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Discovering Warm Colors

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 12 April 2002

For a long time, I had a prejudice against yellow and orange. Don't ask me why; I just didn't enjoy them. I knew I was missing a lot of beauty, as well as opportunities for color combinations that would spark up my flowers in purple and blue. In August, when the most prolific bloom is yellow or orange, I passed up dependable Black-eyed Susans, Sunflowers, and Coreopsis. Hot colors, harvest colors... I just couldn't get into them. Anything red I grew had to be crimson, on the bluish side: not scarlet, with its hint of orange.

I'd like to get over this handicap. I'm not about to plant something I don't like, but I've started paying better attention to plants with warm-colored flowers. A plant lures my interest with other characteristics, and I get hooked.

For twenty years I've planted 'Lemon Gem' and 'Tangerine Gem' marigolds — because I like their flowers in salads (they taste like their names) and because the tiny flowers and filigreed foliage create a delicate texture. But I drew the line at these two — until I started gardening with Pearl Russell, whose favorite color is yellow. Now when I find a plant of great merit, with yellow or orange flowers, I know where it can go.

One plant I put at Pearl's I have come to treasure: , a tetraploid daylily. Big, wide-open yellow flowers with green throats and broad petals, the upper three ruffled. Another favorite of mine there is 'Joel'Anthemis tinctoria 'Kelwayi', with finely-divided, gray-green leaves in a two-foot clump, covered all summer with medium-small, yellow daisy-like flowers. Both these sun-lovers are easy to grow; the Anthemis likes sandy (or gravelly) soil, and tolerates drought.

When my brother-in-law gave me a Clivia he grew from seed, I felt obliged to keep it. The flowers aren't the intense color of orange fruit, but a soft orange, with yellow throat and base. I was charmed by the patterns the colors made with each other, and happy for one more midwinter bloom in my bay window.

After these gentle introductions to warm color, I finally got an itch to use an intense color scheme of bright orange (daylilies, marigolds?) and hot pink (a "Sweet Temptation" geranium would be perfect ) and deep purple (maybe a petunia...). I want it to look like something out of Matisse or Gauguin, those painters whom the critics of their time called "Fauves" (wild beasts) because they used such strong color.

For that kind of impact, you need hot colors.

Next Date

For more information see

  • The Clivia Website. Most Clivias are orange and single; here are pictures of a lot of other variations!
  • American Fauves - painters in the USA influenced by the "wild beasts" of Europe.

© Copyright 2002 Catherine Holmes Clark