The Colorful Garden: Adding Color to Your Garden

Add a pop of yellow and orange to your garden with these plants.

| August/September 2004

An herb garden is generally a peaceful place of muted colors, a sea of soft purples and mauves, whites and grays. But sometimes a silly splash of color is just what’s needed to brighten a dark corner, welcome guests at the entryway or bring a smile to the face of anyone strolling by.

Some gardeners turn up their noses at the mere thought of orange, which they regard as gaudy and somehow low-class. But one look at a color wheel makes an obvious point about the color orange — it is the perfect foil for the more sedate blues and purples. When used together, these two color families sing. Try a spot of reddish-orange or an orangey yellow next to the blue-purple flowers of salvia, hyssop or lamb’s-ears, or among the deep bronze of a ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine, or as a bright accent in front of a blue-flowered clematis. The orange adds energy and pop as it draws the eye to the colors and textures that surround it.

Three herbs that abundantly display this cheerful hue are calendula, nasturtium and sunflowers — all annuals that can be grown and enjoyed for a summer, then replaced with something else if the gardener gets tired of their gaudy joy. All can be grown from seed, which makes them easy and inexpensive to use in this way. They are relatively carefree, and once established they require little of the gardener beyond occasional watering, weeding and a dollop of fertilizer to fuel their rapid growth and energetic flowering. If grown in containers, they can lend a colorful presence wherever they’re needed. All three are also useful plants, for those who want to harvest more than just happiness from a garden.

These three herbs have very distinctive personalities.

Calendula, the Grandma

Calendula (Calendula officinalis), also known as pot marigold, is like an old-fashioned, dependable grandma. A hard worker in the garden or in a container, it blooms heavily and continuously from spring through frost. This reliability of bloom accounts for its name: The ancient Romans called it “calendula” because it was in flower on the “calends,” or new moon, of every month. Calendula was considered the first marigold (although that more familiar garden flower is now classed as a Tagetes).

A member of the aster family, calendula has perky ray flowers that stand up and cheer, borne singly atop 18- to 24-inch stems covered with fine hairs. Modern calendulas come in the range of flower color from pale yellow (‘Lemon’) to deep gold (‘Chrysantha’) and brilliant orange (such as ‘Orange Prince’ and ‘Bon Bon Orange’); doubled forms are also available, as is one with variegated foliage.

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