Echinacea “Tangerine Dream” features clear orange flowers with overlapping petals. It holds its color very well during its blooming season. (Photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. / www.terranovanurseries.com)

Orange flower power: Bright colors add boldness to a garden

Orange is a not a color for the faint of heart. It demands attention, as if shouting out, “Hey, look at me! Take notice!”

For several decades, as a landscape designer, I studiously avoided the use of the color orange in my clients’ gardens. I found orange to be a bit overpowering, bordering on garish.

Then about seven years ago, after a particularly dark, dreary and wet winter, I was putting together a display garden for Sorticulture. The contractor I was collaborating with proudly delivered a 5-foot-tall vase that was to be the focal point and water feature for our garden. It was a flamboyantly colored mix of blues, greens — and orange. Eek!

When selecting plants for the display, I was intuitively drawn to colors that complemented this focal feature. The many compliments we received on the use of orange and coppery colors in the display won me over. (Or perhaps it was because I was craving anything that resembled the color of the sun after a gray winter.) Since then, I have enjoyed finding opportunities to incorporate the color orange into the garden.

Orange is considered a hot color. It hangs out on the warm side of the color wheel, between red and yellow. These adjacent colors are known as analogous colors and work well when planted together.

A perennial border with orange echinacea, yellow coreopsis and red crocosmia has a warm, bright feel to it. The use of bright colors can make an area seem smaller, as these colors tend to advance visually. A mix of orange, red and yellow can be used consciously to create the illusion of a distant part of the garden coming closer. Orange flowers can also add a tropical feel to a landscape — imagine a vacation paradise.

Orange is a bold color. It adds a bit of sizzle or spiciness to a landscape. This is a color that calls attention to itself and, as such, can be used effectively as a focal point. Try grouping several echinacea “Kismet Intense Orange” as a hot focal point in a sunny location. This echinacea blooms from June through September and provides a real blast of visual heat during August.

“Kismet Intense Orange” grows as a compact, upright plant, reaching a height of 24 inches when in full bloom. An abundance of blossoms shows off all shades of orange for a dramatic display. Plant it in well-drained soil, and appreciate its drought tolerant nature during our dry Mediterranean summer months.

For more firepower in the August garden, try echinacea “Tangerine Dream.” This echinacea features clear orange flowers with overlapping petals and holds its color very well during the blooming season. The honey-scented fragrance can be enjoyed when planted next to a walkway or patio. “Tangerine Dream” grows to about 23 inches tall and prefers a sunny spot in the garden.

Or try lychnis “Scarlet O’Hara.” With a name like Scarlet O’Hara, this newly developed plant is sure to add some excitement to your garden. Orange-red star-shaped blossoms contrast dramatically with the maroon foliage. With a compact growth habit of 12-18 inches, this small clumping plant can be used as a border plant or in a container. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will appreciate this plant. Cut back spent flowers for re-blooming.

“Scarlet O’Hara” is drought tolerant and is said to be deer resistant. Since this is a new plant for me, I can’t vouch for its deer resistance, and would love to hear back from anyone trying this is in a neighborhood shared with deer.

Invite hummingbirds, butterflies and bees into your garden with agastache “Kudos Mandarin.” With a common name of hummingbird mint, this plant is a real hummingbird magnet. I have one in a planter on my deck and enjoy watching the hummingbirds busily feeding. This agastache can be semi-evergreen in a mild winter in our climate when planted in a well-drained location. Good drainage is key to overwintering this plant successfully. The rosy orange flowers of this agastache provide a long duration of bloom from early summer to fall.

A touch of yellow can help balance the bright oranges in the garden. Rudbeckia “Little Goldstar” is a more compact-growing, improved variety of the old standard black-eyed Susan. This dwarf version of black-eyed Susan stays 13-24 inches tall. In late summer, when backlit by the afternoon sun, the blossoms glow like smoldering embers. Crocosmia “Gold Rush” offers a golden orange yellow color. For more orange, try crocosmia “Emily McKenzie.”

Place some plants with orange flowers around outdoor entertaining areas, as orange is said to be inviting, promoting social interaction as well as stimulating appetites. Plants offering orange blossoms can also be planted in a dreary area of the garden to brighten up the space. Any of the plants mentioned above can also be planted in containers to serve as accents.

Bring on the heat and enjoy some sizzling color in your garden this August.

Pam Roy of Planscapes is an award-winning landscape designer with over 30 years of experience. Contact her at 425-252-9469 or info@planscapesdesign.com. Go to www.planscapesdesign.com for more information.

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