Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Return to the Frelinghuysen

I spent some time at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum yesterday (Tuesday, August 26) to check out the big raised-bed planting (see “Do you still think . . .” from August 5 for more info) and to see how the other coleus were faring. Nicely, I'm glad to report. But first, I'd like to recognize someone who helped plant the raised bed: thank you, John Lazenby, for your efforts and interest in this project.

Remember: picture first, then words.

The coleus in the raised bed are thriving, except for 'Tiger Lily' (which never kicked in and is growing backward, really), and 'Velvet Mocha', which has developed a herd of livestock, aka mealybugs. Mealybugs happen. A quick horticultural-oil spray probably took care of most of them, though. While some people have offered that the dark-stemmed cultivars attract and perhaps even foster mealybugs - I'm one of them - the adjacent and equally dark-stemmed 'Black Trailer' was apparently free of the bugs. Go figure. By the way, the numbered squares correspond to the segments of the cell-phone tour that to date has been heard by more than 180 people. The “Do you still think . . .” post from August 5 gives info on the tour, narrated by yours truly.

A few Lantana flower clusters peek out from a mass of 'Freckles', with a bamboo providing a clean green backdrop. Sharp!

Here's what Pam Harper calls a color echo: the pink of 'The Flume' picking up on the flowers of a Fuchsia magellanica selection. Cool and very sophisticated, I think.

The yellow flowers of a Lantana selection provide a sharp color contrast with the wildly cut and colored (sounds like a hair style!) foliage of 'Merlin's Magic'.

Note how the dark purple of Alternanthera 'Gail's Choice' precisely echoes the dark tones in 'Swiss Sunshine'. Depending on the light, moisture, fertility, and whims of 'Swiss Sunshine', its coloration can include shades of red, yellow, green, and purple-black. It sports like crazy, too, and a couple of them are on display at Atlock. Will they remain stable so that we can propagate them? Who knows?

‘Meandering Linda’ (also known as ‘Trailing Plum’ and ‘Saucy Sally’, among other names) creates a color lesson with a variegated selection of Ficus elastica. The complex tertiary colors of red-violet and blue-green interact with much simpler-looking black and white – do you see all of them and how they relate to each other? Can you imagine how this would look if the red-violet were paired with white on the coleus foliage, and the blue-green sat against black on the Ficus?

Finally, here’s a single specimen (yes, one plant) of ‘Gay’s Delight’ growing in a bed at the Frelinghuysen. To the left and right are shoots that most closely resemble (but aren’t exactly) ‘Gay’s’ familiar, darkly smudged chartreuse pattern, but notice the all-chartreuse shoots at the top, which look like ‘Lifelime’ and ‘Green Giant’, among others. Then marvel at the spattered leaves in the upper left and the blotchy ones in the center, which remind me very strongly of ‘Antique’ (and ‘Cranberry Salad’, for that matter) and the “standard” pattern of ‘Careless Love’, respectively. So which came first? Later on this blog I’ll explore the fascinating subject of sporting and reversion, which are expressions of mutations - instabilities, if you will – that occur deep within the cells of many coleus.

16 days to Coleus Day at Atlock!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Photo Extravaganza!

Today I'm posting pictures that I hope will whet your appetite to attend Coleus Day at Atlock on September 13, or certainly to check out the pictures I'll post of the event. Less than three weeks to go! I'm going to be conservative with the words and liberal with the pictures (hmm, are the national political conventions about to take place?).

First I hope you'll enjoy the picture, then the words - the caption - below it.

The Red Border (I still can't bring myself to call it the Tropical Border) contains a few coleus. This pic was taken in the early evening after a nice long sprinkler session, so the colors are punched up a bit from the flash and the water. That's 'Burgundy Wedding Train' at the bottom and orangey pink 'Fanatic Radish' in the lower right-hand corner.

The other end of the Red Border isn't at all red (or very tropical, for that matter), but it does contain a refreshing coleus combo for shade. 'Buttercream' offers a cool contrast with the chartreuse tones of golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') and the black-green foliage of one of the very hardy Meserve hollies (Ilex x meserveae).

A bit of anxiety here: the coleus in the formal garden behind the shop are taking their good old time filling in. I think I just might let that cursed quickweed (Galinsoga) grow up and make a nice green filler among the coleus. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Most of what you see are 'JoDonna' on the left and 'Meteor' on the right. Similar here but quite different elsewhere.

