March 21, 2010

Made in the shade with Mona lavender

By NORMAN WINTER McClatchy Newspapers

As I got out of the car for the garden tour there it was, Mona lavender. I could recognize that electrifying lavender blue anywhere.

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Mona lavender is a popular perennial in warm zones and makes a terrific annual in colder climes, blooming spring through fall.

McClatchy Newspapers

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Mona lavender, sharing space here with white impatiens, produces tall spikes of iridescent lavender-blue flowers. It would work beautifully in a woodland garden partnered with ferns, hydrangeas and hostas.

McClatchy Newspapers

Actually as I looked beyond I could see that the gardener had used the plant in several locations, giving a spiky, eye-catching interest in her combinations.

Mona lavender leaped onto the scene about five years ago, winning awards and the admiration of the gardeners who gave it a try. Unfortunately, it is not used nearly enough, and there are very few plants that offer this color for the morning-sun-afternoon-shade situation.

Mona lavender also has another problem. Botanically speaking it is a plectanthus – a word certainly lacking the name recognition as, say, the petunia or marigold. In fact, tell a child the name and he or she is most like to associate the weird sounding word with some sort of dinosaur.

Gardeners that really get out and dig in the dirt recognize the name as being from the genus that gives us plants like Swedish Ivy, Mexican Mint and Creeping Charlie. Except this time it’s the flowers we are raving about, although the foliage is striking too.

Mona lavender is a hybrid developed at the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in South Africa, and it performs exceptionally well as a perennial in warm zones 9 to 11 and a terrific annual in colder locations blooming from spring through fall. The small, bushy plant has dark green foliage with hints of purple. The undersides of the leaves are dark purple.

The plant reaches about 2 feet tall and as wide producing showy spikes of tubular flowers that are lavender blue and looking almost glowingly iridescent in the part-shade garden.

Mona lavender prefers moist, well-drained soil in morning sun and afternoon shade or filtered light. This plant will reward you for efforts in bed preparation. If you have tight, heavy soil that doesn’t drain well, incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter and till in 6 to 8 inches deep.

Though some plectranthus have occasional mealy bug or spider mite issues, in the years I have grown it there have been virtually no insect or disease pressures. Mona lavender is an exceptional performer as a border plant and is equally impressive in mixed containers. Feed your plants about every four to six weeks with a light application of a slow-release fertilizer. In containers feed with a dilute water-soluble fertilizer or controlled-released granules.

Mona lavender also works in any style of garden. It’s great in Grandma’s cottage garden and is simply unbeatable in woodland gardens where you might partner it with hydrangeas, ferns and hostas. The garden where I saw it on tour featured it with pink impatiens, which was ideal.

Being a tropical nut, I used them in our trials with lime green Joseph’s Coats and bananas for a Caribbean look. The tall bananas produced just the right amount of shade protection from the hot afternoon sun. The Joseph’s Coats contrasted nicely with both the lavender flower spikes and the purple-tinted leaves.

When you visit your garden center this spring, your choices may seem a little overwhelming, but Mona lavender plectranthus is a must-try for your shady area. You’ll also find that there really are a lot of enticing companions.

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