Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
How’s that for red? I realize that celosias aren’t among the most cutting-edge plants, but this one really caught my eye this year. In past years, I’ve grown ‘Wine Sparkler’ and liked it very much for its dark foliage and rich crimson-red plumes. For something different, I tried the new ‘China Town’ this year, and wow, what an amazingly intense, clear red. Like ‘Wine Sparkler’, ‘China Town’ has burgundy-blushed to deep purple leaves, and it reached 18 to 24 inches tall for me. If you too are always hunting for great reds for the garden, you can get seeds of this awesome celosia from Park Seed.
For something a little less retina-searing, I present my next current favorite: ‘Haight Ashbury’ hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella). The species, also known as African rose mallow and false roselle, has long been one of my must-haves for its dark-leaved selections: first ‘Red Shield’, with deep red, lobed foliage, and then ‘Maple Sugar’, with even more deeply cut and darker red leaves.
‘Maple Sugar’ (shown above) is still one of my favorite foliage plants for late summer and fall, when it forms a bushy, 4- to 6-foot-tall clump of lacy, dark leaves that looks something like a compact Japanese maple. But for the last two years, I’ve also been picking up ’Haight Ashbury’, with tie-dye splashes of pink and white on the deep red background. It’s not been nearly as full or vigorous as ‘Maple Sugar’, but well, the name is fun, and it *is* kind of far-out to look at. It’s a tender perennial, so it’s too late for this year, but if you want to try it next year, check out Territorial Seed Company or your favorite local sources for Proven Winners plants.
And finally, for something completely silly, there’s ‘Elephant Head’ amaranth (Amaranthus gangeticus). I planted some in the huge formal border we have at work, and I guess it looks okay, but “formal” sure isn’t the best setting for this goofy-looking annual.
Its name comes from its supposed resemblance to the head and trunk of an elephant, but I can’t help but think it often looks more like someone making a rude hand gesture. I suppose that staking the 4-foot-tall stems might help to keep the heads more upright, rather like odd exclamation points. But it’s far more fun to let them lean a bit and use your imagination to describe whatever goofy shapes you see. Want to try ‘Elephant Head’ for yourself next year? Check out Seeds of Change or Abundant Life Seeds. It’s easy to start the seeds indoors in April and set out the seedlings after all danger of frost has passed. Knowing how readily most amaranths self-sow, I imagine you could also seed them directly into your garden.