Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Color in the Garden: Orange

In my estimation, orange is an other-worldly color, which may explain its sparse, fleeting appearance in my gardens. Growing up, unlike so many other young boys I presume, I was cognizant that things could have ended up quite differently (and indeed I wanted them to be). We could be speaking Dutch.

But, like many imaginations, it could not have been that way. The Dutch, led by the House of Orange-Nassau, faced more pressing realities, being at first embroiled in an eight decade revolt against Spanish rule. The English, feeling threatened by Dutch domination of the seas and its respectable, far-flung collection of colonial and trading outposts, challenged the United Provinces in a series of wars, and took New Amsterdam in 1664, christening it New York. Having briefly retaken New York (1673-1674) and renamed in New Orange, the Dutch were obviously seduced more by nutmeg than by beaver, and decided Suriname represented that orgiastic future it so imagined and thus relinquished, by the Treaty of Westminster, New Orange to the English. The rest, as they say, is history.

One might muse, then, that orange is paradoxically the color of victory and the color of defeat, the color of imagination and the color of reality. Orange bedecks, indeed cloaks itself in an aura of unexpected juxtaposition; orange challenges us to reconcile the vision with the fact, the ought with the is, just as the color itself reconciles the vibrancy and intensity of red with the seductiveness and cheeriness of yellow.

My youthful imaginations, however, were of no match for reality (or perhaps reality was no match for my imaginations) and into those imaginations I increasingly retreated until living there became quite untenable.

And so I find vestiges of a life once lived in orange and with its associations. I do not wish to return to that imaginary life, yet I welcome reminders of parts of it (I refer not to ancestral callings but, for the reader, more obliquely to a peculiar lived history, which each of us has, and some of us wish were not so). Thus I retain my Dutch language tapes, disused and tucked away as they are in a dusty corner of a closet. I reacted with impassioned levity as I read Russell Shorto’s riveting The Island at the Center of the World, for it transported me back in time to the place in which I wanted to Be, free of my factual burdens and liberated from my fictions, and actualized the imaginary world I desperately tried to create in my own New Netherland. Lena Scotch Broom makes her dramatic spring appearance—her orange deeply rooted in this world—and the orange day lilies, now in full bloom, follow several weeks later, pairing nicely in an echo of the former Dutch flag with my fireworks-quality Verbena.

And Orange Marmalade hosta: there it is, not quite orange, but nominally connecting me throughout the gardening season to the brighter shades of that haunting color that constituted my past.


  1. Those Dutch soccer fans always stand out the most, similar to your orange flora

    Go Dutch!! haha

  2. Have the Dutch won--or even played?