Wednesday, August 8, 2007

All’s Fair

Last Friday (August 3) I judged at the New Jersey State Fair in Sussex County (when not spotting, admiring, photographing, and promoting coleus, that is). Not long ago, a few been-there, seen-that coleus might have been relegated to out-of-the-way corners of a public venue as this, but no longer. It seems to me that coleus are becoming as ubiquitous as petunias, geraniums, and ornamental sweet potatoes. Fine with me!

I suspect that the flower competition held later in the week will offer a class or two for coleus, probably as cut branches and maybe in mixed containers. Watch out, you exhibitors of zinnias and dahlias and many other flowers: the popularity of coleus as entries in shows and fairs is definitely on the rise.

What follows is a mini-tour of some of the coleus I found during the first two days of the New Jersey State Fair.

Sue Novello and John Beirne, two local coleus mavens whom you’ll read about in later blog entries, were the driving force behind creating two large raised beds that flanked the entrance to the Garden Expo building. Ornamental sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), cannas, elephant ears (Colocasia) chicken gizzards (Iresine herbstii), Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), and other tropical foliage plants vied for attention along with several coleus cultivars. I can’t identify the coleus that makes up the red stripe in the middle of the picture – maybe it’s ‘True Red’? - but I think there’s a bunch of yellow-edged ‘Solar Flare’ below it and some red-splashed ‘Careless Love’ above. One sprig of ‘Gold Giant’ appears at the extreme left. Dazzling!

A different view of the entrance beds shows the one-of-a-kind ‘Tilt a Whirl’ and a few more shy sprigs of ‘Gold Giant’. Please keep the coloration of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ in mind as you look at and read about the coleus in the next picture.

The local Master Gardeners put together a large and impressive sales area just inside the entrance of the Garden Expo building. They opened with a good number of first-rate coleus on hand, and by late Saturday most of them had disappeared! Offerings included the pink-veined, cut-edged ‘Peter Wonder’ at the top left, the orangey, animated ‘Tilt a Whirl’ (I’ll come back to this later), the chartreuse, dark-veined ‘Gay’s Delight’, and the mostly orange ‘Sedona’ in the bottom right. Remember the plants of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ in the previous picture? Depending on several factors, including time of year, temperature, soil fertility, and light, the main color of ‘Tilt a Whirl’ can range from brown to orange to apricot, and the leaves may be prominently fingered and twisted to much less so. That’s coleus for you, some playing the chameleon, while others appearing more or less the same throughout the season.

Coleus were featured in some of the more impressive entries in the professional competitive section, including this large windowbox. I want to say that’s the multicolored ‘Solar Eclipse’ on the left, with some large leaves of an unknown cultivar (maybe ‘Japanese Giant’ still developing its coloration?) at the top. Although not in bloom, the pink-edged coleus provides just as much color as the zinnia, don’t you think?

Here are two views of an imposing and complex container planting included in a large commercial display. At the top (left picture), an unidentified, large-leaved coleus attractively picks up on the colors of the two sweet potatoes (Ipomoea ‘Blackie’ and ‘Margarita’) above it. A more diverse combination at the base (right picture) features the always unpredictable ‘Religious Radish’ (note the variable pink edge) and one of several dark red-splashed green selections (‘Cranberry Salad’? ‘Antique’? one of the variants of ‘Careless Love’?). I wanted to remove the pink Impatiens, but my more sensible self prevailed.

I hope to enjoy discovering plenty of coleus at the 2008 New Jersey State Fair, too.

Readers, please feel free to contact me with your coleus sightings at mail I’ll be happy to hear from you!