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Romantic movies set in the Italian countryside have such a unique vintage charm. The rolling hills, the villas, and the vineyards, but most of all, the windows and balconies, overflowing with flowers and colourful shrubbery. 

Recreating this in our modern lives makes home a sanctuary, a safe and peaceful place to retreat to and renew your energy each day.

The perfect candidate to include in your pots this festive season is the lovely plant, Coleus. Also known as “flame nettle” and “painted leaf,” this ground cover offers a beautiful array of colours purely in its foliage. 

Reminiscent of the plant croton, Coleus offers the gardener fiery-coloured leaves in a variety of beautiful shades. It’s so remarkable, in fact, that the 17th-century aristocrats were so fervent to outdo each other’s Coleus gardens, The Great Coleus Race ensued. Victorian gardens were lively with the brightness of this plant’s leaves.

How to grow Coleus

Using them to brighten balconies and verandas is easy. They grow alongside other plant and flower species, very well. While it depends somewhat on the variety you choose, Coleus generally prefers partial shade or dappled sunlight, rather than full sun.

Pot them in fertile, well-draining soil and water them fairly often. Give each plant 30cm of space to expand into, as this is the typical spread when they reach maturity. At 15cm, they can be pinched back to encourage better growth.

A liquid, general fertiliser used once a month will provide your plants with that extra boost. Surprisingly, they do well indoors too, so if you live in an area that will experience frost next winter, bring the pots indoors during the cold season and return them to the balcony as soon as the risk of frost is passed.

A Coleus topiary for the balcony

Growing Coleus as a tree is not only possible but beautiful. Usually grown as a groundcover, the versatility of this plant is astounding and noteworthy. Most Coleus varieties will do well grown as a topiary, but Coleus scutellarioides is especially great. Simply plant your Coleus in a large pot, make it roomy as more space for the roots will encourage faster growth. The plant needs to grow a central leader or stem (which will be a trunk). 

Once the plant’s height reaches 25cm, it will need to be staked. A bamboo stake in the centre is ideal. As long as your plant keeps a vertical ascent, you’re doing fine. Leaves growing from the main stem are fine, they fuel the growth and should fall off with time. 

Branches, however, need to be trimmed back and removed. Once your Coleus tree reaches the desired height, cut the leader to encourage bushing outwards.

Growing potted Coleus with other plants

Growing a variety like the King Lime Coleus, which is especially bold, is perfect for a balcony that’s looking for a statement piece these holidays. Add some Osmin purple basil to create a stark contrast that’s eye-catching and beautiful.

Nepeta cataria, also known as catnip, is another great plant to include in a pot alongside your Coleus plant. The nepeta tends to bush out beautifully and will need to be trimmed back. The green leaves of nepeta will allow the colour of the Coleus’ leaves to take the centre stage position in the ensemble. The catnip will also be a delight for your cats these holidays!

For more information on bringing Life to your Garden, visit our website www.lifeisagarden.co.za or join the conversation on Facebook: www.facebook.com/lifeisagardensa.