Californian poppies, powerful enough to light up grey days in Seattle ...
No, I'm not going to whine about the freezing cold in Seattle - we've had three over 70 degree (20 C) days so far, and it's been the coldest spring and early summer on record. About the only heat we get is the hot orange of the Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that are sticking up their bright, papery petals everywhere. They self-seed and spread copiously here and bring a welcome splash of sun to these dull grey days.
Unfurling buds of Californian poppies - I love rose pink collar under the petals.
In my garden in Sweden, hardy Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) had the same effect as the Californian ones here. Initially, I was annoyed with their habit of impudently disturbing my carefully considered color combinations. But after a while, I grew to love their cheeky self-confidence. It felt like they were shouting with their yellow and tangerine petals "look at me - aren't I gorgeous together with this guy, too?". And in a mysterious way that is difficult for us humans to copy, they often managed to create unexpectedly gorgeous combinations.
Years ago in Melbourne, I bought a book called Healing Gardens (Romy Rawlings, 1998) with generous advice on how to make gardens that benefit our physical and mental health. Besides aromatherapy, Feng Shui and herbalism, this book devotes a large part to colour therapy, explaining the effect colours have on our lives. According to it, orange is the colour of joy and optimism, and exposure to it promotes a feeling of well-being by providing a release from the everyday worries of life. Orange also provokes change, says the book, so it is a good colour for putting one's life back together when grieving or in shock. When used carefully, the 'healing properties' of orange can be harnessed to lift the spirits, combat depression and fight unknown fears. It is also supposed to improve social behaviour, lessen irritability, and increase appetite - maybe something to think about when planting around the outdoor dining area.
A seed pod ripening...
All goodness, I think, until the writer claims that orange can also be used in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, gallstones, hip problems, impotence, infertility and underactive thyroid, which would be a lot to expect from any modern medicine alone, not to mention a poor single colour, however bright and cheery. But there's no harm trying, and at least for me, orange works well as a pick-me-up on those occasional blue days (they are contrast colours, after all...).
Even if I love poppy-filled meadows, tagetes peeking up from parsley and nasturtiums in late summer, orange is an intensive colour that grabs one's attention, and too much of it can be overpowering in a garden. Just a dab is often enough; besides the plants above, a well-placed (by nature or a skillful gardener...) lily or dahlia, a tuft of daylilies or kniphofias, or a coppery rose can light up a little fire in a garden. Together with dark or even bronze foliage, orange can form striking combinations. In autumn, berries often do the job - rosehips, stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) seeds, crab apple fruit, viburnum berries - even a little illusion of warmth is welcome as the days grow cooler. In winter, many maples, like paperbark maple (Acer griseum), have coppery bark, and when the year starts again, witch hazels (Hamamelis) unfurl their tiny fireworks of golden petals. Therapeutic or not, I'm sure most of us could do with a dash of orange in our lives and gardens.