Harmony in the Garden Blog

Top 15 Favorite Orange Plants

It’s that time of year again when our homes and gardens are decked out in orange and black, and mine is no exception. And what better occasion than Halloween to talk about one of my favorite colors in the garden – orange!  Awhile ago year I wrote about my favorite black plants, so it only fits that this time I talk about orange. In all the years I’ve been designing gardens, it goes without saying that orange is, hands-down, the color that gets the most hate. Time and time again, new clients request that I not use the color orange in their garden. I understand.  I really do!  I know exactly where this prejudice is coming from.  It’s from driving by that one home in the neighborhood with all the marigolds lined up in a stick-straight row, bordering both sides of the front pathway, with at least two feet of space between each plant.  The look like tidy little soldiers standing to attention.  Am I right? Once I promise not to do this in their garden, my clients breathe a sigh of relief.  And then, when I show them how many beautiful shades of orange there are and how to use these colors in their gardens, more often than not, they join me on the orange bandwagon. Except for one client.

She flatly refused any  hint of orange in her garden.

Over the years of working in her garden, I’d bring my latest offering, hoping to see a glimmer in her eye, but nope – nothing.

Until about a year ago when I ran into her downtown.

Sheepishly, she told me that she broke down and bought her first orange flower and loved it.  And then – drumroll please – she asked for more help picking out other shades of orange for her garden.

Oh yeah, she drank the orange Kool-aid.

So here we go – my favorite Top 15 orange beauties to add to your garden!

1.  Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Also known as sneezeweed, which is such an unfortunate and unfair nickname. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t cause people to sneeze at all.  Where’d this name come from?  I’ve read that eons ago their leaves were used as a type of snuff – hence their unfortunate nickname.

2.  Abutilon 'Tiger Eyes'

Towering to 8-feet, the two-tone orange flowers of this abutilon resemble floating paper lanterns, bobbing throughout the garden bed.

When I recently moved out of my garden (above) it took me a year to find this variety, but thanks to a vendor at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival I was able to purchase not one but three to add to my new garden!  I can’t wait for them to hurry up and GROW!!

3.  Papaver orientale 'Allegro' (Oriental Poppy)


Placed in a full-sun garden bed, the bright orange, tissue-paper petals of these Oriental poppies will glow like none other.


Blooming in early summer, the 24″ stems add a lovely mid-border burst of color, and might even reappear again in the fall (if you’re lucky!)

4.  Angel Trumpet (brugmansia sanguinea)

brugmansia sanguinea

This variety is a much hardier version of the other brugmansias out there, tolerating colder winters and requiring a little less water than their thirstier cousins.

As a trade-off for their hardiness, though, these spectacular blooms have no scent.  Zip.

But I don’t care as I much prefer their hot orangey-red color over the other pastel versions any day. And if a big wind storm knocks the blossoms to the ground, they make a pretty bouquet!

5.  Orange Siberian Globeflower (trollius ircuticus)

trollius ircuticus Oh, how I wish these were more drought-tolerant! Unfortunately, they aren’t, preferring consistently moist soil.  I’ve had good luck planting this in containers (where it’s much easier to control the moisture level) and along a creek-bed that runs through a client’s property. It has a reputation for re-seeding a little too prolifically, but with our lack of summer rainfall, I’ve never seen a single seedling.

6.  Lion's Tail (leonotis leonurus)

leonotis leonurus For those of you who garden in hot and thirsty, deer-prone areas, this one’s for you. Blooming for months at a time and requiring nothing more than a hard pruning once a year, the towering 3-foot spires of blooms will brighten any garden. The spent flowers are pretty cool, too, and look beautiful gathered in a vase.

7.  Gopher Spurge (euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' )

euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'
euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'

As some of you may know by know, euphorbias are one of the stalwarts of my gardens (read more here).  This variety, however, of my favorite euphorbias of all, although it can sometimes be a little tricky to find at the nursery.  But when I’ve been lucky enough to find it, it rewards me with years of reliable beauty.

Some of the other varieties, on the other hand, can sometimes be short-lived, but not this one.  I’ve had one thrive in my client’s garden for over eight years now (and counting)!  As the common name implies, the roots of the plant repel gophers (hooray!) but the trade-off is that the white sap that flows in the roots and stems can cause blisters on some people, so be warned!  Personally, I’ve never had an issue with it, but I’ve heard others haven’t been so lucky.

For more info on ‘Fireglow,’ here’s a fantastic in-depth article, along with some pretty amazing photos, too.

8.  Red Hot Pokers (kniphofia uvarias)

kniphofia uvarias

Of course, I can’t forget to include one of my favorite plants – the Red Hot Poker (which isn’t always red).

