The Gorilla In the Garden

Connie Booth – Halton Master Gardener

No grow lamps, no high-tech equipment.
Just a South facing window.

No grow lamps, no high-tech equipment…just a South facing window, but with this low-tech combination there has been green-thumb success for me in growing coleus from seeds….mind you, it’s been the only plant I can successfully start and grow indoors! That niche success spreads out, too, to others. After planting about 50 of them around our shady home, surplus coleus heads over to friends’ homes and to – let’s not forget — the Burlington Horticultural Society’s plant sale. OK, so why coleus, and why from seeds? Over the past several years, as my various flower beds became more and more shady, the annual flowering bedding plants that are purchased just didn’t survive. The notable exceptions were coleus — which provided instant colour in both sunny and shady locations. Not only are they numerous and very healthy, but if the summer temps are high, they get very large — so big, they topple their pots if I let them dry out too much.

The colours are often spectacular — which is why they are so popular within my circle of friends. One of my friends calls me the Coleus Queen. At last count, I had 13 flowerbeds, so that’s a lot of space to fill. It’s way more economical to grow from seed, and fortunately, this is one plant that has rewarded my efforts. Accordingly, in February I went with a good friend and fellow garden enthusiast to a well-known seed supplier to buy seeds as I’ve done in past years. We had a wonderful time browsing and I bought several packets of unusual vegetable and flower seeds, including the coleus. Well, after setting up all my little trays at home I opened up the packet of coleus seeds and discovered there were seven seeds in it and I paid $5.65! I normally get 80-100 seeds in a packet. Needless to say, I called the supplier and they informed me, that was correct, as I had purchased the “Kong” variety — as in King Kong, apparently. The lady said they were very large. I wondered how large could they be, as the coleus I’ve grown in the past have already been quite large. When I asked, the reply was that the leaves can be “nine inches long”. The Pinto variety I had grown before were sometimes that large but unfortunately they were no longer carried by this supplier. With these pricey seeds, there was no way I was going to be able to grow my usual harvest. I got on the phone to all the other seed retailers within a half-hour drive; nobody seem to carry coleus seeds. I was meeting friends for a movie the next day in Mississauga and decided to call a garden centre there. Finally, I found some. A brand I had never tried, but at a normal price ($1.89) and with dozens of seeds in the packet.

Today, those Kong seeds are in a separate tray. And they’re going to be watched closely to see if they justify the cost. Thus far, only six of seven have germinated. Despite their priced-like-royalty pedigree, the Kongs are being treated just like their Mississauga cousins – growing up in simple trays and in the same south-facing window. When grown, I plan to name the heartiest King Kong, the prettiest Fay Wray, and the ugliest Beast. Whether they perform as advertised or not, you can bet they’ll also be pointed out to all visitors! Especially to the real Fay Wray, if she happens to show up.

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