The colour orange

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Orange Dahlia

There seems to an explosion of the colour orange in my garden at the moment. I enjoy growing flowers of this colour, even though for years it was regarded as a vulgar tone in the garden and was banished by those gardeners with refined taste. But orange is bright, hot and exuberant - and seems just the right colour to make a bold statement in parts of my semi-tropical garden at this time of year, much more so than genteel pastel hues.

Gloriosa superba

The glory lily (Gloriosa superba) is from Africa, and it arises from a tuber, coming up in late spring or early summer to a height of 1.5-2m, climbing on wires or other plants by means of leaf-tip tendrils which it winds around the nearest support. It has amazingly exotic flowers, each with six recurved wavy petals and stamens splayed out below the petals. The flowers are usually orange-red and yellow, and can vary in size depending on the cultivar. 'Rothschildiana' is considered to be one of the most spectacular. The flowers appear in January and February in Sydney. When the glory lily winds through a nearby shrub, it seems as if a flock of gorgeous butterflies has arrived in the garden. In warmer areas to the north of Sydney, the glory lily is regarded as a noxious weed. It is wise not to allow Gloriosa escape into bushland areas.

Canna Striata with orange flowers growing with a dark-leafed Amaranthus seedling

Also growing from tubers, flamboyant Dahlia and Canna are flowering wonderfully well in our gardens at the moment, revelling in the heat and rain we have experienced lately. There are some excellent orange cultivars available. The lower-growing sorts are easier to manage in the garden, though still may need some staking. They flower over a long period as long as they are dead-headed regularly. Canna 'Tropicanna' has brilliant orange stripes on its foliage, which can make a dramatic 'colour echo' when paired with orange flowers.

Begonia Orange Sherbet in the garden of Margaret Chedra, Eastwood

All these plants enjoy a sunny place in the garden, but in shadier spots there are still orange flowers to be had. The cane and shrubby Begonia are stalwart plants for Sydney shaded gardens and there are some pretty orange versions which shine in gloomy spots, such as 'Orange Sherbert' and 'Fabulous Tom'. These plants flower from late spring until early winter, cope with dry soil and need very little attention, earning their space in the garden without a doubt. The old-fashioned species Fuchsia triphylla cultivars include orange-flowered specimens and these are floriferous over a long period and will grow in part-shade.

Dicliptera suberecta

Dicliptera suberecta (ht 60cm) is a low shrubby perennial from the Acanthaceae family of plants and it has dainty tubular blooms in summer and autumn. It is very tough, and thrives despite neglect in shady corners. I also grow shrubby orange Ixora in a shaded garden bed. It has very pretty clustered posies of flat orange blooms but I have found it quite slow growing in my garden and it never looks as good as those I see in the nurseries!

Throughout the neighbourhood, great swags of burnt orange Bougainvillea tumble over walls and pergolas, and the orange Campsis vine glows as it encompasses whole fences. I would never invite these rampageous plants into my own garden but I find it thrilling to see them as I pass by other gardens, especially when the sun glows through their blooms. One big orange plant I have long admired is the scrambling shrub Bauhinia galpinii and I have just planted one of these in my garden. They can get quite large (up to 2m high and 4.5m wide!) but my plan is to espalier it on a wall and keep it well pruned. It has unusual reddish-orange blooms with delicately spread-out petals, like some sort of strange sea creature.

Fuchsia triphylla cultivar with Canna Topicanna in the garden of Margaret Chedra, Eastwood

Orange flowers are an obvious choice for a hot-coloured flower border with reds, yellows and bronze, but they also look wonderful when paired with blue or purple blooms: the many shrubby summer/autumn-flowering Salvia of this colour are good companions to orange flowers, as is the early-blooming, velvety Tibouchina urvilleana which is coming out now. Shrubby purple-flowered Plectranthus are also suitable partners for orange blooms. I also love the combination of orange flowers with dark leaves, such as those of Alternanthera or purple forms of Iresine, and with gold or lime-coloured foliage, such as that of Duranta 'Sheena's Gold' or golden-leaved zonal geraniums (Pelargonium), though I realise these groupings may consign me in the eyes of some to the ultimate in tastelessness!