Orange is a happy color. It is associated with good health, vitality and vitamin C. But according to some research, the color orange can also be considered “abrasive and crass.” I’ve had just as many clients specifically ask for plants with orange colored flowers as I have had clients pointedly request not to have them. People have strong reactions to orange.
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Personally, I love orange flowered plants. They are bright, bold and beautiful! They stand up to the hot summer sun. When I put together a planting plan, though, I use orange carefully. Too much orange can come across as garish in a small, constructed landscape. You can use orange to catch the eye and direct a person’s perspective into and through the landscape. Try these four:
Eschscholzia californica – California Poppy.
Our much beloved California state flower is a freewheeling annual with delicate, finely divided, fern-like grey-green leaves and brilliant orange flowers that appear early spring through mid-summer. The flowers love to open up wide with the sun and then close up when it is foggy, rainy or dark. They are truly stunning when planted in large patches. You can buy plant starts at the nursery but poppies are very easy to grow from seed. They grow and survive with just a little winter rainfall and don’t need to be irrigated. California poppies reseed generously. They will move around your garden over the years. You might want to collect the seed pods before they burst if you are concerned about containing your California poppies to one area.
Aloe sp. - Aloe.
Aloe is a tough succulent with mildly spiny, long, pointy leaves. Aloe plants typically have green or grey green leaves but there are many cultivars with leaf variegation, stripes and other subtle colors. Some aloes grow less than a foot and others reach 10 feet into the air. They can take full sun but prefer afternoon shade in really hot locations. I’ve seen many aloes perform quite nicely in fairly shady conditions although the nurseries don’t typically recommend them as shade plants. Many aloes have reddish-orange flowers that emerge on stalks above the foliage. Aloe “Blue Elf” has orange blooms throughout the winter and spring. It can grow to 2’ wide and tall. Aloe “Johnson’s Hybrid” is slightly smaller and has spotted leaves. Please note that some aloes are frost tender. They look great in pots, too.
Leonotis leonurus – Lion’s Tail.
Lion’s Tail (pictured) is a large woody shrub that can grow 4-6’ tall and wide. It has narrow green leaves and fuzzy orange flowers that wrap around the end of a stalk in whorls – sort of like a lion’s tail. When happy, a lion’s tail will bloom all summer and fall. Deadheading can improve its appearance and encourage more blossoms. Lion’s Tail can sometimes become gangly but this problem is easily remedied with some modest pruning. Lion’s Tail can survive on little or no water. It hails from South Africa where it is called Wild Dagga. The plant is good for bird habitat.
Lantana hybrids - Lantana.
Lantana is a fast growing, sun-loving ground cover from the tropics. It is known for its beautiful clusters of very tiny flowers and its prolific, long lasting bloom period. Lantana is frost tender and can be killed by hard freezes. Most of the hybrids are 1-4’ tall and spread 6-8’ wide. Lantana “Tangerine” and Lantana “Spreading Sunset” both have lovely orange flowers and grow 2’ tall and 8-wide. Lantana is a fantastic butterfly plant.
This article is the fourth in a series dedicated to drought tolerant plants organized by flower color. Previous articles covered yellow, red, and blue flowering plants.
Karen Boness is a Sonoma based landscape designer, certified arborist ISA WE-9654A, and licensed landscape contractor #974035. Her business is Wild Willow Landscape Design. 707.481.8561. Wildwillowdesign.com