Four ancient lemon plants hold forth on one side of the formal garden and provide extra shade for lighter-colored coleus that burn in more sun. Front to back: 'Schizophrenia', 'Max Levering', 'Lemon Chiffon', and just a bit of 'The Line'. The quickweed is mercifully a bit more slower-growing here.

Another flash-altered picture, this time of the Paintbox. The coleus are very happy here - I suspect this bed might end up being photographed as much as the Red/Tropical Border. 'Max Levering' stands out as the bright yellow one with the red flecks. Dark-blotched 'Stormy' next to it is distinctive but much too eager to bloom . . .

Check out the Long Border for some bold color combinations and textural contrasts. There are some coleus here, but they're not easy to see in the picture. A bit of 'Sedona' glows in the lower left corner, and there's a dark streak of 'Lancelot Velvet Mocha' back and to the right. 'Yalaha' is filling in farther back, as is 'Royal Glissade'. 'Red Coat' is not happy.

Now for a few containers: here's 'Inky Fingers' mingling beautifully (I think, anyway) with a Carex and a Cordyline in an assertively orange container. This pot will be placed strategically in the gardens to show it off; right now it's associating with a whole lot of other containers in a holding area. Look for it.

'Swiss Sunshine' provides a transition from the cream-colored pot to the much darker Pennisetum 'Prince'. Don't take a cultural cue from the name: 'Swiss Sunshine' shrinks from too much sun and looks its best where given afternoon shade. We also have it in a vivid green container, but those plants are still recuperating from a case of sunburn. Dumb me.

Into the greenhouses: here are 104 different stock plants all in one place. A duplicate collection grows in the adjacent house. Those plants were cut back recently and will not be as lush and colorful on Coleus Day as these plants, but they probably will turn out to be denser, stockier plants when the time comes to propagate them next year.

The adjacent house - where the other block of 104 grows - holds an exciting mix of specimen plants and cultivars under evaluation for possible inclusion among the anointed ones. White-centered 'South of the Border' continues to hold my interest, as does the flashy 'Stella Red' near the top right corner.

'Odalisque' is without doubt my favorite of the traditional trailers (I don't consider 'Inky Fingers' a trailer but more of a leaner; otherwise, it would be at the top of the list for sure). This behemoth started out as one little cutting 17 months ago and now demands daily watering and more than a just casual glance.

Three specimen plants that I'm paying special attention to: 'Freckles' in the upper left corner, 'Solar Flare' in the upper right, and the ever-amusing 'Careless Love' at the bottom. 'Freckles' has become my signature coleus, appearing on (so far) the T-shirt I sell, on my "fancy" business card, and as the pattern for a sumptuous cotton throw I had made. More later.

Last is a before-and-after treatment of one of the coleus topiaries being cosseted for the Big Day. I admit that not not everyone likes the smoldery look of 'Lancelot Velvet Mocha', but that don't bother me none. It makes a very willing topiary subject. This one is descended from the first batch of 'LVM' cuttings rooted at Atlock last summer.

After the cut. I'm certain I've cut this head back at least six times in its relatively brief lifetime, and it keeps coming back thickly and eagerly. Much of this plant literally fell off last April, but you've never know it when looking at it: new growth quickly sprouted and created a fine-looking new head.

So there's the three-weeks-and-counting preview of Coleus Day. Please visit Atlock Farm ( on September 13 from 10:00 to 4:00, or check in on this site soon afterward!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Six Questions about Coleus

This is a post for those of you who have been asking for more "hard-core" information on growing coleus. I wrote this a while back for an article that appeared somewhere (sheesh, there's a senior moment!), and it addresses some important aspects.

New viewers to this site (and repeaters, if you wish): if you would, please contact me at to let me know you've paid a visit, and feel free to make comments and suggestions!

Sorry, no pictures with this one. But I'm planning to take a bunch of them at Atlock Farm over the weekend and am hoping to make a big post on Sunday or Monday. Coleus Day is three weeks away . . .



