using coleus ‘spitfire’ as container-design glue

coleus spitfire
IFALL IN AND OUT OF LOVE WITH COLEUS (which not so many years back changed its botanical name to Solenostemon scutellarioides, not surprisingly prompting one of our estrangements). This season, I’m back in love, largely thanks to a recent introduction called ‘Spitfire’ that’s just what a gardener who loves hot-colored annuals needs to tie the picture together.

When I started to try to stage the various pots of my hot-colored 2011 annuals by the barn a few weeks back, I couldn’t make it work. I needed some botanical “design glue”–which usually comes in the form of foliage. At the local garden center, I found just the right connective tissue in the coleus called ‘Spitfire,’ whose terra-cotta foliage is splashed in gold with a tiny undertone of purple. Once the pots start to fill out (especially the canna and the coleus), I think the evolving grouping below, including the recently planted coleus at its center and a pot of its close cousin called ‘Sedona’, will come together–perhaps with some shifting of pots, too, but you get the idea.

pots being arranged
Besides the coleus, the other design glue was right here in the garden for the moving: Three Heuchera ‘Caramel’ got lifted from the ground and called into pot action, gradually forming widening skirts under the Japanese maple and the canna. Not surprisingly, the heuchera is similar in color to the coleus–just paler. I often use it in pots, and then simply return them to the empty vegetable garden for overwintering.

What’s your take on coleus this season–or have you happened on any other great foliage plants to tie together your pot combinations? I’d be interested to hear.

  1. Lona says:

    I am the same way about coleus plants. I have to admit that there are just so many fabulous colors and textures anymore that you can find one that will complement any garden. What a great Fall arrangement that one will make too.

  2. kynda canada says:

    I love all the coleus and am always looking for new ones. I didn’t see the spitfire this year, but will start looking. Alabama Sunset is my favorite all time coleus.

  3. Lynn says:

    Very pretty. Also like the paint job on your house.. I containerized a few years ago..since I am in overload… I have lost all my ceramic pots, caly and even plastic due to the past winters… My fiberglass are holding up and so are my coco liners and biodegradable peat pots

    I have those plants… they are super for shade…

  4. Regina says:

    I am also a little obsessed with the rusty, orange and apricot tones. Heucherella Sweet Tea has been wonderful in my garden, in and out of a pot. Zinnia Profusion Apricot is such a good one for that color range and blooms it’s pretty little head off. My favorite coleus (for now) is Camouflage. The container plant I am really digging is bronze fennel, which has the ability to make just about anything look dramatic and kind of magical.

  5. Johanna says:

    Coleus is a tough cookie — stands up to a lot of abuse in my pots. Backs up the coral-pink begonias especially well, and at the end of the autumn, when I end up bringing the pots indoors rather than sacrificing them to the weather, coleus does very well in the house over the winter!

  6. Noreen says:

    Together in a large wicker hanging basket I have a tubular coral colored fuschia with burgandy leaves, an orange nonstop tuberous begonia, purple trailing torenia, lime green creeping jenny and a lighter burgandy trailing coleus. It is stunning and my best combination yet!

  7. Judy says:

    I agree with Regina. I just purchased ‘Sweet Tea’ last week and it plays very nicely in a cobalt blue pot with autumn ferm. I also have Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ in an oak barrel with blue pansies. The hummingbirds love the flowers. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to try a coleus. I think it might be too humid here in the Pacific NW.

  8. Kathy M says:

    I still use Coleus in my container plantings and have always found they stand up well to our heat and humidity. It reached 100 degrees today and same for tommorow so I need some tough plants. I have a new one this year called Religious Radish which is great with a Firework Pennisitum and an Orange and Pink lantana. I have great fun making combos each spring. Another favorite Coleus is Inky which makes a good trailing addition to any pot . Sun or shade coleus is so easy to propagate and share with friends and so far has been Deer proof. Love it!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Marianne. It must grow so luxuriantly in the summer there! Cannas, too. I love both plants for their foliage more than flowers.

  9. Julia Hofley says:

    My favorite coleus is a relatively new one called ‘Red Head’. I grew it last summer in different containers and it has perfect branching and did not need dead heading. The flowers come on so late that they didn’t appear until late October. Coleus flowers can look messy on the stunning leaves, so I pinch them off. Coleus ‘Red Head’ saved me the work and the color is perfect canvas for warm colored containers. Also, new for 2012 that I just saw at the Ohio Short Course (largest annual trade show in N. America) is Coleus ‘Wasabi’. It’s chartreuse, big and beefy in growth style yet has ruffled frilly edges for a soft plumy look. The contrast of size and frilliness combined with chartreuse will be invaluable in containers mixing with both cool or hot combos.
    Another older variety that I love and always buy each year in a super-six pack is Coleus ‘Lime Versa’. It has perfect branching, is a Martha-green color and grows in sun or shade. It always looks fantastic against our orange brick house no matter what other color theme I use that year. Wouldn’t garden without Lime Versa or Red Head and cannot wait to see how Wasabi does. Love, love, love coleus!

  10. Carole Clarin says:

    This was the year I wasn’t going to buy any coleus-but I did! I potted them with miniature goatsbeard and I just hope whatever is eating them to “quit it”!

  11. Meredith says:

    Loved Spitfire when I bought it,but alas,the leaves on my spitfire coleus have turned mostly green with little of the fire.That they’ve survived in my zillion degree apartment is a miracle in itself…

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Meredith. Yes, I suspect it would sulk in the apartment — I have a couple of plants in different spots, and am finding that it does do with pretty bright shade, and stays pretty colorful in such spots (not the deep dark corners here).

  12. Carol P says:

    My fave Coleus is Henna. It’s also in the coral/gold vein, but the edges of the leaves look like someone took a pinking shear to them. They have a wonderful inner glow. I love it with a new petunia called “Forest Fire Glo”.

  13. Gayla T says:

    I saw the prettiest Coleus at K-Mart of all places. All had very fancy edging around the leaves. Ruffled, notched, pleated and I have never seen them any where before. Thankfully the greenhouses have not gone with the new name and if this is like others they will not. Seems to me that the growers are pretty much staying with the old names we have been able to spell easily and I like it that way, don’t you?

  14. Meredith says:

    I adore coleus! If I see one I don’t have I must buy it! I have three large clay pots on my sunny deck and two in shade under my redbud trees that I fill with coleus each year. They are colorful all season long and easy to pinch and root. I use the new plants to fill in spots in my border garden. It’s so much fun to group the purples and chartruese varieties and the reds and corals. And there are so many textures to the large variety of leaves. Coleus are just plain amazing!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Deb. Great plant…and of course I have not seen it at the local garden centers so far this year…hope they get it in May.

      Hi, Meredith. I kind of love them again, too — some years I am without them and sometimes I can’t get enough. :)

  15. Lorie says:

    Red Head coleus with Molten Lava oxalis and Sweet Caroline sweet potato…maybe even throw in a Toffee Twist…pretty hot in sun or shade.

  16. Mary says:

    I am a fan of coleus as well.so. Easy to propagate and I make topiaries put of them. Just pinch off bottom
    leaves on single stem young plant and watch it grow into charming little “tree” that can come inside for winter.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Mary. Aren’t they great? And a very good point that you make: so easy to propagate and shape. Thanks for the reminder.

  17. Noreen says:


    What a great idea to make a little topiary with coleus. I am going to try it out. I have been propagating them, but never thought of a topiary. Don’t know why, as I have made a little tree topiary for my rock garden from a silver lace vine. I look forward to doing this with coleus this year!

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