August 17, 2017

Romance Abounds in the Garden

Polygonum orientale - Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate

Polygonum orientale - Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate - Credit: Kurt Stueber | Wikimedia Commons

• By Diana George Chapin •

One might well assume that gardeners are generally a wonderfully romantic lot.  We throw ourselves headlong into relationships with plants, often not considering the long-term commitments and the financial responsibilities, not realistically weighing the emotional and physical demands.  We’re sure we’ll find love as we turn every new leaf, as we meet each charming bud.

And, for the most part, we are right.

In fact, our collective flirtatious history with plants is pleasantly woven into the names of the horticultural species we treasure.  This Valentine’s Day, and indeed for the whole month of February as we await the dawn of spring, it’s tantilizing to call to mind some heirloom favorites that give a nod to love, lovers and the beloved.

First, and perhaps most amusingly named, is Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate, or Polygonum orientale. Call it “Kiss Me” for short.  If that name is overly suggestive or too daring for your taste, perhaps the  more sophisticated Victorian name “Ladyfingers” will do.

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate can be quite difficult to describe and is best introduced in person.  There is no other commonly raised garden plant that is comparable. With lovely arching branches that seem to spin away from papery node sheaths at the intersect of its sturdy stems, this annual grows to over 6 feet. An eye-catching and unusual addition to the flower garden, the stems bear large, nearly heartshaped, leaves. It grows with such vigor that by the end of the season one typically has to saw or cut each plant down with loppers.

Amaranthus caudatus - Love-lies-bleeding

Amaranthus caudatus - Love-lies-bleeding | Credit: Wikimedia Commons User Wildfeuer

Naturally, one is under no obligation to plant Kiss Me near a garden gate, but it does wonderfully soften the architectural elements of the garden. It functions as well as a focal point at the center of a quadrant garden and has a stately presence when used in the back of a deep border.

Love-lies-bleeding has a rather graphic name, but do not fear. In the garden the plant is rather innocent.  Growing to 4 feet high and spreading nearly as wide, Amaranthus caudatus produces ropelike flowers tightly clustered together in a way that resembles chenille.  The flowers drape to the ground and creep along there all summer, ranging in length from 12 to 36 inches by the end of summer.

Wonderful cut or dried, Love-lies-bleeding makes a dramatic burgundy or chartreuse green statement. The leaves of burgundy-flowering Love-lies-bleeding are green with wine-colored main veins. The cultivar ‘Viridis’ produces the chartrueuse flowers and has bright green leaves and veins that are unremarkable, but the leaves, overall, are still shockingly vibrant in the garden and fresh cut arrangements alike.

Nigella damascena - Love-in-a-mist

Nigella damascena - Love-in-a-mist - Credit: Wikimedia Commons User Kaldari

Nigella damascena is commonly called Love-in-a-mist when in flower.  When in seed, some gardeners call it Devil-in-a-Bush.  Don’t worry about love-gone-bad, this beauty is a keeper.  Generating a sea of lavender-blue star-shaped flowers with very-fine-beyond-ferny foliage, the species makes a great cut flower. Blossoms mature into oblong maroon seedpods tucked tenderly among wisps of thin mid-green leaves, making it excellent for drying.

If you enjoy the bedazzlement of glittery things during the season of love, perhaps Jewels of Opar will tickle your fancy, come summer. A darling plant that glows with succulent lime green leaves during the day, the gardener is in for a precious surprise at sunset, as the leaves fold up into a “praying hands” position, revealing deep red undersides.  A tidy little plant, the leaves of Talinum paniculatum stay low — below 6 inches for the most part — while the flowering and fruiting structures elevate above the foliage.  On arching red stems, the Jewels bear bitty fuschia flowers that turn to bright, shining red fruits.

If your love interest is a fan of sweet treats, plan on providing a feast for the eyes with ‘Chocolate’ morning glory.  Not as vigorous and lanky as its light-blue-flowering relations but more unusal in flower color, ‘Chocolate’ has deep wine to brown blooms on 9-foot vines.

Last but ceratainly not least, Heartsease ‘Bowles Black,’ Viola tricolor, is a dear little pansy that sports deep purple — nearly black — petals and a sweet lemon yellow eye.  Flowering very quickly from seed, this charming 6-inch tall plant will spring up year after year in the garden, self-sowing with rigorous enthusiasm.

Diana George Chapin lives and works on her family’s 90-acre farm in Montville, Maine. Diana learned to garden alongside her mother, grandmother and great-grandfather and she developed an appreciation of old-fashioned flowers and working, historic landscapes early in life.  When she is not tending her collection of heirloom plants, she spends time teaching others about gardening through hands-on projects, writing and public speaking. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Landscape Horticulture and Design, and a Master of Science Degree in Plant, Soil and Environmental Science from the University of Maine.