The so-called “sun coleus” are varieties that tolerate a great deal of sun or even require it to show off their best coloration. Coleus are no longer plants strictly for shady sites – hybridizers and coleus enthusiasts continue to offer spectacular selections that will provide as much color (or more) than many other sun-loving plants, including other annuals and many perennials. Generally, grow the light-colored ones (those with white or pale pink or yellow in their leaves) in spots that receive only the first hour or two of morning sun. Most others do very well with lots of morning sun (before it gets strong and hot), and some, including the sun coleus, luxuriate in all the sun you can throw at them. Experiment with your favorites to see what they can handle.


Flowering directs a plant’s energies toward seed production. Since we grow coleus for their colorful foliage, it makes sense to pinch out the flower buds as you notice them. Don’t wait until the flower clusters are big and unsightly. Pinching will encourage the plants to send out more shoots and leaves, resulting in a denser, more colorful plant. Some coleus produce beautiful blue flowers, though, so you might want to stop pinching about six weeks before your expected first frost to enjoy them at the end of the season.


If you want to keep your favorites over winter for the next growing season, the easiest thing to do is to root some cuttings in water a month or two before your expected first frost. Make the cuttings about four to six inches long, take off the lower leaves and flower buds, and then place them in a glass of water. Roots will quickly form, and then it will be time to plant the cuttings in a pot containing well-drained potting mix. Keep your new plants warm and in as much sun as you can give them (under lights works, too). As the plants grow, you can take more cuttings and repeat the process to make even more plants. Don’t plant them outside until all danger of frost has passed.


Coleus are easy to grow from seed. However, almost all coleus grown from seed will probably not look like the plant from which it came, except for those intentionally produced by seed companies and offered for sale (such as Rainbow, Wizard, Carefree, and Black Dragon). Most of the coleus we grow today are kept “true” by raising them from cuttings taken from a parent plant.


Start at your favorite local nursery, or ask your gardening friends for a cutting. Local gardening resources (such as a public garden or gardening expert) can provide help, too. Several mail-order companies offer coleus; check out for a list of American and overseas sources. There are now hundreds of different coleus being grown and enjoyed worldwide.


If I could grow only one coleus, it would be ‘Alabama Sunset’, which offers changing combinations of chartreuse and red, depending on the amount of sun it receives. It grows well in gardens and containers and goes to flower reluctantly. However, plenty of other coleus grow well and offer beautiful coloration, and they are waiting to becoming my next (and your) favorite.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I could write a book about coleus . . .

so I did, with my good friend, Richard Hartlage, as the principal photographer, and Timber Press as the publisher. It's the only book in print on coleus, and I - no bias here! - think it's packed with useful information, dazzling photographs, and a few amusing bits of prose. Here's the front cover:

The book contains 404 full-color photographs and presents 225 cultivars in the encyclopedia section, which is organized along the lines of plant habit and leaf shape/color. Three major chapters present the ins and outs of culture, propagation, and problems we might encounter along the way. Other chapters cover history, designing with coleus, coleus in containers and in the garden in general, and sporting and reversion.

Check out the detailed page Timber Press includes on their website. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get any web links to post on this blog today, so please Google Timber Press and type the word coleus into the search box. You might also like to Google the nurseries mentioned later in this blog post

Brave souls reading this blog might want to see what I look like in the author's photo on the Timber page about my book.

OK, the above could be considered the "boilerplate" text that offers the basic facts about the book. But now I'd like to relate a few behind-the-scenes facts to give you a better sense for how this book was created.

Many of the coleus pictured in the book were grown at Atlock Farm in Somerset, New Jersey, the nursery where I play. Quite a few were stock plants that Richard (the photographer) and I fussed over for the foliage closeups and specimen shots, taken over a dozen or more photo shoots. Check out the breathtaking shot of one of the Atlock greenhouses on pages 60-61, which shows hundreds of coleus topiaries in production.

Other coleus were shot in the garden of Bob Pioselli, coleus grower and collector extraordinaire, whose garden in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State contains (at last count) 280 different cultivars. A small portion of Bob's garden appears on page 70.

Richard and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Albert Lea, Minnesota, to visit with Vern Ogren and shoot his collection. Vern is the father of the modern coleus movement, if you will, and has released many superb coleus into commerce through his business, Color Farm. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to him.

