I have a fabulous orange container. It’s not a color I would ordinarily have chosen for our home but it was perfect for a magazine photo shoot we did this summer and I had been really looking forward to replanting it for fall and winter knowing that I would have fun playing off its exhibitionist personality!

Earlier this year I purchased a beautiful dwarf vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Little Gem’). I knew this was the perfect focal point for my design since it had been clothed in fiery shades of red, orange and gold since August – a great way to emphasize the sassy container color. Even when the leaves eventually fall the vibrant red branches will be striking.

The difference in the light reflective qualities of these two leaf surfaces make the partnership all the more striking. 'Ruby Glow' spurge with 'Spellbound' coral bells.

You can’t be bashful with orange and I knew I needed bold companions to really make a statement. ‘Spellbound’ coral bells (Heuchera hybrid) has had everyone talking this year. This is no ordinary purple. Rather its oversized ruffled leaves have a silvery sheen on top and a delicious berry colored reverse. Partnering this with the deep purple ‘Ruby Glow’ spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides) created a dramatic yet monochromatic combination.

'Wickwar Flame' heather adds a warm note before changing to green in spring


With the bones established it was time to add accents. I wanted to play off the orange some more so selected the spiky grass-like ‘Goldfinger’ New Zealand iris (Libertia ixioides) and the richly colored ‘Wickwar Flame’ heather (Calluna vulgaris), both easy container plants in full sun.

Add a little sparkle with 'Wojo's Jem' periwinkle







So as not to get too hung up on a strictly orange and purple color scheme I added a lighter note with brightly variegated ‘Wojo’s Jem’ periwinkle (Vinca maculata). This trails over the edge of the container together with golden rosemary.

All these foliage plants are winter hardy and evergreen here in the Seattle area (zones 6b-8). No flowers were really needed but I couldn’t resist adding a couple of deep ruby-red pansies to draw attention to the tips and stems of the spurge. (The pansies were rather camera shy when this photo was taken due to several days of torrential rain)!


The glowing foliage of the 'Little Gem' vine maple pick sup on the color of the container and forms a great backdrop for the sultry spurge


The beauty of this design is that it will evolve with the seasons yet is a year round planting. In spring the pansies will be in full bloom and the spurge will explode with chartreuse bracts. Now hidden from view, spring bulbs will push through the foliage to add another layer of interest and the tree will have its new flush of bright green, pleated leaves.  I’ll try to remember to post photos of its spring fashion show.

Summer will only need the two pansies replaced with annuals giving it a fresh new look for just a few dollars.



Sometimes we need an unexpected challenge to spark our creativity.

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