That 70s colour is back in the garden

HOT SHOT: Bright colours are back in garden fashion.
HOT SHOT: Bright colours are back in garden fashion.

What a wonderful thing that colour is back in fashion. Goodbye black. Hello rainbow reds, lime greens, blues, yellows and orange. Joy, joy.

It's the same in the garden. Bring it on, I say. Especially in the heat of summer. Bring on lots of red geraniums and hot pink petunias, lemon and lime daisies, blue lobelias, cherry-coloured penstemons and zesty, orange zinnias.

Like it or not, clearly orange - that doyenne of the 70s - is back big time. If you're not wearing orange this summer then, darlings, in the fashion world, you might as well be dead . . .

So, in a bid to uptrend myself and, after trawling through my increasingly retro wardrobe, I came up with an orange-enough scarf to cut the fashionista mustard this summer. It's only an accessory, mind. But, when it comes to orange and all those 70s memories of mixing it with brown, a simple scarf is more than enough, thanks very much.

Besides, I'm picking by next summer orange will be totally last year. Which makes me wonder just who decides what will be hot or not in the fashion world.

Yes, yes, I know all those fashion runway divas are sitting in their individual designer studios conjuring up "directional" ideas each season but, what I want to know is, how come they all come up with the same direction in the same year? One year everyone's doing florals, the next year they're all doing block colour and this year everyone's in orange.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I can't help think there are more powerful, complicit forces at work. Is there some kind of fashion mafia that meets in secret sit-down sessions to decide what "direction" it will inflict on the trend-hungry masses so one summer we all end up wearing orange, whether it suits us or not?

The people need to know, I say, where their collective fashion directions come from. And, as we all know, what's hot on the runway spills over into decor and, by osmosis, outside to the garden. Summer crib colours are everywhere around the pool and on the patio this year.

Where, just a year or so ago, if yours was a less-colour-is-so-much-more designer outdoor living area, you wouldn't dare have a flame-coloured marigold or hot, orange dahlia in sight; now colour is everyone's best friend.

It might be fine for the fashion world where the main ingredient is fabric which, although has to be ordered in advance, can be stitched up in a moment to meet market demands, but it is a whole different game when you're talking seed and flower production.

Imagine for a moment how many years it takes to produce enough seed to supply a summer's worth of seedlings for the fashion-conscious garden market or, worse, the fickle cut-flower industry.

Talk to some of the old-timers in the flower-growing business and they'll lament how often they've had to change not only the colours they grow, but also the crop, to satisfy fashion expectations. And that's before they have to cope with pest and disease control, trade protocols and, if it's for the export market, vagaries of the exchange rate.

So, here's a hint to lifestyle block owners with production horticulture aspirations. The best option, as a very savvy grower once told me, is to grow greenery and fillers, because they're less susceptible to changing fashions. They may not be as sexy as red-hot roses or exotic, fragrant lilies, but they have a longer fashion and shelf life and produce a perennial income.

And, when it comes to choosing colours in the garden, I like to go the accessory way, using potted plants as seasonal fashion statements. That way I'm not stuck with last year's (or, horror, last decade's) embarrassing style crime around the outdoor living area.

Of course, if you keep something long enough, like my orange, 70s-style scarf, it's bound to come round again. But, given the frequency with which properties change hands and the years you may have to wait for, say, sulphur-yellow forsythia to be back in style, recycled fashion is probably not a practical option in the garden.

And, when it comes to colour theory and all that stuff about recessive, cold colours and advancing, warm colours, and contrasting or complementary colours, I find what really matters is not what the theorists might conclude but your own emotional response to colours.

Some like them hot. Others like cool colours. The colours I like depends on my mood. And, like fashions, I tend to trend from one colour to another. Whereas years ago I loved blue in the garden, filling it with irises and delphiniums, now I'm into cerise-coloured hollyhocks and lollipop pink sweet peas.

I've also always got a spot for brick-red geraniums and love bright-red poppies sprinkled through the garden. But, I have to admit, orange is a bit of a bridge too far for me.

Somehow we just don't quite gel. Granted, I grow marigolds in pots and among the vege garden in summer and I can't go past the colour of the real deal orange fruit lighting up the winter garden. I also like Mexican sunflowers to bring monarch butterflies that feed on the flowers and I love the sight of bright orange California poppies (Escholtzia californica) growing wild on roadsides, even if a river bed pest.

And, of course, a bit of contrast looks great in any garden. Orange Escholtzia flowers go particularly well against lime green Achillea or electric blue larkspur. Check out the late-summer orange and blue flowers of the bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae), growing by the Church Steps and see what I mean.

However, much as I love the whole new world of colour, finding enough room for orange zinnias and flame-coloured dahlias among my red geraniums and poppies is just a bit confronting within the confines of our small urban estate. So instead, I'm just sticking to a few potted marigolds, a scarf and scary memories of the 70s for this year's style statement.


Orange is both a noun and an adjective – a fruit and a descriptive colour. But it's also the story of the ruling Dutch monarchy and the House of Orange-Nassau originating from the early House of Orange, a feudal principality in the south of France.

In 1650, the invading ruler of England and Ireland was Prince William III (II of Scotland) of Orange. And it's the colour of tulips. Tulips originate in the Middle East, in what was the Ottoman Empire and around Jordan, but were adopted and cultivated by the Dutch, symbolising also the House of Orange-Nassau.

Tulip growing and breeding became an obsession there and spread across Europe in the early 1600s. The craze even included a futures trading in what became known as "tulip mania" where single, rare bulbs fetched tens of thousands of dollars.

In the 1630s, an early version of the recent stock and financial market crashes took place as the demand and value of tulips plummeted, ending speculation.