School colors create vibrant reunion gardens
by Rhonda J. Ferree
June 30, 2013

Summer is the time for family and school reunions, and University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Rhonda Ferree suggests taking reunions to another level by starting a reunion garden.

“School reunion gardens are especially nice to do using flowers in your school colors,” Ferree said. “You’ve probably noticed that school colors typically include bright, complementary hues. This also works to create dramatic gardens.”

Ferree offered the U of I’s orange and blue colors as an example. “Flowers are often most vibrant when placed with their complementary color,” she explained. “On a color wheel, orange is the complementary color for blue. Complimentary colors create great contrast and cause both colors to pop. Color intensity is also a factor. Bright orange works better with bright blue instead of soft blue,” she added.

If planting an Illini-themed garden, Ferree suggested using violet-blue plantings because of the difficulty of finding true blue in the plant world.

“Plant some bulbs for early spring interest,” she said. “Consider orange crocus, tulip, or narcissus. For blue-purple accents, add grape hyacinths, scillas, or an anemone.

“There are many annual flowers that come in blue. For early spring color use a pansy in deep purple with an orange eye,” she added. “Other purple annuals include petunia, verbena, gomphrena, ageratum, and statice. For orange annuals try marigolds, gaillardia, gerbera, nasturtium, or zinnia.”

For perennial flowers in blue-purple, Ferree suggested including lavender, amsonia, bellflower, bachelor’s button, coneflower, salvia, balloon flower, Russian sage, sage, iris, or false indigo.

For orange perennials, she offered such varieties as daylilies, coreopsis, yarrow, butterfly weed, or heliopsis.

“Another interesting combination might be heliotrope with its deep purple flower clusters next to a bright orange coreopsis,” she said. “Consider Illini-colored vines for vertical interest. Clematis, wisteria, and passion flower come in many shades of blue. Orange options include black-eyed susan, honeysuckle, and trumpet vines.”

Fall also offers many options for the blue and orange garden, Ferree said. “Asters and mums both come in many shades of each color. In fact, fall flower colors are typically more deep orange-red and thus work perfectly.”

Ferree said she has blue and orange scattered about her own gardens and that she especially enjoys her deep blue ceramic pots planted with a green spike for height and orange calibrachoa for the container’s fillers and spillers.

“Obviously, there are many more options than are listed here,” Ferree noted. “I could easily add flowering shrubs such as orange or purple flowering azalea. And don’t forget foliage colors such as blue hosta and gold flame spirea with red-orange spring and fall leaves. Make it simple and choose the right plant for the right place.”

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting Questions can be posted on Ferree’s Facebook page at

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