Orange – not just for extroverts

I love orange. I have at least one orange bag, orange suede gloves, more than one orange scarf .. you get the picture. But orange in the garden .. it took me a while to warm to it… orange marigolds in municipal bedding schemes always looked, well, a bit, unpleasant. And when I saw orange plants next to pink ones, I felt ill. DSC06921 Of course orange wasn’t the culprit, just poor planting choices. So what makes good orange planting choices?

The colour Orange.

Orange lies somewhere between yellow and red and therein lies its strength. It adds warmth and it’s cheerful, and increases the impact of its two primary colour components, red and yellow. It’s used on lifeboats and buoys because of its visibility, so it’s seen as being an extrovert’s colour (hmm, rethink the orange gloves?), and attention-seeking. Carrots, pumpkins, oranges, apricots and  other vegetables get their orange colour from carotenes, a type of orange pigment.

Late autumn 040

It’s the colour of autumn and Halloween and the national colour of the Netherlands, with its Royal House of Orange, (and hence Orangemen in the 6 Counties in the north of Ireland, supporters of a 17th century Dutch King).

Complementary colours : orange and blue

Orange and blue are complementary colours. Complementary Colour Pairs are made up of one Primary and a Secondary colour : blue/orange, red/green, yellow/violet. Complementary colours increase the intensity of each other.  Van Gogh explored this relationship in many of his paintings. Amsterdam 2013 447So, when orange is planted with blue, its colour is intensified. Here, orange is used as an accent colour, intensifying the blue which might look bland otherwise. DSC01800 A late summer pairing of Heleniums and Agapanthus, not as successful – the two colours jostle for attention; using one as an accent colour would have been better.DSC02026 Orange-and- blue combinations do not need to be confined to just plants : DSC01564b

Hamamelis intermedia 'Orange Beauty'

Winter flowering : Hamamelis intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’

Seasonal orange 

Orange isn’t a colour much associated with Winter and Spring but there are some wonderful orange tulips – ‘Orange Emperor’, ‘Anthony Eden’ a beautiful double, ‘Orange Princess’ and many more. These orange tulips will really pop in your borders or pots when teamed with their complementary colour – blue muscari or bright blue forget-me-nots. Floralia 2013 032 Bridging the gap between the demise of the tulips and full-on summer, is Helianthemum, its bright orange flowers look striking against grey-blue foliage.

Helianthemum 'Henfield Brillant'

Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brillant’

Bringing tropical looking orange Canna or Strelitzia out of their winter hiding, will add drama to your summer garden. Strelitzia, also known as the Bird of Paradise flower, sports its own orange and blue pairing.

Bird of Paradise Strelitzia reginae

Bird of Paradise
Strelitzia reginae

Orange and other colours.

Orange and yellow come in many tones, and can make comfortable companions in a toning border. In summer there is plenty of choice ranging from peachy orange to intense tangerine.

Shades of yellow through to orange

Shades of yellow through to orange

Achillea, Alstroemeria, Hemeracallis, Kniphofia, Crocosmia and ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, a beautiful orange rose and all the more romantic being named after Lord Nelson’s mistress.

Late summer flowering Heleniums

Late summer flowering Heleniums

These rich warm shades are just the antidote we need this summer after unrelenting rain or snow.

Feb 2014 037

And who could be without orange, in all its hues, in the autumn? It is the most beautiful of shades glowing in the low autumn light.


A blue bench against autumn colours

 autumn 009


So, Orange

  • is a warm, vibrant colour.
  • is attention-seeking.
  • increases in intensity when placed against its complementary colour, blue.
  • is the dominant colour of autumn.
  • is more subdued in low autumn light.
  • can be used in more subdued tones of salmon and peach.

Some orange plants play an important role in companion planting, Nasturtiums with brassicas and Marigolds deter aphids.


That great guru of using colour in the garden, Christopher Lloyd, once wrote : ” Many perennials are of naturally bright colouring; it is among their great assets and we should value it as such, not bend over backwards to gentrify it..”. He berated “timid gardeners” for missing out on “the thrilling opportunities presented by colour contrasts”.

Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, Turkey

I saw this extraordinary planting scheme in Ankara – boldly planted with such confidence , it undermined all my previously held notions of good taste.

I loved it! And no doubt Christopher Lloyd would have too!

Rosa 'Doris Tysterman'

Rosa ‘Doris Tysterman’

I won’t be recreating it but I will be embracing just a little more orange excitement in my borders.

(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back)


17 thoughts on “Orange – not just for extroverts

  1. Beautiful photos – great shot of the Strelitzia. Looking at your pictures I think that orange is easier to place in a mixed border than scarlet, but it does need careful consideration. Am looking forward to seeing your experiments in ‘orange’.


    • Thank you. A bit tentative in its use – an “exotic” courtyard theme or specific autumnal planting.
      Don’t like to shy away from any colour, just find its best setting and of course the best plants.


  2. I love orange + red in my garden:-). I am not afraid of color, and you are so right it has to be well thought out:-) I also read that it directs the eye to it , so if you want something to be noticed, plant red /orange-lol. I guess sort of like “red doors”:-) I love what you have done with orange in your gardens-lovely photos.


  3. Thanks for another fabulous blog. I love Calendula and Borage together in the Kitchen Garden and Rudbeckia (often more yellow than orange) I grow for the way they come alive in the evening sun. I too shy away from anything stronger than orange- I just can not seem to fit in anything like scarlet, it’s too dominant.


  4. As I stare out the window at an endless stretch of white, I think about the garden I’ll have in a few months. I love your thoughts about blue and orange — both underused in my own garden. Now I have something bright to think about as I plan. Thanks.


  5. Pingback: Going green in the garden | Jardin

  6. Pingback: Embracing Autumn. | Jardin

  7. Pingback: Colour in my Garden. | Jardin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s