In addition to my own notes made over three years - in the Atlock greenhouses and gardens and at several other locations - I interviewed some of the Biggest Names in the coleus world. Besides Bob Pioselli and Vern Ogren, I corresponded with Allan Armitage from the University of Georgia, world-class plantsman, author of many books, and force behind the Athens Select plant recognition program; Chris Baker of Baker's Acres in Alexandria, Ohio, who produces a very entertaining catalog that contains many of his own gorgeous coleus introductions; George Griffith of Hatchett Creek in Gainesville, Florida and the Hurricane and Solar coleus; Pam Baggett of Singing Springs Nursery in Cedar Grove, North Carolina (sadly, no longer in business, but I understand Pam is still involved in releasing coleus); P. J. Klinger of the Lake Brantley Plant Corp. in central Florida and the Florida City coleus series; and Rick Schoellhorn of Proven Winners, producer of many zillions of coleus offered for sale across the continent.

Many other people offered information, assistance, photographs, and other valuable contributions to the book, and they're all listed in the Acknowledgments. Thanks again to every one of you!

Please give the book a look if you haven't already done so. I hope you'll find it a useful companion for your coleus adventures. Of course it's available through Timber Press and at many bookstores, but you can obtain the book from me as well. I sell it for $25.00, which is $4.95 off the list price. Postage and packaging bring the cost back up to $30.00 (forgetting that nickel makes things so much easier), but for that amount you'll receive an autographed copy, and I'll be happy to add a personalized inscription if you'd like. Contact me at for more information and/or to place an order.

Thank you for reading this commercial message. My next blog post will relate more directly to growing the plants we all love, I promise. Coming over the next few weeks: Coleus 101 (inspired by Margo, a reader of this site) and of course plenty of coverage of the plants that will be showcased before, during, and after Coleus Day at Atlock Farm on September 13.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fine Gardening at Atlock

The header of this post refers to the magazine with the title of Fine Gardening, not to the alleged level of horticulture at the nursery where I play (although there is some mighty satisfactory gardening happening there this summer!). I'm going to write an article on coleus for FG, which will publish sometime in 2009. Brandi Spade, one of FG's editor/photographers, arrived at Atlock last Thursday evening, and she and I immediately set out to take as many pictures as we could before the impending rain let loose. After Brandi shot a handful of pictures, we found ourselves running for cover from a white-out deluge that seemed to come out of nowhere (and from the opposite side of the sky that looked threatening, no less). That was that.

But Brandi had planned to stay nearby overnight and shoot the next morning to give herself some leeway. Smart thinking! Friday morning's light was a photographer's dream: bright overcast but no direct sun. We tromped all over Atlock and took a pile a pictures. I took a few myself, and I hope they serve to whet your appetite for Coleus Day at Atlock on Saturday, September 13 from 10:00AM to 4:00PM (see a few blog posts back for more info).

The Red Border (more aptly called the Tropical Border) has come together beautifully this year, and coleus have played a part. In the corner where the urn stands, the low-growing trailer 'Burgundy Wedding Train' has filled in nicely since it was planted about a month ago. The orange-pink foliage behind 'BWT' is a happy planting of 'Fanatic Radish', one of the two sports that first arose from 'Religious Radish' last year at Atlock. 'Fanatic' had looked so-so for most of its coddled existence inside the greenhouses, so I decided it needed to be trialed outside. So far so good! I know of no other coleus with this smoldering orange-pink color. To the right of 'Fanatic' is the sultry 'Mood Swings', which made its debut as a self-sown seedling last year a few feet away in this very border. I wrote about the ever-changing 'Mood Swings' last year in this blog and will post more information on it anon.

By the way, the other plants in the grouping are (from left, zigzagging front to back) bright pink Iresine 'California', brownish Acalypha wilkesiana 'Something or Other' (OK, I can't come up with the name), chartreuse Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious', dark red Hibiscus acetosella 'Coppertone', and Canna 'Intrigue' sporting a few orange flowers.

Here's what I previously called the "coleus encyclopedia." Rob Cardillo, the photographer for our upcoming book on container plants, recently called it the "paintbox," and that's what it will henceforth be called. I won't attempt to identify the cultivars here; there are nearly three dozen of them. I'll post more detailed pictures later . . . and you could see and evaluate them for yourself on Coleus Day. Most are doing very well and should be splendid on September 13.

