When it comes to a wide array of foliage colors, coleus plants are one of the best to use. It is no wonder the National Garden Bureau has declared 2015 the Year of the Coleus. Just look at this image below, downloaded from the bureau’s website (www.ngb.org/downloads). The variegation is speckled, trimmed on the edges, and splashy! And this plant is so easy to grow. Coleus plants are known for being tough and are quite recognizable by plant lovers.
Last year, I used Wasabi coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Wasabi’) in several container gardens for a wedding client. The bride wanted lime green along with cobalt blue and white colors in her décor for the wedding. Lime green was an easy plant color to obtain. There are many plants with lime green or chartreuse colors, and I immediately had several pop into my head, such as:
- Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantel) – ruffled foliage, lime green foliage and flowers (filler)
- Canna ‘Pretoria’ – tropical fast grower, lime green foliage (thriller)
- Heuchera ‘Citronella’ or ‘Lime Rickey’ (coral bells) – foliage lime green, many Heucheras offer it
- Iris ensata ‘Variegata’ (variegated Japanese iris) – sword like foliage with half lime green stripes
- Lamium maculatum ‘Anne Greenway’ (dead nettle) – spiller with lime green and white foliage
- Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (golden creeping Jenny) – great spiller with lime green foliage
- Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (sedum) – great filler or spiller, tough for hot sun containers
- Tradescantia andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate’ (spiderwort) – strap like vivid lime green with blue-purple flowers
These are just examples of perennials in that color, but many annuals, ornamental grasses, and a few shrubs also show off lime green or chartreuse colors. The plant list could go on and on, but it was important for me to have strong performers and those which would last towards the end of the summer.
Two easy plant choices, which I knew from experience would last, were the annual plants, Wasabi coleus and Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’ (sweet potato vine). Both plants have bright yellow to lime green foliage and really stand out in container gardens.
One of the aspects I adore about how Wasabi coleus worked in the container gardens is how its lime green coloring was highlighted or intensified as it sat near the dark toned elephant ear plants in the pots.
For the elephant ears, two varieties were used, Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ and C. esculenta ‘Black Diamond’. The coleus was so vivid and intense next to the darker toned elephant ears making each plant all the more dramatic.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ has to be one of my all time favorite dark toned elephant ears. It has amazing downward facing heart or ear shaped leaves rising from tall plum to purple-black stems and grows to about three to six feet tall. The reason I find them great tropical performers is because the stems cluster and rise in a nice full batch from the center, and they stay tidy but are very lush and full, serving a the main thriller plant in the container gardens.
Coleus has strong stems which helps it to stand upright in the container as a filler plant next to the elephant ears. However, those strong stems may break in windy situations or if bumped up against. But, the good news is with a quick snip to any damaged stems, regrowth bounces back nicely.
Wasabi coleus does not tend to send out blooms, so I did not have to deal with cleaning them up. From the time I planted them in the containers until the point it was time to tear them out, there was not a flower in sight which to me was a good thing because I prefer the foliage colors and textures of coleus plants – the flowers are not that intriguing to me.
In fact, I experienced no problems with Wasabi coleus. No blemishes, no spots, thus no worries. It was an excellent specimen from beginning to end.
The lime green to chartreuse color of this annual plant served to meet the client’s desired colors, and provided a nice texture with its heavily serrated edges, plus it grew upright and tall, filling in nicely alongside of the other plants in the container. However, there were a couple other plants incorporated into the pots with similar lime-green coloring.
Duranta – Sky Flower Tala Blanco ‘Gold Edge’
Another plant, which is not a perennial but annual in our CT planting zones with lime green appeal, is Duranta serratifolia (Sky Flower Tala Blanco ‘Gold Edge’).
This species is a shrub and its vivid lime green to bright yellow foliage with green centers is extremely electric. The coloring is very bright and the plant is tough. The only concern is handling it because stems have sharp spines, but otherwise, it definitely adds flare to the containers. As noted above, cobalt blue was another color requested, and this plant made the blue to purple flowers in the pots pop.
Marguerite Sweet Potato Vine
You don’t even need to say or mention why sweet potato vines are excellent for container gardens. They trail, grow relatively fast, and are showy in pots. Pretty much everyone into gardening knows of them – similar to how gardeners are aware of coleus plants. This is why the ‘Marguerite’ sweet potato vine was used as the spiller, a plant which trails off the sides in the container gardens. It has a nearly perfect lime green color and grows quickly.
The sweet potato vine plant eventually grew so long, I had to pick them up in my arms when moving the pots into my trailer for delivery. It felt like I was holding the train of a wedding gown. Ipomoeas are sun to part shade annuals. They are very versatile in any type of container gardens from hanging baskets to window boxes. Sweet potato vines could be considered the staple of spillers because they cascade so nicely and keep growing.
The container gardens at the wedding event served more purposes than just dressing up the space, they were great for protecting guests from tripping over the tent cords. And the bright lime to yellow green of the three plants (Wasabi coleus, Marguerite sweet potato vine, and Sky Flower) seemed to glow at dusk as the wedding day progressed which turned out to be beneficial.
After the container gardens were returned to my nursery, because they were obtained as rentals by the bride and groom, they continued to show their beauty until the early days of fall. When the season was over, I piled the stalks and cuttings of the plants into a garden cart to compost. Even here, you can see how amazing the bright lime greens showed up in the pile of mixed plants removed from the containers.
By the way, many people view coleus as a shade plant, but it can take part sun or dappled sun. Coleus ‘Wasabi’ was a great filler in these container gardens, but many other varieties tend to cascade downwards, serving as what I’ve titled as a “sprawler”. Sprawlers are similar to spillers, except they reach out a bit like arms coming down or reaching out of a pot. Also, big plants, like the elephant ears used in this combination, provide some shade over the lower growing coleus plants.
One sprawler which comes in mind is Coleus ‘Dipt in Wine’. It has a red wine color. One year when I used it in a container garden, it gently moved its way outward and downward from the pot. And…well, I could go on and on about coleus plants, so I should stop here.
Saying “The Year of 2015” is the “Year of Coleus” seems a little silly because it has always been a yearly choice for me.
For more details about how to grow and care for coleus, visit the National Garden Bureau page.
P.S. Only 15 days until spring!