Instead of sending a vase of cut flowers, I decided this year to buy my mom a gift certificate to a garden center for Mother’s Day. It seemed more sustainable, to use a buzz word, not to mention fun. This way, I reasoned, she would get to pick out the coleus she wants for her container garden, which is the fun part of it anyway, at least the way I see it. Not that I don’t enjoy being in the dirt and wrestling with large stones and grappling pernicious deep-rooted weeds, but designing and selecting plant specimens for the garden appeals to my creative and imaginative impulses. It’s why I’ve chosen the two careers (writing and garden design) that I have, after all. I also wanted to invent board games (and may still some day, but that’s another story), work in a French patisserie, and become a paludier, but I’ve learned to narrow my passions over the years, for good or bad.
Finding the best garden center proved to be tricky. I live in Austin, TX and my mom lives in Florida so I had to research online to find a good nursery near her home. In the end, I chose one called Yard Stop, which I liked for the simplicity of its name. They had no website, so I spent a good half hour checking various user review sites (Yelp, Yahoo) to find out a little more. There were a number of bad reviews posted, but this is Florida, folks, and you have to take these things with a grain of salt. People are cheap when it comes to plants and most of the “bad” reviews were people complaining, for instance, that Yard Stop did not guarantee their plants for a whole calendar year (like Home Depot or Lowe’s) and that they did not give free landscape design services. Really? Good for them, I think. Sounds like they know what their plants and services are worth.
Anyway, my mom loves coleus. All kinds. And there are many to choose from these days. Some are sun coleus and some are shade coleus and it’s important to know the difference. When I was a buyer for Gardens in Austin, I became intimately familiar with almost 100 coleus varieties. We even grew many of them ourselves, insuring we had a steady supply when local growers ran out. Though the website Coleus Finder lists a whopping 1433 varieties by name, we found only about 50-60 were available locally and many of those for only a week or two. You have to act fast. I liked the simple, solid-color large round-leaved varieties best (I feel the same way about caladiums) because of the way the simple blocks of color look when contrasted among other nearby plants (varieties with veins of two or three colors or fancy, frilled edges tended to clash and appear too busy for my eye, though there are a few I love, like ‘Henna’). I also tended not to mix different coleus in the same pot for the same reasons mentioned above. My favorites were: ‘Dark Chocolate’, ‘Limelight’, ‘Molten Orange’, ‘Red Head’ and ‘Chocolate Mint‘. New cultivars become available all the time and the names are increasingly imaginative, if not bizarre: ‘Dipped in Wine’, ‘Banchee Holiday’, ‘Batique Fetish’, ‘Massacre’ and my all-time favorite coleus name, ‘September Divorce’.
My mom, of course, can get whatever coleus she wants and plant them anyway she wants. It’s her garden, after all. Happy Mother’s Day.