Photograph by Sabina Rüber
The wonderful-looking cleome flower comes from the pampas lowlands of South America. Its large, slightly scented flower clusters add an exotic touch to a late summer border, with long, spidery stamens and narrow seedpods developing lower down on the flower. The palmate leaves are exotic-looking too, but take care of the spines that develop at the base of each leaf. Cleomes grow to about a metre in height, so they can pack a real punch in a border, especially if planted en masse, or with other half hardies such as Amaranthus and Tithonia to create a colourful throng of plants that will go on flowering until the first frosts.
One of the loveliest cleomes is ‘Helen Campbell’ which produces tall, sturdy stems topped with airy white flowers. ‘Violet Queen’ is another widely-grown variety, dramatic and architectural, with deep violet flowers, while ‘Mauve Queen’, pictured here, has as its name suggests striking mauve and lavender blooms.
Cleomes are treated as half hardy annuals in the UK and should be sown in modules in mid-spring at fairly high temperatures of 21-25C. The seeds need light to germinate so sow the seed on top of the compost without covering, and water from below. Once the seeds have germinated, move the trays to a cooler place (but not outside as they are tender) and grow on, hardening them off gradually, and finally planting out in early summer in an open sunny spot.
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