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Orange, the new yellow?

It was the afternoon of Christmas Day, and we were visiting a friend late in the afternoon. I spotted her neighbour in the extensive flower garden at the rear of his house, so I stopped to pass on season’s greetings and to talk about the many blooms I could spy over the fence.

These flowers are primarily grown for his wife’s floristry business and feature a wide range of different flower types and colours. I commented that there seemed to be a lack of yellow among the blossoms, and he said there was virtually no demand for yellow flowers.

Orange, on the other hand, was in strong demand this past year.

The following day I was driving over to Feilding with some friends and saw the most fashionable garden in Ashurst. Growing over a tall and slightly fading dark fence, I spotted some outrageous splashes of the newly fashionable orange imaginable.

On one side of the driveway, an exuberant Campsis, a Chinese Trumpet Vine, was sprawling over the top of the fence and draping over the side. This is a very vigorous vine, with bright orange-red tubular flowers through most of the hotter months of the year. It is not too fussy about where it grows but does best in a warm sport, away from the worst of the frosts.

Where it is happy it tends to stretch out its legs a little, so do not plant this in a confined area if you don’t want to be trimming it back regularly. There was a cottage in Masterton that once had this trained across the front verandah. The owners must have cut it back hard each year as they managed to keep the growth under control for most of the year, but each summer there would be streamers of willowy branches covered with the orange bell-shaped flowers.

Along the Ashurst fence line, another enthusiastic, orange-flowered plant was making an equally dramatic appearance – a purple-foliaged canna topped with the brightest of orange flowers. I think it is the old variety called ‘Purpurea’, as it was growing very huskily and easily topping over two metres high.

Cannas are very reliable perennials for the most part and come in such a range of colours that you should be able to find one that suits your garden. The strident contrast of the bright orange flowers and purple foliage might be a bit much in a small garden, but there are more restrained varieties that will give colour without starting an attempt to take the garden over.

Tropicanna varieties have become very popular over the past few years and can be relied upon for colour for months. The original Tropicanna variety had bright orange flowers atop foliage that was heavily veined in tropical colours, and it remained at less than half the size of ‘Purpurea’. There are also red and yellow varieties. ‘Tropicanna Black’ is a modern version of ‘Purpurea’, with dark, dark foliage and bright orange flowers. It will grow best in damp soil, and you can expect it to reach about 1.8 metres.

There are plenty of other flowers that will keep you up to date with the latest trend in colour. Some of the Asiatic lilies, which will be available in flower at nurseries at the moment have the brightest orange flowers, and. Most of these varieties have vibrant burnt orange shades and will happily grow in containers.

Orange is also the natural colour of day lilies, Hemerocallis – so common that breeders have spent years trying to breed non-orange types, so they could add orange to your border. Just remember that day lily rust has now arrived in New Zealand, so make sure you find a variety that is rust resistant – we have found some of our varieties are fine, but others have had to be removed from the garden.

Perhaps my favourite bright orange flower is one of the simplest – Arctotis. The South African perennial, with silver-green foliage, comes in a range of colours, including some burnt orange shades, but there are also some that are Fanta bright. Most varieties are easily grown from cuttings, so if you find a bright one you like, it is simple enough to bulk up numbers quickly.

My favourite of all orange flowers remains the diminutive Oxalis massoniana. We grow this small deciduous bulb in a terracotta pot as it tones in perfectly with the flowers. They are deep orange in the bud, and lighter orange when open with a golden centre. Ironically for an oxalis, they need a bit of cossetting to keep alive, so I think it is best to keep them in pots. The flowers are borne during the colder months, along with many other respectable members of the oxalis family. It is such a pity that the vigorous weedy types have given gardeners such a fright that few will try the better types!

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