Solenostemon scuttelarioides (aka Coleus)

Victorian’s freakin’ loved a lot of plants. They thought plants were cool. Because plants are cool. One such plant that caught the Victorian interest was the exciting, technicolour tender perennial, Solenostemon. Commonly known as Coleus or painted nettle.

Either Victorians had amazing taste ahead of their time, or I have shocking taste fixed in the past. Whichever, the plants the Victorians loved – Ferns, Dahlias, Solenostemon – I love, love, love them all!

Some of my seedlings sown in March, some now looking bushy and amazing outside. Solenostemon first caught my attention last winter when I was bored and wanted to try out my new Growlight - I'd never heard of them before, but they were listed on seed websites to be sown even in winter (not something I would now advise, wait til March/April).
Some of my seedlings sown in March, some now looking bushy and amazing outside. Solenostemon first caught my attention last winter when I was bored and wanted to try out my new Growlight – I’d never heard of them before, but they were listed on seed websites to be sown even in winter (not something I would now advise, wait til March/April).

Solenostemon are popular for their brightly coloured foliage, great for summer bedding in sun or shade, as well as house or conservatory plants. The Victorians bred them heavily, and we have some incredible cultivars today.

I grew some from seed, the Solenostemon scuttelarioides ‘Dragon Sunset & Volcano Mix’ at the start of the year. Super easy, just sow on top of damp seed compost in good light. Wait until late March or early April. I tried earlier in a Growlight but they all succumbed to damping off. Light was key. I’ll grow more next year.

Here are some that caught my eye from the RHS Wisley Solenostemon trials back in Sept 2015…

Solenostemon 'Fire Fingers' - a bit of razzle dazzle from those fire fingers. I think some of my seedlings must be this cultivar.
Solenostemon ‘Fire Fingers’ – a bit of razzle dazzle from those fire fingers. I think some of my seedlings must be this cultivar.
Solenostemon 'Red Mars' - lovely, subtler foliage
Solenostemon ‘Red Mars’ – lovely, subtler foliage
Solenostemon 'Kiwi Fern' (Stained Glassworks Series)
Solenostemon ‘Kiwi Fern’ (Stained Glassworks Series) – this was my favourite for being unusual, dark but with light tints
Solenostemon 'Green Croton' - with unusually shaped leaves
Solenostemon ‘Green Croton’ – with unusually shaped leaves
Solenostemon 'Piasca Ruby' - less eye candy, more interesting for more tasteful borders perhaps
Solenostemon ‘Piasca Ruby’ – less eye candy, more interesting for more tasteful borders perhaps

As usual, I’m drawn to the rich, warm pinks and purples – usually in dark patches with neon pink. On many the layers overlap each other, they look like the colour has been printed or splashed on.

But Solenostemon come in a vast array of shapes and colours and are easily grown over summer, and protected in doors in winter if you can be bothered. I can because they’re AMAZING. So there you go 🙂

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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