Mar
21
2012
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Color trends tend to travel from the fashion world to home design and often trickle down to the landscape. We’ve been seeing orange in homes and on the runway for a while now, and its popularity was confirmed when Pantone named Tangerine Tango its color of the year.

We’ve seen a lot of great examples of orange in interiors, but it can be a bit more difficult to translate that to your garden. The first problem is that there just aren’t a lot of orange flowers (although I guarantee that will change as breeders work to develop more of them). The second issue is that for some reason orange can be intimidating to work into the garden (even though I bet you already have more orange that you think: terra cotta pots or a brick path come to mind). But it’s worth making an effort to incorporate tangerine into your garden: is there any happier color than orange? 

Superbena 'Royale Peachy Keen' is the standout in a container including 'Purple Ruffles' Basil and Superbells 'Blackberry Punch.'

There are a lot of factors that go into the look of a garden; structure, texture and color are some of the most important. And color in the garden is no different from color elsewhere. The color theory you learned in middle school holds true whether you’re talking about a 7th grade art project or a garden.

Don't forget to think about foliage when looking to add orange to the garden. Some Heucheras offer great orange color. 

One option is to go with a complementary (contrasting) colors scheme. We all remember that blue and orange are complementary colors, so that’s one easy way to make sure orange will work in an area of the garden. In her book “The Well-Designed Mixed Garden,” Tracey Disabato-Aust suggests that complementary-colored plants have another element, such as texture or form, in common to keep the effect from being too unsettling to the eye. The general rule of a complentary color scheme is to keep light colors light and dark colors dark. In other words a planting of a dark blue or purple plant will look better with a peachier orange partner. Bright orange and light blue just don't work as well. But more intensely colored plants can work together if you reduce the amount of the lighter-toned flowers so that it is about one-third of the planting. So if you wanted to plant a bright orange daylily with Baptisia ‘Starlite Prairieblues’, you’d want about one-third daylilies to two-thirds Baptisia.

Globe thistle and an orange daylily offer the perfect example of planting complementary colors together. Note that the daylily is a lighter, more muted orange so the two plants can be used in more or less equal numbers and still look good. (Fine Gardening photo)

So I know you’re thinking that all sounds a little contrived, right? You’re picturing a field of wildflowers with blooms of every color and you think that looks pretty good. And you’re right. That’s called a polychromatic color scheme and it can work just fine if you’re looking for a more casual looking garden. Again it’s helpful to keep other aspects of a plant in mind such as texture and form. Keeping those similar can make the most of that riot of color. 

A polychromatic color scheme creates a riot of color in which orange makes a big statement with just a few plants.

With all that said, I'll add a bit of cop-out caveat: I think that if there is any place in which rules have no business, it's the garden. If it looks good to you, that's all that matters. But if you feel like a particular plant combination might be a little off, it could be that it's not following some of the aspects of color theory mentioned above. And the great thing about gardening, is that almost everything can be moved until you get it right.

This is a good example of following the two-thirds rule: Use two-thirds of the darker color and one-third of the lighter color (in this case a yellowy-orange heuchera) for a balanced scheme that is pleasing to the eye. 

I love using orange annuals. Containers near a door with a flash of orange (please note I’m on a one-woman campaign to ban the phrase “pop of color”) will draw attention like few others. And since annuals tend to bloom for most of, if not all, the season, you will have the benefit of blooms to help make your combinations, rather than guessing at what the actual bloom color will be.

This wild hanging basket has more orange than blue, proving that all rules were meant to be broken.

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