If Orange is the New Black …

If orange is the new black, then at this moment my front garden is very fashionable. For now the blues of early June have given way to an orange July.


Orange is supposed to be a difficult color – too bright, too strong, so you’re not supposed to have too much of it. But I like it.  It’s a warm, exciting color.

More butterflyweed. If you look closely you can see the Mexican petunia at the far end.
More butterflyweed. If you look closely you can see the Mexican petunia at the far end.

The most notable source of orange in my driveway border is the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love this plant. Not just the color, but the unusual shape of the individual flowers. It’s a host plant for monarch butterflies, of course, but also for queen butterflies and gray hairstreaks. And it’s a nectaring favorite for all kinds of pollinators.

A longer view of the Driveway Border.
A longer view of the Driveway Border.

Butterflyweed is an easy plant that forms big clumps. All the flower power in these pictures is from just two plants. You might notice one of them is a straight orange and the other is a brighter yellowish orange. The bloom period is very long, especially if you deadhead the umbels before the seed pods form.

Mexican sunflower with bee. Anybody know what kind of bee that is?
Mexican sunflower with bee. Anybody know what kind of bee that is?

Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is the other source of orange in this border right now. Only the first few blooms are open at this moment, but many more are coming and they will last until frost. Tithonia has a deeper orange with more red mixed in.

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

Mexican sunflower is an annual that likes heat and sun. This year I mixed a lot more annuals into the Driveway Border and I’m happy that I did. They offer lasting color, of course. But more than that, many annuals like Tithonia and annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) have strong, upright stems that help the floppier perennials stand up straight (or straighter, anyway).

Another view of Culver's root 'Fascination'
Another view of Culver’s root ‘Fascination’, with Tithonia in the background.

Not everything in the Driveway Border are orange right now. That could be a bit too intense. Fortunately there are the soft, curvy blue spikes of Culver’s Root ‘Fascination’ (Veronicastrum virginicum). Judy says they look weird, but she likes them. The soft blue is good for balancing all that orange.

There’s also ‘Prairie Sunset’ early sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), with it’s yellow flowers and purple stems and leaves. I like this plant, but it seems just a bit sickly this year.

'Italian White' sunflower
‘Italian White’ annual sunflower – as well as a the yellow and maroon rings of another annual sunflower whose name I have forgotten.

And I shouldn’t forget the soft yellow of ‘Italian White’ annual sunflower, as well as the yellow and maroon rings of another sunflower whose name I can’t remember.

Unknown sunflower
Unknown sunflower

The other annuals were not as successful. The Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’ just hasn’t put out many flowers. This is my second try with ‘Black and Blue’, and I’m not giving it a third chance. There is also Mexican petunia (Ruellia britoniana), which has done well but tends to get swallowed up by bigger plants. It’s more successful in containers. Both of these annuals were supposed to provide more balancing blue in this border.

Asiatic lilies
Asiatic lilies

Across the driveway, in the Crabapple bed, there are lots of orange Asiatic lilies. About ten years ago I planted an Asiatic lily “naturalizing bulb mix”. Most of the descendents of those bulbs are orange, though there are some yellow, red, and one magenta. At the suggestion of some readers, last year I limbed up the ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple at the center of this bed.

More Asiatic lilies.
More Asiatic lilies.

All the plants beneath (including the lilies) seem much happier now. Duh. This was one of those things that requires someone else to suggest but that seem obvious after you do it.

Nasturtium 'Empress of India'
Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’

Oh, also adding to the orangefest are the ‘Empress of India’ nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus). I’m growing them in containers this year. They’re supposed to be red, but they look orange to me. I’ll write a post on the front garden containers soon.

That’s all for now. Do you like orange flowers? If so, what are your favorites?

62 Comments on “If Orange is the New Black …”

  1. Your garden is looking terrific–I love the impact of the orange flowers. Too bad the Black and Blue isn’t performing well for you. Mine isn’t doing much this summer but it’s too dry and hot for it right now. I hope it will perk up again in the fall.

      • Bartel has fewer trees, for one. All the trees are at the extreme edge, indeed, they regularly remove any forbs or trees that start to grow. Bartel is restored habitat; Goose Lake Prairie is for all practical purposes relatively undisturbed. At first sight it might seem like they are both grasslands and very similar but I was surprised, maybe because I’ve been paying more attention to plants and dragonflies, at how much the two places differ. Also Bartel has no water feature directly on it. There is a heron rookery somewhere nearby, but the location is obviously off limits.

