Last year, at the “Gardens, Gallery and Gifts” event held in Broad Brook, CT, I included an annual pepper plant in an intense purple container mixed with portulaca, variegated basil, and a dwarf canna. It was one of the first to sell, and the person who bought it was Lisa, my older sister. She and my other 2 sisters attended the event which included displays of my container garden designs and other artisan works by Connecticut women artists.
The pepper plant is what caught Lisa’s attention first. She often cooks up hot and spicy meals, such as her famous jambalaya, red beans and rice, or shrimp etouffee stew. For several years, she lived in New Orleans thus she knows how to do up these dishes up right, always starting with a roux, and making shrimp stock from scratch. And, of course, adding a variety of very hot spices. In the summer months, she uses my father’s fresh garden grown tomatoes. But whether served up in season or during the winter months, we always enjoy the huge steaming portions from her large Dutch ovens at our family gatherings. It is excellent every time.
Capsicum ‘Super Chili’ by Sara’s Superb Herbs (www.superbherbs.net) was the pepper in the container she selected that day. Lisa planned to replace her normally dry ingredient of cayenne in her Cajun creations with the peppers as soon as they were ready. She is the type of shopper that always wants a value driven product, and this container’s plants had their fringe benefits to suit her cooking style while offering ornamental blooms as it sat outdoors during the summer on her patio.
The upright basil in the container, Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’, was another herb she likes to use, plus she said she enjoyed its variegated light green foliage edged with white creamy coloring. This basil culinary herb grows up to 4’ high and doesn’t flower. It can be taken indoors at the end of the summer season to continue using as needed for recipes. And the canna rhizomes can be stored in the fall for reuse in her containers the next year. Fashionable and hot, her purchase provided sustainability in the kitchen and beauty on the patio.
The ‘Super Chili’ pepper had long slender green fruits of about 1” long when she took the container home that afternoon in June. As noted on the plant’s tag, you can pick some of the first few chili peppers when they are still green to encourage a longer fruiting season and heavier set. This plant grows to 24” tall and wide and appreciates well drained, rich soil in the full sun for best growth. Lisa placed her container on the corner of her back patio. Her backyard has a western exposure and receives lots of wind since it is situated on a big hill facing a wonderful view. Because ‘Super Chili’ Pepper likes it hot and sunny with good air circulation, it thrived in this location. It received full sun most of the afternoon but the shade was also appreciated from the overhang of her deck above.
As for me, the characteristic I enjoy most about using pepper plants in container arrangements is how the peppers will ripen to brilliant colors as they mature. Many will start off green and change to red, yellow, purple, orange, and even black! The ‘Super Chili’ ripens to a brilliant red and grows to about 2.5” long. Peppers don’t get bothered by pests usually. No maintenance worries, you don’t need to check it for insects, or groundhogs that sometimes visit container gardens. Other than warning anyone wanting to temp a bite of the raw pepper, this type of vegetable is worth including in mixed arrangements with other sun-loving annuals, perennials, and tropical plants.
For this year’s show, I decided to place orders of a pepper that matures to a purplish black color. It is Pepper ‘Comstock’s Purple’, a cross of the Tasmanian and Jwala peppers. The habit is a strong and erect with the elongated purplish fruit pointing upwards toward the sky from the tips of the stems. As the fruit grows larger, it will hang down from its weight against the dark green foliage. Comstock’s Purple has the same heat as cayenne peppers and grows to about 24-26” tall, also appreciating full sun. If you want to see them, come to the show in June this year where they will be available for sale. For more on that, see www.facebook.com/gardensgallerygifts.
Lisa told me she collected the remaining branches from her pepper plant in early fall and kept them for use later. Would you believe at Christmas time? She put the dried branches with their bright red peppers still dangling on into vases with other evergreens. She said it was fun to have them displayed during the winter, and again, being a frugal minded person, she was very pleased to reuse her peppers a third time for decor purposes, now indoors! She enjoyed informing her dinner guests about how the showy vibrant red peppers in the vases are those also used in the meal providing a warm and comforting feeling so needed on cold winter nights.
So when mixing up your container selections this season, don’t overlook hot peppers for their ornamental value and edible appeal! Cathy T