I Got the Orange Blues

I am not at all systematic about color. I mean, I do think about which plant combinations look good. But I have never had a color scheme for any of my flower beds as a whole.

Not that I felt the lack of a color scheme very acutely up until now. I was too busy figuring out how to jam in some plant I had just fallen love with.

Beautiful flower border
Raised bed along driveway and front walk.

But lately I’ve been overcome by a sense of inadequacy, and inadequacy that is most intense while I’m looking at illustrations of garden design books. And so now I must have a color scheme. I’m going to start with the raised bed that lies along the driveway and the walk to the front door.

My color scheme for this bed will be blue, orange, and yellow – with accents of white and mauve. Why? Well, two reasons.

First, I like these colors, and I’ve always been attracted to the contrast between the cooler blue and the warmer orange and yellow. I just like the combination. If I knew more about color theory I might have an explanation for this, but I don’t.

Celandine poppy, grape hyacinth
Celandine poppy with grape hyacinth. I just like blue and yellow.

Second, I don’t want to get rid of the many plants I already have that are blue, orange, or yellow. Or white (Oriental lilies ‘Casa Blanca’), or mauve (Eupatorium ‘Gateway’). Hence the accents.

But something must be sacrificed in order to make room for the new order. And that something is: purple coneflowers. I’ll be sad to say farewell, but I’m also tired of the aster yellows that seems to strike every year.

Here’s what I have currently that fits into my blue/orange/yellow  future.

Culver's Root 'Fascination'
Culver’s Root ‘Fascination’

Blue. Grape hyacinth for spring, cranesbill (Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’) and blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) for late spring and early summer, plus Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and catmint (Nepeta ‘kit kat’)  for summer. The bergamot is more lavender but that’s close enough.

Yellow. Celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) for spring, gray headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) for summer, and bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) for fall.

Grey headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata
Gray headed coneflower. More of these would be good.

Orange: Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and daylilies (Hemerocallis ‘Eye-yi-yi’) for summer, plus orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘fulgida’) for summer and fall. Though I always thought orange coneflower was actually more an orange-hued yellow, but whatever.

What I need to complete the new color scheme is more summer yellow or orange at the northern end of the bed – near the anise hyssop. Also, more blue for summer and fall at the southern end, near the ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye weed. Though I’m less worried about fall, because the surrounding beds have lots of blue/purple asters.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa

For the yellow/orange, I’m thinking either more grey headed coneflower or the new purple coneflower cultivar ‘Tikki Torch’, which is a nice orange.  I’ve always resisted these new Echinacea varieties, the colors often seemed just wrong, but now I’m tempted. I also want to plant more butterflyweed just behind the nepeta.

For the blue, I’ve got some ideas I’m excited about. First, I’d like to put in a shorter butterfly bush (Buddleia), something like ‘Adonis Blue’ that grows 4-5′. Second, I’d go with 2-3 bluebeard ‘Longwood Blue’ (Caryopteris x clandonensis). Though if I had to eliminate one of these, I think it would be the Buddleia.

Nepeta and hummingbird moth
Nepeta and hummingbird moth.

Finally, I’d grow morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’) up some kind of tutuer near the Joe Pye. Wouldn’t that be a great combination?

Any suggestions? Would you go with the grey headed coneflower or the purple coneflower ‘Tikki Torch’? Or do you have another suggestion for orange or yellow? And the catalogs say you can integrate Buddleia ‘Adonis Blue’ into a flower bed – would you be skeptical? All feedback gratefully accepted!

34 Comments on “I Got the Orange Blues”

  1. Well, firstly you should not feel inadequate at all. Step away from the mindset because you have in your garden what called you and what nourishes your soul. I’ve been one to purposely clash colors in a garden setting because I find it more interesting so you probably won’t see my garden in those design book either. But it still is a garden that radiates vibrant beauty. But it is also real and has a wild side.

    Having said that; I think if you plant morning glory (which is so daring by the way) with sunflowers that it would look really striking. The combo reminds of a Monet painting. Also, I happen to really love the dwarf buddleia I have so I vote for you incorporating a butterfly bush. I forgot what kind it is.. its fragrant though. It smells like sweet alyssum x 10. It also makes for great cut flowers. I have it in the ground but if I had to do it again I would have put it in a tall urn type pot so that is burst out in a slight dangle and I could see the butterflies feasting on it at eye level. It is great to hear all the suggestions that come your way. But in the end, let your intuition be your guide. Every flower, every plant has its own energetic properties. I think that is why different people are attracted to different plants. We all are attracted to what speaks to us. I hope you get the garden you wish for.

      • I think its ‘lo and behold’ variety but I can’t remember the color. The thing about it is that it says that it only grows 3 by 3 but if you don’t trim it, it grows MUCH bigger. I didn’t trim one year and it grew about 4 feet tall. I really don’t think you can contain those, they just seem to want to grow and grow. I will try to look up the name. If I find it I will let you know. But as I said, even if it says 2-3′.. it seems dependent on whether you cut it back or not. My friend also had the same experience but it may just be a SoCal thing. Do you like Lavender? Any interest in Hydcote Blue? Also, I went through a huge orange roses phase and I found Gingersnap to be really vigorous and pretty. I know you are not exactly a rose person though. Aren’t morning glories invasive in Chicago??

      • I’ve never grown lavender but that’s a thought. I have frequently had the experience of plants growing way bigger than described but I’m always nervous this will be the one time the description is accurate … we are at the northern end of it’s range …

  2. You mustn’t feel inadequate, ever, your garden is as you want it, you don’t have to please other people, except your family of course!
    Most of the blue that I have out for the summer comes from masses of Agapanthus, these flower at the same time as the yellow crocosmia and look good together, would these fit in with your scheme?

