A Box Full of Goodies
06 July 2014 - by Lizzy Browne

(First posted Saturday, October 29, 2011) 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  didnt 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. Its 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 well remember that for next  year. Its 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). Its 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. Its 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. Weve 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 its  incredibly easy to propagate and its 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 hasnt flowered yet (its not going to either  as Ive chopped it into pieces to propagate) but next year Ill 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. Its just beginning to  flower and Im 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 youre reading this thanks for the  cuttings.
Whats 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 youre lucky enough to have a conservatory you can  enjoy them through the winter too.

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