Do you like to grow strange plants? Not just plants you don’t know, but really odd plants like something out of a Dr. Seuss book?
Last year I grew the inedible, just-for-fun Nipple Fruit (Solanum mammosum) and was pleased that the unusual and knobby yellow fruits kept everybody guessing what they were: Eggplant? Tomato? Squash? The plant itself is large (48 to 60 inches tall) and seemed to need either support or pruning because the fruit is rather heavy. It’s really not too soon to be thinking about Halloween!
Another strange plant that we are selling again this year is a 10-foot vine charmingly called Love-in-a-Puff because of its balloon-like seed pods which contain seeds marked with a tiny heart (hence its Latin name Cardiospermum.) An annual vine with attractive foliage and cute white flowers, Love-in-a-Puff would love to cover any chain-link fence for you.
It is hard to beat Lion’s Ears (Leonotis) for quirky personality. It is a tall, square-stemmed, aromatic annual whose flowers are fascinating at every stage of their development, as their curving orange tubes sprout out of spiny globes. Last summer, I was constantly asked the plant’s name. Kids loved it. Even now, almost a year later, gardeners and neighbors are still talking to me about this one plant. Now that I know that Leonotis is not only a freaky, fun plant but is an exceptionally easy, ever-blooming plant, I plan to buy at least three at the sale (the photo shows what just one little plant quickly turns into!)
If you want to grow a flower that is even more prickly, and perennial, try one of our Globe Thistles (Echinops) this summer. We have a brand new 24-inch steely-blue one called ‘Baby Globes,’ a medium-sized 24- to 48-inch dark blue one called Echinops ritro, and a giant 60- to 72-inch silvery white one called ‘Arctic Glow.’ I rather like ‘Arctic Glow,’ both because monster size tends to increase a plant’s “strangeness factor” and because its colors remind me of an unusual and appealing color-themed garden I saw last summer: silver and various shades of red and pink.
We may be used to seeing Horsetail (Equisetum) growing in the wild, but once it’s in a garden it is clear that it deserves to be in our group of strange plants: it is just as straight as can be, 24 to 36 inches tall, with neat little joints like a bamboo. Note how this perennial Horsetail has been planted in this garden (Chanticleer in Pennsylvania) so that its spreading habit is safely contained. A pot would also work, if you buried it in the ground for the winter. Its stem walls are so full of silica that they are abrasive and were used by Native Americans and early settlers to polish wood and even silver.
These unusual fuzzy orange flowers called Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos) are from Australia, a country that seems to specialize in seriously strange plants, more of which are becoming available to American gardeners every year. This year we will also be selling a red variety — let us know if you like them, because next year we could order them in pink, yellow, green or bi-colored. These Kangaroo Paws are 24 inches tall, just the right size to create an impact in a container, but we could offer ones twice that height if our customers are interested.
Finally, a strange plant actually named ‘Dr Seuss’! It is an Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) with huge, fragrant yellow-orange blooms, similar to the Brugmansia shown here and newly available at the sale in a gallon container. This tropical tree can be brought inside for the winter — I know this is true because one of my neighbors has a small forest of them in pots in his front yard! There will also be a new peach-colored Angel’s Trumpet.
Wouldn’t it be fun to plant a whole garden of Dr. Seuss-like oddball plants? Do you have any photos of bizarre Friends School Plant Sale plants you have grown? We would love to see them!