  3. Definitely the gray headed cone flower in my opinion. Not to favor the yellow bloom, but because ‘Tikki Torch’ is more rigid. Also, in my area (SC), gardeners have not found the new hybrids to be consistently perennial. One thing missing from the photos is colored foliage to support the scheme (blooms are fleeting; foliage persists). Perhaps add some chartreuse or silver leaves? Silver and gray foliage pulls together almost any color scheme and is especially useful when white blooms are featured.

  4. I echo the sentiments of those who tell you there’s no need at all to feel inadequate! My favorite blue in my garden is balloon flower. It has a long bloom period, and looks gorgeous next to the yellow coreopsis. I have two varieties of coreopsis : one is a delicate creamy yellow, and the other is much brighter and bolder, edging toward orange on the spectrum. How about some of the zinnias you wrote about earlier this month tucked about for later summer color (I don’t remember if any are yellow or orange)? If you end up not liking them, it’s a small investment, and they won’t be there next year! The morning glories sound, well. . . heavenly! Happy planning!

      • Yes, they are threadleaf. One is ‘moonbeam,’ and the other, I think, is ‘zagreb.’ They get about 18 to 24 inches high, and spread at a moderate rate. It’s also not appealing to my woodchuck friends, whereas the lanceleaf varieties seem to be delicious!

  5. We’ve seen your garden! Those feelings of inadequacy won’t fly with us! Years ago I attended a lecture by Sydney Eddison (a most wonderful gardener!) on her book, THE GARDENER’S PALETTE. This is a great read for you at this point in your garden life! I hope you get a copy or borrow from the library. She even has a color wheel in the back, and you will feel so comfortable with color after reading it! She has a very simple and completley sensible look at color in our gardens – you will love it!

    • I’m starting to feel that I am destined to get more gray headed coneflower. I have tried perennial sunflowers, and have been dissatisfied. H. occidentalus has failed to thrive, and H. molis is too tall and I wasn’t crazy about the quantity or quality of flowers. Which species have you tried?

  6. First off, I’ve never thought your garden looked lacking in the slightest! However, if you’re feeling dissatisfied…go for it! If a major reason for getting rid of your Echinacea is Aster Yellows, I’d warn against getting the other varieties as well. They will be just as susceptible to A.Y., and then generally are not as vigorous (or reliably perennial) as the regular kind. Also, I’d recommend a fabulous book on color in the garden I read years ago…and which is really good at illustrating (and explaining) the values of color and how each color relates to each other, The Gardners Book of Color, by Andrew Lawson…get it, you won’t be sorry! I’d just be wary of adding too much orange (even though i know it’s very trendy right now). A little orange can add wonderful “pop” of color and add a nice bit of tension to a border…but too much is visually tiring…it’s a very “bossy” color 😉

  7. I love orange. I wrote a whole post about orange flowers once. Hemerocallis ‘Primal Scream’ is a grand orange, and a large flowers. Blooms like crazy and multiplies. It is a good daylily. I tried ‘Tiki Torch,’ but sadly, mine didn’t return. I found that many of those uniquely colored echinaceas were a bust second year. They say to cut off all the blooms first season to let them put down roots, but I don’t know. I hate aster yellows. I have them too. I’ve gotten rid of many echinaceas because of it.~~Dee

  8. I too love that sharp contrast of oranges with blues and purples. One of my favourite oranges is orange cosmos but these are annuals. I’ve been trying to keep to a colour scheme in my flower bed but like you have trouble resisting new plants for sale and the colour scheme has gone way off the deep end. Looking forward to photos of your bed in the coming season as this sounds really eye catching.

  9. I’ve given up on the coneflower cultivars – all of ’em. I haven’t seen a single one except ‘Magnus’ and less reliably, ‘White Swan’ not be disease-prone and little more than an expensive annual. Often they don’t even survive more than a month or two in the capable hands of the nurserymen and women I know. They’re pretty, but problematic.

    I’m with you on the orange and blue combo – love it. There are so many reblooming daylily cultivars these days, and some great oranges among them. I like Marian’s cosmos suggestion too.

    I figure nature doesn’t color coordinate, and since I shoot for a naturalistic garden, I don’t either. Any and all color is welcome here!

  10. Sounds like a beautiful color scheme and selection of plants. Too bad you have to delete the Echinacea, though. But maybe there’s a little spot somewhere for it? Maybe in a different garden “room”? I’m sure whatever you do will be classy and interesting.

  11. If you want more cohesion, I would pick a more structural plant that you like (ex. Caryopteris ‘LB’ or Nepeta) and plant three of them along your border. For orange, I would think about adding something more wispy, like California poppies, on top of everything else instead of tearing out other plants. And I have seen a beautiful combo with a tutuer covered in I. ‘Heavenly Blue’ with Russian sage at its feet (Perovskia).

    I am sure you will figure out something beautiful! You need to plant what you really want and like… and hang the designers and opinionated bloggers after all 🙂

  12. ‘Tiki Torch’ needs excellent drainage and doesn’t want wet feet in the winter. A cold hardy agastache would give you a soft orange that would work well with the other colors. I have 2 in my garden that blend well with other plants. Several geums are a bit orange and asiatic lilies would provide fragrance, color, and height. If you have the space Westerland climbing roses are very cold hardy and have gorgeous orange flowers. Westerland is the rose in my blog header.

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