Those of you who’ve visited From the Soil in the past likely understand that I’m a big fan of coleus (Solenostemon) of all shapes and sizes. Coleus breeding has gone crazy in recent years, with bold, colorful varieties filling garden center benches everywhere. I love it, and find it difficult to walk away from the color, texture and splash that each new cultivar brings to the garden. But with boldness comes conflict. Too many stars can ruin the harmony of a container or landscape design.
That’s where a close relative of coleus comes in: Plectranthus. Where coleus shines, Plectranthus forms a solid foundation on which to build.
Many gardeners may think they’ve never grown Plectranthus in the past, because they know it by the common name of Swedish Ivy (P. coleoides). I’ve used Swedish Ivy both a filler and spiller for years. This vigorous grower mounds and spills hundreds of scalloped green leaves with bright white margins from a single plant.
But Swedish Ivy is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Plectranthus is concerned. There are more than 350 species in the genus. Although most of those aren’t available to home gardeners, I was impressed to find a wide variety of cultivars when plant shopping earlier this year. There’s such a difference between cultivars, I’d be hard pressed to group them as the same genus without the plant tags.
My favorite of the bunch that I’m growing this year is ‘Nico’, considered a groundcover type. The mass of foliage pictured above grew from a single 4″ pot planted in mid-June. The leathery, textured leaves of ‘Nico’ grow from purple stems. The underside of the leaves have a purple tinge as well. ‘Nico’ has white/pink flowers, but I haven’t seen it bloom yet. Plectranthus generally prefers cool nights to flower, and we’ve certainly not had a cool summer.
|Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’|
‘Mona Lavender’ is a more upright cultivar. The leaves are smaller and thinner than ‘Nico’. The undersides are a black-purple that offset the bright lavender salvia-like blooms, making a great companion to the fine purple-red foliage of Alternanthera ‘Red Thread’. I’ve been assured by another gardening friend that ‘Mona Lavender’ will burst forth in heavy bloom once the summer heat subsides.
|Plectranthus ‘Silver Shield’|
‘Silver Shield’ takes Plectranthus in an entirely different direction. While the leaves are similar in shape to ‘Nico’, their pubescent texture and silver color is reminiscent of Stachys (Lamb’s Ear).
|Plectranthus ‘Lemon Twist’|
The last of the Plectranthus I’m growing this year is ‘Lemon Twist’. It’s large soft-textured green leaves with yellow-green margins remind me of a large-leaved sage. I planted it in a pot that sits that the base of a larger container to allow ‘Lemon Twist’ to form a strong foundation for the ‘Festive Dance’ coleus planted in the background.
I’m not sure that anyone will ever see a Plectranthus from across my garden and exclaim, “Wow! What is that plant?” They may never be the highlights of my garden, but these unassuming cousins of coleus have found a permanent place in my gardening palette.