Three Neat Plants – Mid-September

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.

23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ourfriendben on September 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Ha!!! The “hand gesture” element is really apparent in that last photo. Priceless! And now that you’ve shown us ‘Haight Ashbury’, I’m really going to have to plant that rock’n’roll garden next year while ‘Heavy Metal’, ‘Jethro Tull’ and the rest are still available. Worshiping red as I do, ‘China Town’ was a thrill to see. Thanks as always for sharing!

    Isn’t that amaranth just the goofiest thing? I’m in love. I’m glad you liked the others too!
    -Nan

  2. Unbelievable color for this time of year !!!
    Wonderful photographs.
    You’re on my view list..a keeper !!

    Come by and visit New Jersey.

    Welcome, Patsi, and thanks for the invitation to visit your blog. Lovely hummingbird photos!
    -Nan

  3. That amaranth is hilarious!

    Hah, the silly thing wins another admirer!
    -Nan

  4. Well, I sure thought it looked like a rude hand gesture from the get go even before you said it. Right on! That maple sugar hibiscus is fantastic! Thank you for adding a plant to my list.

    Oh, Benjamin, just imagine the possibility of filling your entire front yard with the amaranth – what a statement that would make. But sure, trust you to prefer the very best foliage plant of the bunch.
    -Nan

  5. Beautiful colors for September, Nan! You always have such unique and interesting plant selections.

    I’m glad you stopped by, Robin – thanks!
    -Nan

  6. I’ll date myself, but the first time I saw ‘Elephant’s Head’ amaranth was on the Johnny Carson show, one of those segments where he would go through strange ads and headlines. If I recall, his comment was: “Here’s a plant that will help you tell your neighbors how you really feel.”

    See! It would be awesome, especially in large quantities. But, it’s making me think that I ought to consider taking them out of the border at work, seeing as how it runs along a major road; don’t want to give potential customers the wrong impression, you know.
    -Nan

  7. Posted by fairegarden on September 14, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Nan, you have quite the sense of whimsy, rude gesture indeed. I was looking innocently for the elephant and you brought that idea forward and then that last shot, what a hoot. All wearing red fuzzy gloves too, kind of like a naughty group of flower power fans that are fashion forward. HA

    I love your “fuzzy red gloves” comment. Here’s another possible interpretation: If you hold the plumes upright, they kind of look like those “We’re Number One” things that people take to sporting events. That’s a rather more innocent idea than the one I first proposed.
    -Nan

  8. Posted by rusty on September 15, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Wow that red color is fantastic. I been looking for a red like that for my front garden, I wonder if the Celosia will do well in our tropical weather

    I think celosias are pretty heat-tolerant, Rusty. I checked out some celosia entries over at Dave’s Garden, and it seems that there are several Florida gardeners who have grown them successfully, so I’d say they’re worth trying!
    -Nan

  9. Is it just me, or is that Amaranth rude?

    I think it’s safe to say that it’s not just you. But I have seen pictures of plumes that really do look like an elephant’s trunk, so I guess it depends on the growing conditions and the individual plants.
    -Nan

  10. Oh, I can just imagine what is going through the minds of those of us who don’t quite get along with the neighbors!

    Heh. Mind you, I’m not *encouraging* the use of ‘Elephant Head’ to express your feelings, neighborly or otherwise; I’m just sharing my favorite plants. What you do with the info is your business!
    -Nan

  11. Wow, another fan of dark-leaved plants-I am actually trying to find some for my warm, dry climate. So far I just have the calico plant, but I certainly like the celosia and ‘Haight Ashbury’ hibiscus. Celosia was staple of Caribbean gardens when I was a child so I am sure it will do well here. My Amaranthus gangeticus seedlings are just a week old, but if they grow up to be anything like your that will be great. Novel and attractive plants, and of I need some greens for cooking I just go out and snip!

    Hi there, Nicole! I sure do love dark foliage. Thanks for sharing your experience with the celosia, and good luck with your amaranth.
    -Nan

  12. This must be the year of the amaranth. One very witty garden I visited used the long chenille-like green variety draped here and there in a most suggestive manner. I have had no luck direct-seeding, but now I will have to give starting it indoors a try. Thanks for the nudge.

    I agree that the green love-lies bleeding can be very cool when well grown. Yes, do try indoor sowing; it gives you a lot more control over timing and placement.
    -Nan

  13. These pictures are a riot. Do you overwinter your Hibiscus indoors or replant these from seed every year?

    I start celosia and amaranths myself, but I buy new plants of the hibiscus every year, because I don’t have luck overwintering them.
    -Nan

  14. Wow, that was the first thing I thought of when I saw the amaranthus! The plumes are very neat looking but I’m not sure I could look at without thinking of rude hand gestures. Of course I could plant them next to one neighbor in particular…hmmm. I really like that hibiscus. Another to add to the garden!

