Today Alan Weisberg is sharing one of his favorite flowers with us: cleome (Cleome hassleriana, annual).
From the foothills of Haycock Mountain in rural southeastern Pennsylvania I’ve been gardening for 40 years on three acres of what was once a 100-acre farm, with a fieldstone home and barn built in 1741. The restorations of the structures, landscaping, additions, and vegetable and flower gardens have yielded almost as many failures as successes, with plenty of lessons learned.
Of the more than 100 varieties of plants, vegetables, shrubs, and trees on the property, my favorite plants are clearly the Cleome hassleriana, or spider flower. These annuals bloom profusely from early summer through late autumn, are very hardy, and are deer and rabbit resistant. In addition, the bees, butterflies, and smallest garden birds love them.
Great for mass plantings in river pebbles, gravel, or almost any soil, cleomes reseed themselves every year with a high degree of reliability.
The seedpods are plentiful and easily stripped at the end of the season for planting elsewhere or gifting to like-minded gardening friends. Large flower heads are commonly pink, lavender, and white, though a red variety is also available.
I’ve found it far more advantageous to scatter the seeds on a scratched bed in early winter rather than to wait until spring for planting. They need the cold temperature exposure to condition the seed skin for successful germination. And it’s better to lightly press them into the soil rather than to cover them with soil.
Easily growing 3 to 5 feet tall, cleomes love full sun but will tolerate partial shade, though you should be prepared to support them, as they will bend down to reach out for more sunlight.
Colorful, aromatic, critter resistant, and easy grow—it makes good sense to add a few cleomes to your landscape. I’m confident you will not be disappointed!
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