Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
Just look at that blue! Do I even need to explain further why blue pimpernel (Anagallis monellii) deserves a place in the “Neat Plants” hall of fame?
I have to thank Jodi of Bloomingwriter for reminding me about this gem. I tried it many, many years ago and didn’t have luck with it; too much shade, I think. But after reading about it (and an orange version, called ‘Wildcat Orange’) on her blog, I decided it deserved a second chance. I started the seeds indoors in March, and the plants began blooming in early July. Eventually reaching about 1 foot tall, they kept flowering well into October in this full-sun container planting.
Apparently blue pimpernel is hardy in Zones 8 or 9 and south. Here in Zone 6, I’ll need to start new plants each spring, but it will be worth the effort (and a small effort it is, because the seeds are easy to germinate). If you want to try this warm-weather beauty for yourself, you can get seeds from Thompson & Morgan.
On the other end of the height spectrum is another beautiful summer-bloomer: Abelmoschus manihot. It’s sometimes known as sweet hibiscus, sunset hibiscus, or aibika, but there doesn’t seem to be any very common common name for this one, which is unfortunate, because the scientific name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But if you can get past that, the plant itself is easy to grow.
Closely related to okra (A. esculentus) and hibiscus (A. manihot is sometimes listed as Hibiscus manihot), this heat-lover needs to be started indoors in most areas. It grows quickly, though, so I usually wait until late March to early April to sow the seeds. Set on a heating mat, they sprout speedily- usually within a week. I transplant them to the garden in early June, when they’re about 4 inches tall; by late July, they’re easily 5 to 6 feet tall and starting to flower.
Full sun is best for these vigorous growers, with average, well-drained soil. Where the soil is moist and very fertile, as in the bed shown above, the leaves can get quite large and somewhat obscure the flowers; plus, the lush stems can be prone to sprawling in summer storms. In normal garden soil with occasional watering during dry spells, the stems tend to be pretty sturdy, and large, maroon-throated, pale yellow blooms are usually easy to see (as shown below). In dry conditions, the plants will be short and bloom sparsely, if at all.
By early fall, the plants can reach 6 to 8 feet tall. Flowering may continue into autumn if you snip off the developing seedpods; otherwise, the show is pretty much over by early September. It’s easy to collect the rounded seeds when the pods split open. (I highly recommend wearing gloves when you work with the pods, because those hairs can be very prickly.) Or leave the podded stalks undisturbed for winter interest. A. manihot can be perennial in Zone 8 and south; the rest of us need to grow it as an annual. The seeds regularly appear on the list for the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group‘s Seed Exchange, but they’re kind of hard to find from retail sources. You could try Select Seeds or Chiltern Seeds.
And finally, the weirdest neat plant: prickly scorpion’s tail (Scorpiurus muricatus). Actually, the plant itself is not that interesting: sort of a spreading thing to about 6 inches tall.
The yellow flowers are bright and pretty, but they’re also tiny and not very abundant.
So, there’s not a lot to recommend this annual pea and bean relative tail as a garden plant. But look at those seedpods!
Legend has it that wild-and-crazy folks back in the 18th and 19th (and presumably even the 20th) centuries found it great fun to add these caterpillar-like pods to the salads of their guests, just for a laugh (the pods aren’t tasty). Er…whatever. I can’t claim to have come up with a better use for them myself. They’re just silly and different; who needs another reason to grow them? I started the seeds indoors on a heating mat in March and set them out in late May, in a site with average, well-drained soil and full sun. You can acquire seeds for yourself from Seeds Savers Exchange.