    Now Dave, I’m shocked that *you* would consider using ‘Elephant Head’ to make a statement like that. If you like the plumes but maybe not the symbolism, there are lots of other great amaranths to try, such as ‘Hopi Red Dye’: On that one, the entire plant from root to plume is the richest deep red you can imagine.
    -Nan

  15. Part of the reason I like your celosia so much is their setting… is that some kind of parsley or parsley relative to their left? The short, moundy form there really sets off the celosia to their best advantage… much nicer than the dusty miller that I usually see with them, IMHO.

    The amaranth is hilarious, by the way. I kind of like them in the formal setting, to give some relief (even if it’s in the form of a big rude gesture) to the formality of that garden. :)

    Good eye, Kim: That’s ‘Triple Curled’ parsley with the celosia. I think it’s my favorite rich green for just about any combination – especially this vivid red. Good point about the amaranth’s setting. I didn’t get out to check on them the other day, so they had a brief reprieve. I’ll see how they look tomorrow and decide their fate then.
    -Nan

  16. Oh, one other thing… I never had good luck either direct-seeding or starting amaranth from seeds indoors. But when I used the outdoor winter sowing method, it worked wonderfully. And now they do self-sow. Just my experience, in case someone else has been having trouble with seeds of these…

    That’s a great tip, Kim – thanks for sharing it. You reminded me that I do use self-sown seedlings of some other amaranths instead of starting them indoors. I know you too are a fan of ‘Hopi Red Dye’, and we both know that with that one, once you grow it once, you always have some around!
    -Nan

  17. Definitely a rude hand gesture! LOL and it would be good for a public planting don’t you think? I did grow the ‘Haight Ashbury’ hibiscus in containers this year and some have the variegation while others don’t. I am thinking of taking some cuttings as these plants got very large. Great shots as always Nan!

    Thanks, Layanee. I agree that the amaranth would be sure to attract attention! You’re also right about the reversion on the ‘Haight Ashbury’ hibiscus. I really noticed it last year and tried to be more careful when I bought my starter plant this spring, so at least it didn’t have any all-red shoots at the beginning.
    -Nan

  18. I love those elephant head amaranths! And all the photos are just fabulous. I would love to see your garden someday.

    Robin
    Ntl Gardening Examiner
    (and chicken lover)

    Thanks for visiting, Robin, and congrats on your new position. You should come to see Linden Hill Gardens next year; I think you’re not all that far away.
    -Nan

  19. Posted by PrairieGirl on September 25, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Amaranthus, in several colors and forms, is definitely on my short list to grow next year! I see “We’re #1” foam hands when I look at Elephant Head. I wonder if the guy who thought them up was a gardener? He has an interesting story, if you’re interested…

    http://www.designboom.com/history/numberonefoamhand.html

    I love celosia too. Oooh the dark leaves and the gaudy red plumes, the neat habit and their tolerant nature, since basically I ignore them when I get busy doing other things.

    I’ll have to keep an eye out for the hibiscus, I have never tried one.

    Ben~Love your rock’n’roll garden idea! I worked at a place that sold Lantana camara ‘Carlos’. Carlos Lantana, get it?

    Great picks as always Nan. :)

    Oh, noooo…Carlos Lantana? That’s too funny, PrairieGirl. Thanks for sharing the link, as well!
    -Nan

  20. Love the celosia and amaranthus, Nancy! One of the things I keep saying I’m going to do is make a Dr. Suess garden, and both those plants would work very nicely in such a bed. The hibiscus hasn’t done well for me in the past, so I don’t bother with them anymore. I think they want more heat and sunlight than my foggy garden has been offering them of late.

    Right, Jodi – I’m sure the lack of summer heat is an issue for the hibiscus, and I’d think it might be challenging for the celosias and amaranths as well. But I can’t feel too sorry for you, knowing what you *can* grow that we here in PA can’t!
    -Nan

  21. You have such eye-popping color combinations!! It looks as though there are rude muppets in your flower bed! ha.

    “Rude muppets” – I love that!!!!
    -Nan

  22. Posted by GreenerBeaner on December 14, 2008 at 9:23 am

    The amaranthus reminds me of those huge foam “we’re number one” fingers you see at football games – I’m wondering what team your garden is rooting for?

    Welcome, GB. You’re exactly right; I saw the resemblance too!
    -Nan

  23. Posted by Peter Chave on June 1, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Hi. About three years ago I took a picture of an odd looking plant growing wild in Devon, England. I had never seen one similar before or since and have only just now been able to identify it. With help from a local source who identified it as Amaranthus, though not to my eyes looking the same, I began to search the web and finally found your site and the A.Gangeticus, (elephant head). Although yours is much more purple than mine, the form is definitely the same. I have a photo of it. Would you like to see it? If so how can I send it. It is in digital form.
    Peter Chave. South Molton, North Devon, England.

    Thanks for sending the photo. Yes, it’s the same thing; the color varies depending on the age of the heads.
    -Nan

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