About this time last year, after a day away, I returned to a box of rooted cuttings that a customer had kindly left for me at the nursery. Apparently they were a selection of rare goodies, but as with most small rooted cuttings they didn’t look very exciting and were put to one side to be dealt with later. I am ashamed to say they were virtually forgotten for several months, but were at least watered and protected from frost. This spring we used them to plug a few gaps in our garden. And now those little ugly ducklings have transformed into beautiful swans.
Salvia indicia ‘Indigo Spires’ with masses of buds.
First there were some Salvias, including the gorgeous Salvia indica ‘Indigo Spires’ with its deep blue 30cm long flowers. It’s become a monster of a plant at 3m tall, and would probably have benefited from a chop half way through the season to make it bushy rather than leggy – we’ll remember that for next year. It’s absolutely covered in flowers and buds at the moment. With luck they'll open before severe frost finishes them off.
More rare and unusual however were the selection of Plectranthus. Plectranthus are tender perennials or shrubs and are related to the mint family. This year we've grown the annual Leonotis nepetifolia, which is now 4m and still blooming and is a member of the same family, with its distinguishing lipped flowers and square angled stems.
Leonotis nepetifolia still flowering at 4m.
A curtain of Plectranthus madagascariensis
A few Plectranthus species are commonly used as bedding plants or conservatory specimens but are easy to over-winter with minimal heat and are easy to propagate. Many gardeners are familiar with P. madagascariensis (Variegated mintleaf). It’s a popular hanging basket plant. You can see it at Urban Jungle trailing to the ground from a pot, planted with variegated Brugmansia and Colocasia ‘Ruffles’ and Iresine 'Blazing Rose'. It's covered in small blue/grey flowers.
The silver, hairy leaves of P. argentatus contrasting with the huge, glossy black leaves of Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’
We also grow the vigorous Plectranthus argentatus in a shady part of the garden where its silver stems and soft, hairy silver/green foliage create a foil to the huge glossy black leaves of Colocasia ‘Diamond Head’. It’s in flower at the moment, at about 1.4m high and is covered in pale blue/white flowers although these are less showy than its handsome foliage. We’ve already had a couple of nights of frost this autumn but argentatus remains quite content and is doing its thing in the garden.
Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Sasha’ has spent the summer illuminating a shady spot of the garden
In contrast, Plectranthus ciliatus ‘Sasha’ is compact and ground hugging with bright yellow leaves (these have faded now the weather is turning cold) and bronze and green markings. This appeared at the nursery last year – I think it may have sneaked its way over to us as a cutting from Will Giles’ Exotic Garden. Like most Plectranthus it’s incredibly easy to propagate and it’s best to plant afresh with rooted cuttings each year as these give far better foliage – older plants become woody and rangy. This has looked zingy this summer growing next to the black leaves of Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Purple’.
The wonderfully named Plectranthus zuluensis
Among the newly acquired Plectranthus is P. zuluensis. The leaves are rich green and heavily textured, and they densely clothe the purple, square angled stems These are topped with lavender flowers spikes, held erect above the foliage. Very pretty and in flower at present in our garden.
The extraordinary undersides of Plectranthus fruticosus leaves
Plectranthus fruticosus has grown to 1.3m and has superb foliage with toothed dark green textured leaves with a rich burgundy underside and burgundy stems. It hasn’t flowered yet (it’s not going to either as I’ve chopped it into pieces to propagate) but next year I’ll look forward to spikes of purple and blue flowers.
Plectranthus fruticosus ‘James’
Plectranthus fruticosus ‘James’ is shorter, growing to about a metre with smaller, more succulent leaves, slightly hairy with purple veining. It’s just beginning to flower and I’m looking forward to a display of spikes of purple speckled pink flowers very soon. I've only seen pictures of it in flower and it looks superb - can't wait. You can see it here growing at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa.
So Nick, if you’re reading this – thanks for the cuttings.
What’s great about all these Plectranthus is that they will grow happily outdoors in the summer/autumn, enhancing a shady spot, and their foliage creates a great contrast to the larger leaved shade lovers such as Hostas, Colocasias, Musas. And if you’re lucky enough to have a conservatory you can enjoy them through the winter too.