Orange is the happiest colour

According to Frank Sinatra, orange is the happiest of colours, but while Ol’ Blue Eyes may have loved to be surrounded by it in his garden, orange is a something of a departure for me. Here, this section of the spectrum is normally represented only by that relentless thug, montbretia, rashly rescued from beneath a hedge and given the run of a border. And so this summer, I have found myself embracing orange with an ardour suggestive of a wish to make up for lost time, and while I might not yet be particularly accomplished in its use, I thought I’d share my progress with you.

I think it all began with the discover of a packet of Thompson & Morgan seeds among the contents of a goody bag from Perennial – a type of nasturtium I’ve not grown before. Tropaeolum minus 'Phoenix' has interesting, split petals in vibrant hues of yellows, oranges and reds. Sown in March, it’s now happily romping right across the veg patch, and, as with the nasturtiums I’m used to, both flowers and leaves have a wonderful peppery taste – even hotter if you wait for the seed pods. So, wonderful colour, flavour, and a useful sacrificial crop to keep the cabbage white butterfly from laying on your brassicas. Just need to make sure the caterpillars allow you a few leaves for your salads

Tropaeolum minus 'Phoenix'

Tropaeolum minus 'Phoenix'

Then, still with the veg patch, and the companion planting, I had a packet of English marigold seeds knocking around from last year. These are Calendula officinalis 'Indian Prince' – cheery daisy flowers with a dark eye, deep  petals orange above and a burnished red underneath. They keep whitefly away in the greenhouse (might stick some in pots among the pelargoniums, too), as well as attracting hoverflies, with their voracious appetite for aphids.

Calendula officinalis 'Indian Prince'. Not quite as orange as I’d been expecting.

The real departure for me is Geum 'Totally Tangerine'. Geums are handsome plants, and pretty rugged as hardy perennials go. In their most common manifestation in these parts – as wood avens Geum urbanum – they’re also one of our most ubiquitous weeds, with low, basal foliage that hides beneath the canopy of the surrounding plants, stretching up long, flowering stems which tend to catch the eye most successfully just at the moment they’re going to seed. Fantastically adapted to our Kent soil, and looking particularly fine en masse in the shade of the local hazel coppice, where their magnificent seed production is unlikely to bother anybody.

Wood avens (Geum urbanum) beneath the hazel trees

'Totally Tangerine', on the other hand, is a sterile hybrid between the elegantly nodding water avens, Geum rivale, and Geum chiloense 'Mrs J Bradshaw' – Rob Hardy (of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants) explained to me how this combination of genetics and sterility created a tough, beautiful plant with a fabulously long flowering period, from late April through to October. A hardy perennial that can do that is just the kind of plant I need. 

Geum 'Totally Tangerine'

In the meantime, I’m waiting for Leonotis leonurus to flower. Described by the Sarah Raven website  as ‘the most statuesque annual you can grow’, I have high hopes for this, in more ways than one. I’ll update the blog with news of anything more significant than a handful of leggy seedlings. Best give them some pampering.

A packet of Leonotis seeds

And can I include the wonderful sneezeweed, Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'? I shall, even though I can’t decide if the flowers are quite orange. I’ve heard them described as burnished bronze or even brown. In truth I think it’s fair to say that the flowers contain every shade of orange, from a rich yellowy tone to a deep, reddish scarlet. Sarah Raven’s website describes it as ‘conker brown crimson’, which sounds lovely, but is misleading. Crimson tends towards the blue end of Redville, and there’s no blue here. Just shades of saffron, not-quite-paprika, more nearly cayenne. One of those cases where a picture is certainly worth several lines of my waffle...

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'

This is a slight cheat, as the helenium in question is planted in the garden of one of my clients. The last time I planted it at home, it performed splendidly for a year, before being munched by snails. And so, as I’ve already begun to  bend the rules by including something I’ve planted elsewhere, I may as well take things a step further by mentioning something I’d entirely forgotten I had meant to grow this year – Cosmos sulphureum 'Diablo', seen here at last year’s RHS Hampton Court Flower Show on the Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants stand. I’m ordering the seeds now.

Cosmos sulphureum 'Diablo'

So, here we are. Orange. I’m beginning to eye up verbascums, which don’t often quite make it as far as a good, rich orange. I can’t help but feel it’s a slippery slope from here into 'apricot', at which point, I’m afraid, you’ll probably have to call the police.

The prolific montbretia – not particularly difficult to pull out, but leave a few corms behind, and you’ll know all about it.