Coleus was the darling of Victorian gardeners. Their carpet beds as they called them, used coleus plants extensively for dependable color in intricate designs. Often referred to as floral “Persian rugs”, these beds required intensive labor and thousands of plants, unimaginable to gardeners of today. Taking their cue from the French parterre, these gardens were meant to be viewed from above through the drawing room window.
Today the colorful coleus is once again a horticultural hero. With the advent of sun-tolerant coleus a whole new world opened on what was once considered a “curious, comical” shade plant. A dizzying array of new color variations now offer endless design possibilities.
Unlike most flowering annuals, coleus can be counted on for continuous color 24/7. It can carry the show or compliment other plant combinations. Still a star in beds, it now features in many container plantings. The deep wine to dark purple of “Black Prince”, “Dark Star”, and “Merlot” goes well with flowers of fuchsia pinks and magentas, as well as lavenders. Add lime green trailers like ornamental sweet potato for pizzazz.
Or pair them with other coleus like “Dapple Apple” and “Religious Radish” for a super sampler. Scalloped, lobed, cut and ruffled leaves add to the whimsical effect of a plant mosaic.
While many coleus are a study in reds, purples and green; a few unique specimens deserve mention. “Freckles” has a splotched leaf of yellow and bronze. “Sedona” will remind you of sunset-color rock formations in Arizona.