  2. Your garden/orange flowers are looking really pretty! I like orange. In my previous garden I was trying for a color scheme of periwinkle blues and melon colors. Every soft, shell pink or melon colored bloom ended up being “road cone red”. And most of the periwinkles looked closer to violet. So, it didn’t look like I’d wanted it to, but I ended up liking it AND reusing a lot of the orange flowered plants later on.

  3. I adore orange. But this year, I don’t seem to have much in my garden yet. I’m waiting for several Crocosmias to bloom, and I lost my favorite Agastache ‘Acapulco Orange’. Your Asclepias is lovely in multiple ways, and I’d have it if I had room. My very favorite orange flower is Clivia miniata, and it’s blooming now, but indoors!

  4. I never used to care much for orange & yellows (with a few exceptions), but they ARE growing on me. I have some very un-fancy orange lilies that grow near some Russian sage & I love the orange & bluish combination… Thanks for introducing me to the Culver’s root. I may need to go find me some 🙂

    We have some “limbing up” to do here at Gatescroft. I’ve been putting it off…. It will make such a difference.

  5. I love all your orange flowers. The Asclepias is gorgeous. It ‘ s funny how one’ s taste changes. I used to hate orange flowers and now I love them. I love them with bronze or cinnamon foliage and I love them with blue now, although once I would never have dreamt of such a thing, Gertrude Jekyll would be appalled.
    Veronicastrum’ Fascination’ is gorgeous. ‘ Culver’ s Root’ ?????? Who makes these weird names up? Thank goodness for Latin so that we all know what we are talking about.

  6. I like orange, especially marigolds. Unlike your experience, I’ve had trouble getting butterfly weed to grow in my heavy clay soil, but finally have had some success. I too have an Asiatic mix of the same colors (I think they were promoted as “tiger” lilies because of their spots – which makes no sense since tigers are striped). Then there are the “ditch” lilies – tall day lilies that provide great background around this time of year.

  7. Enchanting! The orange just sings to me! I am now longing to see my old garden with the butterfly weed! Bravo to you for growing it and making the butterflies happy! I can just imagine the pleasure you get to walk among all those beautiful blooms! Thank you for taking us for a virtual walk through!

  8. I love orange flowers. They’re so energizing. My favorites are tiger lilies, tithonias, nasturtiums, and whatever they’re now calling Belamcanda chinensis. I’m growing some butterfly weed from seed this year and so far it is doing fine. Trying to coddle it for this first year.

  9. i love orange flowers especially when they have burgundy foliage like some dahlias & cannas. Crocosmias are probably the most numerous of the orange flowers in my garden. Your nasturtium picture has reminded me to plant some next year!

  10. I planted a ton of butterfly weed in a hot, dry bed in front of my house, where it’s thriving, and I love the look of it. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what to plant next to it! Any suggestions for a native, summer blooming, hot-n-dry loving, wildlife attracting, woodchuck resisting, orange matching plant?

    • Well, you could try grasses like switch grass, prairie dropseed, or little bluestem. Coreopsis would give you yellow flowers at about the same height. Purple coneflower or yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) would be taller. Sky blue aster would come in with blue flowers as the orange coneflowers go to seed. There are lots of options!

  11. I do like orange in the garden it makes such a statement. I love that Veronicastrum, I grow a similar one called Apollo. Another great plant for the pollinators. Glad to read that Judy likes it too. Oops, almost forgot to comment on your lilies, what an eye catching display and I’ll bet they are just loving the extra space you’ve provided for them.

  12. Like Chloris I used not to like orange much but now I have a fair bit of it. It is a very cheerful color which I think looks better in bright sunshine. Too much of it though can be overstimulating!
    I really like your ‘Italian White’ annual sunflower.

  13. Your orange flowers are pretty Jason. The unknown sunflower is similar my Gaillardia, also I love montbretia (crocosmia) and some spirea with golden leaves.I think your Asiatic lilies suit very well to other plants.

  14. Too clever. And so gorgeous. I cannot get my butterfly weed to flower for some reason. I always blamed the monarchs for eating it to the ground each year but this year they didn’t visit and it still hasn’t bloomed. A mystery. But it was nice to see yours! I have been slowly adding more yellows — love the soft buttery shades — and orange into my garden. Not on purpose but it has just been happening. One surprise for me was how well some shades of pink work with some of the more gentle shades of orange. I would never have predicted that.

  15. I bought a butterfly weed yesterday, and planted it in front of my sherbert- colored Lullaby Baby day lily. I’m so excited to see how the combination really “pops!” I have orange-y nasturiums coming nearby, and a huge, purple Tradescantia. I think this is the prettiest garden I’ve had since I started! Can’t believe this is the first time I’ve bought butterfly weed. Hope it comes back next year ( I am in Maine.)

  16. Pingback: The Scarlet Flower – gardeninacity

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