In the Garden:
The delicately veined blossoms of painted tongue make long lasting cut flowers.
One of the best reasons for growing your own plants from seed is to be able to add those unusual beauties to your garden that aren't often offered as seedlings at garden stores and greenhouses in spring. A favorite annual of mine that I don't recall ever seeing on sale in a cell pack is the tongue-twistingly named salpiglossis, also called painted tongue or satin flower.
As you might expect from one of its common names, the 3-inch, funnel-shaped flowers of this Chilean native have a gorgeous, velvety texture, in addition to a striking array of colors etched with vivid veining. Blossoms come in shades of pink, red, purple, orange, gold, yellow and mahogany. Bi-color varieties are available in exquisite combinations of hues with contrastingly colored veins.
The cultivar I've grown in my garden is 'Stained Glass', an English-bred variety from Renee's Seeds (www.reneesgarden.com) that produces flowers in an eye-catching mix of colors -- oranges, golds, chocolates, purple-reds, and blues, all highlighted with a delicate tracery of veins. Plants grow about a foot and a half tall. I planted mine along the walk to my front door so it was easy to stop to marvel at the gorgeous flowers close up.
Start Seeds Early
In New England and most parts of the country you'll need to start seeds early indoors, eight weeks before the last spring frost date for your area. (In long season areas with a growing season at least of at least four months, seeds can be sown directly in the garden close to the date of the last frost.) Sow two or three seeds in a peat pot to keep root disturbance to a minimum when transplanting. Press the fine seeds into the soil, but don't cover them. To give them the darkness they need to germinate, cover the pot (or group of pots) with black plastic. Seeds take anywhere from one to four weeks to germinate; a heat mat will speed things along, but isn't required.
Once seeds germinate, move the seedlings under fluorescent lights or to a sunny windowsill. Thin to the one strongest seedling per pot. Salpiglossis likes it cool; set out hardened-off seedlings about two weeks before the last frost date.
Out in the Garden
Painted tongue has a kind of gangly growth habit, and young plants will benefit from being pinched back to stimulate branching. You may also want to give your plants some inconspicuous support by pushing twiggy branches into the ground around them.
Set plants in full to part sun in average, well-drained soil. Be sure to choose a spot where you can enjoy the striking blossoms up close. Mulch over the root zone, feed monthly with a balanced soluble fertilizer, let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings, and you'll be rewarded with a bounty of jewel-colored flowers. Blossoming may begin to flag in the hottest part of the summer, but it usually picks up again as temperatures moderate later in the season. My plants have always been trouble free, but if aphids are a problem, treat with an insecticidal soap.
Don't forget to pick some of these lovelies for arrangements as well. These amazing blossoms deserve to be admired both indoors and out!
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