At the Root

Story & Photo Felder Rushing | Illustration Jonathan Cumberland

Fall color is on a lot of minds. And while lots of plants have showier autumn colors than others, some of them can be nerve-gratingly garish.

Not to say gardens shouldn’t be deliberately color-coordinated all year, though some gardeners get paralyzed without consulting a color wheel to make sure plants are placed “correctly.”

On the other hand, there are those of us who just put what we like, where we like. And if we end up not liking the result, for whatever reason, we move or remove something.

All that said, it isn’t often that I feel trendy in my garden. Mostly I am just an old-fashioned “digger and planter” whose little carved-out spaces are filled with whatever catches my fancy and adorned with collected objects I simply love to look at.

And sometimes, to put it mildly, things collide visually. Luckily, one of the basic tenets of my “Gardeners Bill of Rights” (view on my website —, is that gardeners can put any color plant next to any color plant, even if they clash.

Luckily for me, Pantone LLC, the company that standardizes colors internationally for the design industry, selected one of my favorite hues as the 2012 color of the year: orange. Actually it’s “Tangerine Tango,” which is most certainly not for the timid.

Your garden may already sport flowers with this exciting color, including wild daylily, butterfly weed, canna, montbretia, cosmos, torch lily (Kniphofia) and Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). It’s also one of the colors found in common lantana and in Profusion Orange, my favorite low-growing, disease-free zinnia.

But in the fall and early winter landscape nothing can even compete with the beautiful orange of Oriental persimmon (Diospyros kaki); while in Japan last fall, I marveled at how many are scattered naturally across mountainsides. Unlike our native persimmons, which are tall trees with small fruit, the Asian species are smaller and loaded with nearly fist-size fruits looking all the world like oranges or miniature pumpkins.

  Most persimmon trees of all types are either male or female, and their fruit is characteristically mouth-puckering astringent until fully ripe. But one of the most common kaki varieties offered for sale in garden centers is Fuyu, a self-pollinated, self-fruitful cultivar. It is seedless and perfectly edible and non-astringent. It can be eaten like an apple, right off the tree, while still firm, or enjoyed indoors, by the bowlful, once the fruit has softened enough to be eaten with a spoon.

And talk about tough! My great-grandmother’s tree survived total neglect in the Delta for well over six decades, fruiting every year until finally blown over by hurricane Katrina. It was non-stop production and beauty with no watering, pruning or spraying.

And it was so showstoppingly orange it stood out even in the midst of regular fall colors.

You can have your white gardens, color-coordinated flower borders, or spring azalea displays. But those of us who love bright and even clashing colors can take comfort that, according to the Pantone folks, we are trendy. At least for the rest of this year.