I’ve written more about them here, but suffice it to say that their torch-like blooms come in a whole range of colors (and sizes) besides red or orange.

These unusual groups of ‘exclamation marks’ will certainly add some excitement to your sunny garden bed.

9.  Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark'

Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark

Bulbine frutescens 'Hallmark

Okay, ready for my bulbine pitch?  Here goes:  it’s evergreen, has beautiful lush green leaves, blooms off and on throughout the entire year, can grow in the full blazing sun or partial shade, and is deer-proof.  Oh, and if it outgrows its space in a few years, you can easily snap a clump off to transplant to another part of your garden.

This variety has soft shades of orange, similar to a Creamsicle (remember those?) but there’s also a lovely yellow version, as well.

And even though it’s a succulent, it’s right at home in a more traditional English-style garden bed.  See how happy it is planted at the front of this border?  It’s a natural companion to roses (that’s a ‘Golden Celebration’ behind it).

10.  Geum 'Totally Tangerine'

Geum 'Totally Tangerine'
Geum 'Totally Tangerine'

If you’re looking for a softer shade of orange, I highly recommend geum ‘Totally Tangerine’.  I adore the way the lush clump of green foliage provides a sturdy base for the profuse wands of soft orange flowers.  Lasting for several weeks, the flowers dance above their neighbors, lighting up the flower bed.  The foliage is tidy throughout the year, only needing a little clean-up at the end of winter.

11. Berberis 'Orange Rocket' & 'Golden Ruby' (Barberry)

Berberis 'Orange Rocket'
Golden Ruby berberis

Two different barberries with similar colors but very different growth habits.  Both produce very little (if any) seeds, so they’re not invasive in our area, and both have unbelievable shades of rusty to bright orange (depending on the temps outside).

Berberis ‘Orange Rocket’ grows more upright, to about 4′, with the occasional sprawling stems (the photo on the left), while ‘Golden Ruby’ is a tidy little round mound, maxing out around 2’x2′.   I love them both equally and use them whenever I want to keep deer out (they hate the barberry’s thorns) while providing gorgeous shades of orange.

12. Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’ (Sun Roses)

Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’ The soft gray-green foliage of this Sun Rose is the perfect background for the delicate and cheery orange flowers that cover this plant. Growing in full sun, with very little water, this plant will slowly sprawl to 3′ or so, while remaining under 1′ high.  It’s the perfect addition to the front of the border in a sunny rock garden.

13.  California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

Eschscholzia californicaOf course, I have to include my native state’s flower, the California poppy! While they can sometimes be a little tricky to get started in the garden, once they take hold – look out!  You’ll be rewarded with scads of these harbingers of spring year after year. I’ve found the best way to grow them is to start from seed, as their roots resent being disturbed.   Every time I’ve tried to plant a 6-pack, the little plants died. Full sun, somewhat decent soil (although I often see them in very gravelly, rocky soil) and a little water, and that’s all they need!

14. Western Columbine (aquilegia formosa)

aquilegia formosaEver since I can remember, this has been one of my very favorite flowers of all.  (I write about what the columbine flowers meant to me as a young child here). And while columbines come in just about every color under the sun, it’s the little orange and yellow fairy-flowers of the Western (or Alpine) columbine that steals my heart. A single plant will eventually produce little seedlings that you can easily transplant throughout your garden, creating a woodland-like feel.

14.  Alpine lily (lilium parvum) and the next best thing for hot & dry climates

Tiger Lily

While hiking in the Sierras hunting for wildflowers, I never tire of coming upon a stand of Alpine lilies (photo on the left).

Even though they’re easy enough to start from seed (assuming you have plenty of water nearby), they always seem somewhat exotic to me.  I guess it’s because I’ve never been able to grow them where I live as it’s waaaay too hot and dry.

But I DO grow these dark orange Asiatic lilies (on the right). I don’t know the variety, as they originally came from my aunt, who didn’t like the color.  She then passed them along to my mother, who also hated them (in particular planted next to her peonies).

Personally, I happen to love this combo.  Yes, I know that if I were to put on an outfit of dark pink and deep orange, I’d probably get some mighty strange looks.  But in my eyes, this planting combination looks fantastic.  But I still couldn’t convince my mother.  So, I posted this photo on Facebook a while back, curious if people agreed with my mom about the awful color-combo, or if they agreed with me.  I’d say it was about 50:50.

Anyway, I ended up getting the lilies, and I love them!

15.  Succulents!

And finally, I couldn’t forget the zillions of succulents that have fantastic blooms in all shades of orange. Lots of people plant them in their gardens for their fantastic texture or structure, but don’t forget – they bloom, too! These are just a few of my favorites.
orange-flowered succulents
aloe striata
orange-flowered succulents

orange-flowered succulents

What are your thoughts on the color orange in your garden?



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