful when planning which plants to use.  A secondary colour made by mixing red and yellow, orange is a strong, exciting, 'in your face' hot colour which seems to visually advance.  Opposite colours like blue and purple seem farther away than they are, but when these complimentary colours are used together tImagehey can make the orange seem bolder.  Remember too that whatever colours you use in a border, foliage will always dominate.  Orange flowers lend themselves to bronze foliage, the dark of the leaves can make the orange brighter.  Using colours that are adjacent on the colour wheel gives a harmonious effect, opposite colours provide contrast.

Using the colour wheel is interesting but if you find yourself at a loss when designing your borders, then go with your instinct!  I don't think there's such a thing as 'clashing' colours in the garden.  The wonderful gardener Christopher Lloyd in his garden at Great Dixter happily placed bright pink with sulphur yellow if he liked the result.  One of my favourite effects uses orange with shocking pink!  Purples, lavenders and blues are lovely complimentary colours for orange and peach. 

But I admit, not everyone wants a garden or border totally dominated by orange, for some people it's just too much.  But don't be put off using it.  Try it in a seasonal container.  A lovely autumn effect can be achieved with annuals like chrysanthemums, pansies, dahlias, coleus and grasses.  Or for spring use pansies, wallflowers, 'Gypsy Queen' hyacinths, tulips and primulas.

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So which plants can you use to provide some orange zest in your garden?

A subtle way of using orange in your garden is by planting shrubs that have leaves which turn orange in autumn, or that have orange coloured berries or stems.  For these effects you can try Euonymus, Acers, Pyracantha, Cornus, Rhus and Cotinus

There are azaleas which have brilliantly orange flowers. Other shrubs to provide orange flowers include Abutilon, Scotch broom and Hamamelis. Also consider the orange-flowered honeysuckles like 'Dropmore Scarlet'.

Roses have few true oranges, but there are some like 'Hot Cocoa', 'Pat Austin', 'Lady Emma Hamilton', 'Fellowship', 'Just Joey' and 'Easy Does It' which would do well in an orange themed border. 

Bulbs in orange are pretty much confined to Lilies, Dahlias, Cannas, Hippeastrums, Tulips, Fritillaria imperialis, Eremurus and Ranunculus, but there are some wonderful choices here.


There are lots of annuals and perennials with orange flowers, including Daylilies, Crocosmia, some of the newer Echinaceas, Kniphofia, Gaillardia, Achillea 'Terracotta', Asclepias (milkweed), Clivia, Hibiscus, Leonotis, Ligularia, Lantana, Oenothera 'Sunset Boulevard', Eschscholzia (Californian poppy), nasturtiums, Belamcanda (Leopard lily). Tagetes, and Gazania.

If you have a favourite plant, find out if it's available in an orange cultivar.  Add some spice to your border and prepare for a feast for the eyes!


All photographs in this article are my own.









  About Sue Taylor  
Sue TaylorOriginally from Northumberland, and now living here again after 10 years in Yorkshire and 10 years in Maine, USA. I've been a gardener for many years and also enjoy wildlife. I love houseplants, particularly sansevierias.

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