Finally, here's a shot of my venerable topiary of 'Definitely Different', which is ready for its closeup. As far as I'm concerned, a "venerable" coleus topiary has seen two years pass since it was a cutting, and that can be said of this one (with a couple more months thrown in). Its head of foliage has been chopped back more than a few times to keep it shapely, and a few weeks ago my clumsiness while turning it caused a good-sized branch to tear off. The plant has filled in rather admirably since the mishap, but of course I turned the gappy spot to the back for the photo. And who's that posing like a show dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Show? It's Myrtle the Wondercat, recently added to the Atlock menagerie. I may well post an extensive series of photos of Myrtle in due time.

SPECIAL REQUEST: if you have read this blog, would you please send me a quick e-mail at I'd like to know if anyone out there has read this. Your comments are welcome but not necessary. Thanks!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

'Alabama Sunset' at night . . . sort of

I'm making this post because 1) I haven't made one in a little while and had promised myself that I would make regular posts until Coleus Day and 2) I want to see if I've figured out how to post vertical photos. So we shall see. If it doesn't post vertically, then it's back to the drawing board.

I still use a little 3.2 megapixel camera with a tiny display screen, and I have very few options to manipulate the light entering the camera. So as night approaches and the shadows thicken, the camera automatically goes into flash mode. Sometimes this results in a rather atmospheric shot, as with this one of 'Alabama Sunset'. Nightfall was still at least half an hour away, but darkness was creeping into this part of the Red Border at Atlock Farm, so I pointed and clicked to see what would happen. Although the colors are a bit off from how they appear in natural light, this picture illustrates one of the many reasons why I rate 'Alabama Sunset' at the top of my list of favorite coleus.

Aside from its vigorous growth, compact habit, and reluctance to go to flower, 'Alabama Sunset' is a chameleon. The more light it receives (and this can include full, blazing sun), the more of that in-your-face redpink coloration it produces. But it grows quite well in shade, too, the foliage showing progressively more yellow and chartreuse tones as the light decreases. Although it's not readily apparent in this picture, the plants in front (which receive some sun) show more redpink than those in the rear (which never see any direct sun). Every color variation I've seen on 'Alabama Sunset', including the almost solid redpink found on the plants in the sunny Shop Garden, is beautiful. That can't be said of a great many other coleus, which can look just plain awful in too much or too little light.

Please note the all-green plant in the rear. It's a rare sport of 'Alabama Sunset'. Normally I'd have already cut it back to propagate it, but it appears so similar to 'Granny Smith', 'Green Giant', 'Lifelime', and others that I haven't succumbed to my usual urge to try to save every sport that pops up. Plenty of potentially worthwhile sports have arisen at Atlock over the past couple of years, and I'll show some of those sports in a later post.

Time to head off the the nursery! The editor/photographer from Fine Gardening magazine will be working with me this evening to shoot the photos for the article on coleus I'm writing for FG. I'll take some pictures and post them soon.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Five Weeks to Go

Five weeks from tomorrow is Coleus Day at Atlock Farm (see my post "Back in the Saddle Again" made a week ago)! Here are some "before" pictures to give you an idea of where things stand. I hope they whet your appetite to attend - or if you can't make it, to keep watching this blog site for more pictures and stories. I'll do my best to take and post a bunch of pictures from the Day, so you might see a friend (coleus, human, and otherwise) or two among them. Sadly, there will probably be a picture of me included.

Squint hard to see the trailing coleus, which had just been planted when this picture was taken a couple of weeks ago. I'm glad to report that they are filling in well, except for 'Burgundy Wedding Train'. That's odd, because the 'BWT' plugs planted a few feet away in the Red Border at about the same time are doing beautifully. Maybe they need a little more time to kick in because this spot is considerably shadier? Included in this planting are 'Inky FIngers', 'Swiss Sunshine', a sport of 'Swiss Sunshine', 'Strawberry Drop', 'Trailing Salamander', and 'Compact Red'.

Here's what I've been calling the coleus "encyclopedia," I guess because it contains a lot of them (about three dozen; I haven't counted them . . . yet). They needed a good pinching last week to get them to fill in for the 13th, so I carefully Godzilla'd my way through the bed and cut out or pinched almost every growing point on every plant. You can see the carnage scattered about the lawn and in the bucket. In five weeks they should be thick and lush. Mostly. A few of them are poky (are you listening, 'Grape Expectations' and 'Green Earrings'?).

