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Monday, November 15, 2010

Nemesia

The fact that Nemesia has no real common name is proof of its virtual anonymity in the gardening world. Not that it deserves to be ignored. It is one of those annual plants that can give loads of enjoyment with little trouble. It simply isn’t that popular at least by name. Most likely you have seen it next to the Impatiens, Zinnias and Marigolds but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. You may not even know it by name unless you are particular about such things. 


But as Nemesia looks especially nice in the rock garden, as bedding plants, in hanging baskets, window boxes or as a bulb cover, of course, you should grab a few. Though a very showy flower with a profusion of blossoms all season when kept deadheaded it has the reputation of not being the easiest plant to have in the garden and that may be its downfall. That and not having a cute, recognizable common name.

This native to South Africa is said to be a bit persnickety because it doesn’t take well to too much heat nor too much cold. Just like Goldilocks Nemesia likes it just right. Well, frankly, don’t we all? That just makes Nemesia a regular, old annual and what gardener can’t handle that? This plant likes cool summers which is easy to do for the northern gardener and in the south all we need do is wait until the cool weather months to set them out and watch them thrive. So much for persnickety, huh?

Of course like with all flowers that fall into the able hands of hybridizers,  Nemesia has become even more gardener-friendly. New cultivars are being developed that take much better to the warmest weather although it still is only winter hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11.

N. Frutican is the wild version of Nemesia. This bushy plant grows to about 1 and one half feet tall with profuse flowers in a pale reddish-pinkish-lavender color that most people lump together as Muave, which just so happens to be sort of its other name. Blooms show up on top of long, narrow stems with slender and lightly serrated foliage in a bright green color. The flowers which look somewhat like Snapdragons, a close cousin, grow in small clusters.

The Nemesia we find readily in garden centers and nurseries, however, are the more compact hybrids between N. versicolor and N. strumosa growing, depending on cultivar, from 6-18 inches tall. These come in so many colors from vibrant, bright shades nobody can ignore to delicate, soft pastels and many lovely bi-colors. You’re bound to find one just right for any garden, for any color scheme and any preference. The individual flowers are small but they form clusters up to 4 inches wide for major impact in the flower bed.

As for care, that’s simple. Any good garden soil, full sun (part sun in the warmest weather areas), regular watering and an occasional feeding with an all-purpose fertilizer or better yet, a weak compost tea, will do fantastic things for these beauties.

So, when spring comes around and  you’re checking out those flats full of the same old annuals at the garden center, look around for a tiny tag with the not-so-common name Nemesia and grab up a few of these delightful, multi-purpose plants. Your garden, the birds, bees and even your neighbors will thank you.

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