YOU HAVE TO LOVE A PLANT with varieties named Bada Bing, Tilt-a-Whirl, Oompah, Fishnet Stockings, King Kong, and Texas Parking Lot.
I’m talking about coleus, popular in Victorian times, then out of favor for decades, and now hot once more, with some 1,500 varieties on the market.
My favorite, of course, is Brooklyn Horror, below (I’d love to know how that name came about!)
If I was told I could use only one type of plant in my urban garden, it might just be coleus. You get so much bang for the effort and the buck. Today’s varieties are good in sun or shade, and coleus gives you increasing size and color from May through frost. (Don’t put them outside until May 1 or so.)
- window boxes, with trailing variegated vinca and ‘spike’ plants for height
- urns, pots and other containers
- “bedding,” i.e. swaths carpeting the ground
- colorful borders, edgings
- tucked among perennials for spots of color as needed
- house plants
Natives of Indonesia, coleus are annuals here in the Northeast, but you can easily take cuttings from them in fall, root them in water or potting soil, and start new plants for the following season.
Some people start coleus from seeds, a cheap way to do it, but that takes space and time and focus, none of which I am prepared to devote. I’ll buy them as starters from farm stands, neighborhood plant sales, local nurseries, specialty growers — wherever I can get ’em. They’re easy to find and fun to collect.