Saturday 20 December 2014

Gardening: So colourful it looks as though it is painted!

Gerry Daly

Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30

Gerry Daly with Ava Dowley and Hannah Willis
Gerry Daly with Ava Dowley and Hannah Willis

Flame nettle, or painted nettle, is well named because it carries some of the most colourful leaves of the plant kingdom. These can be red, yellow, orange, pink, brown, chocolate, purple and near-black, and a plethora of shades of these colours. Some specimens even have touches of green, but, for this flamboyant plant, it would be a bright acid green.

There would appear to be no end to the possible colour combinations and how they are expressed, some with toothed leaf edge in one  colour, the centre of the leaf in another and the leaf-veins in a third. Usually, there are three separate colours, rarely a fourth, and they generally combine nicely, if dramatically.

The original species most used in breeding came from tropical parts of South East Asia. The nettle part refers to its being a member of the nettle family, producing short spikes of small light blue flowers at the shoot tips, best removed as soon as they can be pinched out to keep the plants leafy.

The plant-breeders have had a hand in the development of newer, even more colourful, forms. They have sought out and selected extremes of  colour and combinations, and have developed varieties with frilly leaf edges and kinds with huge 30-centimetre leaves. Most seed varieties are sold in mixtures of colours and there are endless variations because each seed, and each plant, is slightly different.

The names of the varieties tell their own story: ‘Dragon Sunset and Volcano Mixed’, ‘Flame Dancers’, ‘Wizard Mixed’ and ‘Rainbow Mixed’.

Also called coleus, it can be used in a variety of ways. As a tropical plant, it is not hardy enough for outdoors, except during the summer months, but it thrives outdoors  especially in a warm summer and lends a touch of the exotic to a bedding scheme, or to containers, or a tropical border, a style of planting that has been in fashion for a few years.

It is an evergreen herbaceous plant, short-lived at best, because the shoots get a bit lanky in appearance, and it is usually grown as an annual to have nice short bushy plants.

Seeds are sown in early spring with some heat in a propagator or heat mat. The little seedlings are pricked out into small pots and grown on steadily until potted up s house plants, or for greenhouse decoration, or for summer bedding. Cuttings of plants with attractive  colours can be taken in summer.

Sunday Independent

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