A “Living Coral” Garden

In case you haven’t yet heard, the 2019 Pantone color of the year is Living Coral. According to Pantone, Living Coral is an “animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge.” Coral has always been one of my favorite colors. I think it’s pretty (and I like this shade much better than last year’s Ultra Violet, described as a “blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level”).

Zinnia_DBG_LAH_6971When I designed my garden, I wanted to include various shades of orange, from pale peach to soft coral to brilliant tangerine. Too much of such a vibrant color would be overpowering, but it pairs beautifully with shades of purple, from lavender to a deep royal hue. Somehow, the warm and cool colors combine into the perfect marriage, as with these zinnias at right. I can’t get enough of it.

In spite of my intentions, I got a bit carried away buying hardy geraniums and catmint. As a result, our front yard is dominated by purple. Now I am seeking out orange flowers to provide some balance. What fun!

Orange isn’t a rare color for flowers, and I easily created a list of contenders. Then it was time to whittle it down to those plants that are somewhat xeric and hardy enough for winters at 7,100 feet. They have to withstand our weather extremes and survive a burgeoning rabbit population. Finally, the bloom needs to coincide with my catmint and geraniums.

I decided to be rather picky. Lilies are wimps when it comes to hail, rabbits constantly chew on the daylilies I planted in the backyard, and blanket flower seems to be short-lived in my garden. Wallflower (Erysimum sp.) is only hardy to zone 6, and the bloom time for bearded irises is too short (although I included some anyway). Eventually, I settled on these star performers:

Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestris)
With flowers that combine orange and purple in one bloom, how could I resist? Many Agastaches aren’t hardy at 7,100 feet, but so far this one is surviving. Hopefully, the reflected morning heat in the very sheltered spot where I planted it will keep it thriving.

Aslepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed @DBG 2008jun26 LAH 007

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)
Native to the eastern U.S., Butterfly Weed is surprisingly xeric, holding its own with my other low water plants. It’s a member of the milkweed family. As you might guess, it attracts butterflies, which is why I initially included it in my pollinator garden. Now that I see how happy it is there, I intend to pair it with all that catmint.

Epilobium cana_California Fuschia_XG_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_5984

California Fuchsia (Epilobium cana ‘Garret’s Orange’)
I love this plant. It picks up bloom when everything else is getting tired, and goes the distance until frost. Its deeper, red-orange flowers look spectacular when paired with similarly late bloomers, such as butterfly bush (Buddleia), or my bold purple gayfeather (Liatris). (Note that Buddleia isn’t considered invasive here in Colorado, as it is in more benign climates.)


Geum chiloense ‘Mrs Bradshaw’
Geum makes a low mound of greenery topped with simple, open flowers. The plant I bought three years ago seems content in my garden, so last summer I added two more. I’m pleased by how it mirrors the size and shape of the smaller catmints and taller hardy geraniums.

Of course, there are orange annuals, too, such as calendulas, marigolds, lantana (perennial in mild climates) and pansies (which are technically biennials)—and of course California poppies! While I favor plants I don’t have to replace every spring, I deem these two worth the effort:

You can choose between the old-fashioned flowers (the ones that “snap” when you squeeze them) or a series of newer, open cultivars, shown here. I find that the plants are sturdy, resist hail, and survive our weather extremes with aplomb. They even self-seed, although you don’t always get to choose the color—last year we had a huge plant, covered with blossoms, growing unattended in our window well all season.

Calibrachoa - Million Bells_DBG_20090915_LAH_0320

‘Million Bells (Calibrachoa)
Calibrachoa is a fairly new introduction. It’s related to the more familiar petunias, which it resembles, only the flowers are a bit smaller and much more prolific. Many of the cultivars offer earth-toned flowers. I particularly like intensely orange Calibrachoa ‘Million Bells Crackling Fire’. My only complaint is that it’s an annual, and a fairly expensive one at that. Calibrachoa is most often seen in containers, so maybe I’ll put a nice pot of it on my front porch next summer.

I didn’t set out to create a garden in shades of Living Coral. It wasn’t my aim to be trendy. But I’m glad this lovely color is the color of the year. Maybe it will inspire plant breeders, eventually resulting in even  more orange flowers to choose from.

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