This past March I received a couple of dozen cuttings from my coleus pal Bob Pioselli, who maintains a big and beautiful coleus garden at his home in the lower Hudson Valley. Most of them rooted easily (well, they are coleus, after all) and have been cut back at least twice and propagated. This block is being grown into specimens for the Day. Given the Ray treatment (lots of water-soluble fertilizer and fussing, mostly), they should expand into show-stoppers. I'm most excited about 'Beckwith's Gem' in the upper left (which hasn't begun to show its brilliant plumage, so to speak) and 'South of the Border' (the white and green one toward the bottom).

We have 104 different coleus selections slated for propagation and sale in 2009, and here are most of them in one greenhouse, all potted during one action-packed day a few weeks ago. As insurance, there's another complete collection of them growing in another house. These are hanging-basket pots, so before cold weather sets in the hangers will be attached, and then one of each will be hung - alphabetically, in a perfect world - from the metal beams high up in each of two greenhouses. They'll bask in the relative warmth and sun up there until February/March, when we'll take them down and begin to chop them up for cuttings. By then many of them will be amazingly big and surprisingly beautiful - many coleus look their best in winter, believe it or not. The most beautiful 'Glennis' I've ever seen, in icy yellow, lively green, and bright red, dazzled me a few years ago in late Ferbruary.

Where are the coleus? The Red Border isn't overwhelmingly red - it once was, but attitudes and design desires do change - but it is a summer showcase for tropicals, and there are some coleus here. Part of the fun on Coleus Day will be to discover coleus where you might not expect them. The quite uncoleus-like 'Definitely Different' is here, and it will no doubt elicit another round of expressions of disbelief. "That's a coleus?" "It can't be a coleus; it's not colorful." "Isn't that some kind of giant parsley?" That's my favorite comment, for sure.

Finally, here's the Long Border, which like the Red Border doesn't overflow with coleus this year, but they do play important roles here. They're still getting their acts together in the sandy soil, so I'll hold off on posting any closer shots until they do. That goes double for the Shop Garden (weeds!), but it promises to be the most spectacular garden of them all. Guess what I'll be doing at Atlock tomorrow?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Do you still think that coleus must be grown in the shade? The Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, NJ, offers proof that coleus thrive in plenty in sun. Several weeks ago, two Arboretum employees and I planted 15 different selections in a sunny raised bed, and all but two of the selections are growing splendidly. More on them later.

Not only can you see these sun-loving coleus in the flesh (so to speak), but, as of today (August 5), you can also listen to me giving brief insights into them. All you need is a cell phone. Here's the information, directly from the folks at the Arboretum:

Coleus Cultivars on Your Cell Phone at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum

What: Cell Phone Tour on the Coleus Exhibit at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum
When: Daily through September 12
Where: 53 East Hanover Avenue, Morris Township NJ
Cost: FREE

The Frelinghuysen Arboretum, a facility of The Morris County Park Commission, teams up technology with a stunning exhibit of coleus to create a self-guided tour for visitors. Patrons can dial a local number to hear author Ray Rogers talk about 15 coleus cultivars growing in the Scherer Garden. Coleus are an easy-to-grow, many-hued annual plant that is increasingly popular among today’s gardeners. Rogers is the author of Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens, recently published by Timber Press. Rogers's extensive knowledge of the genus, combined with his pithy comments and suggestions, create an educational and entertaining tour for arboretum guests.

The exhibit and cell phone tour end on September 13, when the collection will be divided in a class on coleus propagation to be held at The Frelinghuysen that day. (Readers please note: this is the same day as Coleus Day at Atlock Farm, announced in the previous blog post. Attend the class and then go to Coleus Day for a great big dose of coleus!)

Cell phone tours are the latest tool for interpretation at museums and botanic gardens. A greater degree of detail can be communicated without additional signage. Guests tour the garden, following prompts from pre-recorded messages heard on their cell phones. Support for this tour is provided by The Friends of The Frelinghuysen Arboretum ( and the Provident Bank Foundation.

