The Occasional Gardener: Ideas + Aesthetics + Inspiration from the Garden

Painted Nettle

The painted nettle or Coleus has become a favorite in my garden. Although still much in use, the name Coleus is apparently defunct and should properly be called Solenostemon scutellarioides. Can't say I'm adjusting to that terribly well. In the Dark Verandah garden the few that I've planted there have become important color accents adding shots of lime or splashes of yellow or adding dark chocolates and charred purples to the dark theme.

They also grow fairly vigorously so quickly fill the many blank spaces in in the border that desperately need filling. This growth habit is also part of its challenge, as soon as a gorgeous stand takes to take shape, it starts to fall apart. They start to fall over, the leaves that have started to get huge start to be replaced by much smaller ones as the plant starts to take issue with an environment that it seemed to be perfectly happy with before.

They don't all do this, the purply one is guilty of the above and I've learnt to just get into the rhythm of simply snapping a healthy branch and sticking it into the ground and voila a new generation arrives to replace the one that's petering out. This one also complains if it gets a little too sunny and being my first purchase I assumed that this was the case for all Coleus but that's not true.

The maroon one with the pink splashes is quite the opposite. It was doing just ok in a pot in shade and I moved it to a really sunny spot, and forgot all about it. I found it a changed character a week later, thriving twice its size in its new favored spot. Of all the coleus, the large spikes of violet blue flowers of this plant are the most handsome, partly perhaps because of its strong contrast to its red hued leaves.

The splotchy one top right, has been a crowd stopper pulling as many admirers as any flower I've ever known. Regular requests for cuttings perhaps is the key to its success as it remains growing steadily without any crazy spurts, happily enjoying its sunny position. It's also done something odd. One of the cuttings has mutated into a plant that doesn't have the burgundy splotches but is attractive in its own right being just lime and yellow. Fine with me as it looks almost like a completely different variety.

Its actually been difficult to find them in colors I like, many for sale are too gaudy a mix of pinks and greens that don't fit with what I have in mind. You can practically hear my squeal of delight when I see one for sale that does with my palette of greens, yellows and darks. I covet the delicious colors I see on foreign seed catalogues and will soon resort to ordering from them. For now, a friend who has gone on vacation in the US has promised to look for seeds for the black coleus that I used to have and I must admit the thrill of the hunt on Saturdays to the farmers market to find a new one, like the one a I got a couple of weeks ago with the bright lime spot in the middle, is a fun addiction.

Coleus are also native to this region and therefore perfect for the dark verandah where I want to showcase as many natives as possible. Thankfully their wonderful colors helps to provide the balance that is sometimes missing in tropical gardens as native plants tend to be more about foliage than flowers. This explains the the immense popularity of brightly flowered tropical South American species like heliconias that now dominate gardens here. Here in my garden they help draw the eye to the interesting textural and sculptural values of the the other tenants.

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