With the 15th annual Coleus Premier just ahead, coleus grower Lisa Freed describes the chaos and beauty that comes with the event.
Q: What do you remember about the first Coleus Premier? How involved were you? Did it cross your mind that people would be so interested?
A: I remember a few things about the first premier... some running, some grabbing and some very intense coleus shopping. I remember one man - a tall man - who sidled over to a coleus that was rare and in short supply. A few ladies were admiring it and he swooped in and scooped up two of the three flats. He was well over 6 feet tall and carried the two flats away high in the air well out of reach of any grabbing hands. I heard some murmurs of "What?? Not fair!"
Q: What first interested you about coleus, what makes you stay so involved with it?
A: I think I first became involved with coleus because I was younger and always interested in the latest and greatest. (Although coleus has been around along time, it was the latest and greatest in Victorian times also). I knew people would be interested. It was at a time in the Pacific NW when we were going through our tropical phase and having a little zone denial. Coleus fit right into that.
I stay involved, even though times have changes, garden styles have changes etc., because they are such lovely little jewels that adorn our gardens and containers. Easy to care for and last through October or first frost. My summers would not be the same without these gleaming, riotous, funny, crazy little beauties that bring smiles every time I step into my garden.
Q: Do you have a favorite variety, shape or color?
A: Every year I have a new favorite and some years I have my favorite that was my favorite two years prior. I pick some of my favorites because of their names, like an oldie 'Inky Fingers,' 'Chaotic Rose' (because I feel like a chaotic rose this time of year) 'Chocolate Covered Cherry.' There is the famous 'Sedona' which is the one that got swooped up in the story from the first Coleus Premier. It has now been surpassed by a new and stronger version named Inferno.
There are too many wonderful choices to have one favorite. I think most people have at least 6 or 7 favorites. I would say some of my favorite tried and true varieties are 'Oxblood,' 'Inky Fingers,' 'Big Red Judy,' 'Violet Tri-Color.' A new one this year that I'm in love with is called 'Crown Jewel.'
Q: What’s your favorite way to use coleus? What does it mix well with?
A: I use coleus in my summer flower containers. Customers have showed me pictures of stunning containers where they have just planted a mix of coleus together... and they are spectacular! I also mix coleus here and there in my garden. A little peek of soft orange here... a screaming blend of purple/pink and lime green over there - just in the right place to greet me with my morning cup of coffee and bring a smile to my face and waking me up just right!
Q: Were any of the previous 14 Coleus Premier especially notable? Why?
A: I have loved all of the 14 years of growing coleus simply because of the coleus plants and the people that come to look at and purchase them. Coleus people are some of the best! They have fun and PLANT FUN!
Q: How much time do you put into growing the plants? When do you plant, how many hour per week do you water and care for them?
A: We put a lot of time growing these plants. That is another reason I got into it. Coleus were offered early in the season when it was too cold and the plants were small and destined to suffer or die. Our plants have been growing for 3 months. They've gone through three pinchings and been acclimated to outside temps. So they are sturdy little fellas - or gals - ready to succeed.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge for growing coleus? What is the number one thing people should do to have a success with coleus?
A: Growing coleus is pretty easy - it is just about taking the time to do it right. We do not offer them for sale until late and I have had many people get angry with us for this, but they will do much better and take right off when the nighttime and ground temps are warmer. This is something we have learned over the years. Coleus planted early when the temps are still too cool will never be as robust or just die.
Q: Aside from busy, how does it make you feel when the nursery is packed for the Coleus Premier?
A: It is pretty fun when the Coleus Premier arrives. I see many of our "coleus brothers" that have been along the ride with us all 15 years and they are awesome. We see new faces that are curious about these plants and then curious about us (the "coleus brothers") and they want to join in on the fun! Because it is fun. There are a lot of smiles, and you hear a lot of ooohs and ahhhs and things like "What about this?" or "No, look at this one!" "Oh no, I am going to get this one to go with that one," "Wow, did you see this one?" That is when all of us here at the nursery think, "I cant wait until 2020!"