Cell phone tour information is available from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm daily at The Haggerty Education Center, located on the grounds of the arboretum. At all times, visitors may dial 973- 975-0973 and follow the given directions to hear the tour.


This picture shows a bit more than the opening picture. From the right, the selections are:

'Black Trailer' hangs over the corner. Blue flowers will add a nice touch later in the season.
'Velvet Mocha' (aka 'Lancelot Velvet Mocha') offers unusual but attractive brown-purple-red shades. Love it or loathe it!
'Odalisque', a multicolored trailer, is not happy here - probably too much sun.
'Definitely Different' produces fingered green leaves with dark purple undersides. Well named.
'Pineapple Queen', a Victorian favorite, makes dense mounds of yellow and dark purple. Excellent for topiary.
'Bronze Pagoda' gets big! Shades of red and yellow change over time.
'Religious Radish' combines near-black and rich pink. It has given rise to the solidly near-black 'Black Radish'.
'Felix' (barely visible against the green hedge) makes near-black leaves jaggedly edged in green. Another big one.
'Alabama Sunset' belongs in every coleus collection. Red, yellow, pink, chartreuse, depending on the light.
'Copacetic Yellow' (not visible in the picture) resembles 'Pineapple Queen' but has longer, slightly twisted foliage.
'Kiwi Herman' looks like a dark fern and indeed arose from 'Kiwi Fern'. Fertilize for large plants.
'Atlock's Red Ruffles' is solid, rich red and lacks the green of 'Red Ruffles', a very different selection.
'Butter Kutter' (not visible) makes a low mound of chartreuse-colored cole slaw. Excellent for small containers.
'Meteor' (not visible') starts out almost all yellow with a bit of red and progresses to red with a thin yellow edge.
'Tigerlily' (not visible) is nothing less than gaudy: cut- and ruffle-edge leaves in bright orange-red and yellow. It's the other unhappy selection in this planting; give it morning sun and afternoon shade for best coloration.

I'll try to take and post pictures of the obscured ones later.

When you're in the Morristown area, pay The Frelinghuysen Arboretum a visit - it's a beauty! The parking lot is a big, boisterous garden, and the adjacent Haggerty Education Center is surrounded by lush plantings. There's plenty more to see all year 'round.

My thanks to Dr. Lesley Parness, Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum, for her enthusiastic support of the coleus planting and the cell phone tour, and to Ken Selody, owner of Atlock Farm , for supplying the plants.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

Hello again, fellow coleophiles! I'm reviving this blog to announce an exciting event: Coleus Day at Atlock Farm in Somerset, NJ. The picture shows a portion of the coleus "encyclopedia," which has recently been pinched back and (I hope!) will be in its prime on Saturday, September 13. Here's the press release that will be going out this week:


Discover the beautiful rainbow and surprising diversity of modern coleus at Coleus Day at Atlock Farm on Saturday, September 13, 2008 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Enjoy more than 100 different kinds of coleus in display gardens, including an elaborate formal garden and an “encyclopedia” containing dozens of different selections. Get inspired by impressive containers planted with coleus and complementary companion plants. Attention-getting specimen plants and topiaries will also be on display.

In addition to coleus, a wide range of other tropical, annual, and hardy plants will be at their colorful best throughout the gardens and greenhouse areas at Atlock.

Garden expert and author Ray Rogers, of North Brunswick, NJ, author of Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens and Pots in the Garden: Expert Design and Planting Techniques, and Ken Selody, of Somerset, NJ, owner of Atlock Farm and former contributing editor for Martha Stewart Living, will conduct tours of the nursery and present mini-workshops on making more coleus from cuttings and on creating easy-to-make coleus topiaries.

Discounts on Mr. Rogers’s autographed books, as well as on coleus and other selected plants and garden-related items, will be offered.

Admission and all programs are free.

For directions to Atlock, please visit


I want to think that down the road we will look back on this event as the first meeting of the Coleus Society. For those of you who responded to the survey and expressed interest in the Society, please realize that I haven't forgotten you. I need to recover your information from this site, and I admit readily I'm no computer techie. I can learn, right?

Here's another picture of the work in progress at Atlock. This is the same formal garden pictured in my book, Coleus: Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens. See pages 72-73 (among others). What? You don't own a copy of the book or even know about it? More information will appear in an upcoming post.