Sunday, February 27, 2011

Take Me Home and Grow Me!

How often do you come across an unfamiliar plant in a local garden center that just blows you away? You know, the kind of plant that demands "Take me home and grow me!" before you've even had the chance to read the plant tag. New varieties of well-known genera pop up all the time, but once you've spent enough time browsing greenhouses, it's hard to be blindsided by a stunning genus new to you.

Yet, until a surprise delivery from Costa Farms on February 17, Pericallis was an unknown plant to me. I'd never even seen this daisy-like plant when it was called Senecio or Cineraria (two genera under which Pericallis have been formerly classified). As I opened the box and peered inside, I was instantly smitten by the vibrant color of 12 plants from the Senetti® Pericallis Series -- three 'Magenta Bicolor', four 'Blue Bicolor' and five 'Blue' varieties.

Senetti® Pericallis  'Blue'
So many plants marketed as blue are actually various shades of purple. The flowers of Senetti® 'Blue' unfold as a purple-blue, but mature into a true iridescent blue. As one visitor to my Facebook page commented, these plants almost look to be under black light conditions. The blue petals contrast subtly with darker blue-purple centers that become accented with bright yellow pollen.

Senetti® Pericallis  'Blue Bicolor'
The dark centers are more pronounced in the 'Blue Bicolor' variety whose petals radiate from white to a brilliant blue at their tips. As you might guess from the photo above, these Pericallis seem to be heavy pollen producers, a characteristic sure to be appreciated by pollinators in the garden once they're out the garden for spring.

Senetti® Pericallis  'Blue Bicolor'
When I read the letter from Costa Farms that accompanied the shipment, I was a bit skeptical when it said that these plants could be placed outside as early as February. A member of the aster family (Asteraceae) that looked like a heat-loving, summer-blooming daisy could survive outside in February in Zone 5? While it certainly depends on which February we're talking about, it is true that Senetti® Pericallis have been hybridized to withstand temperatures down to 32°F. They actually prefer these cooler temperatures, right along with the pansies and snapdragons we typically think of as early spring annuals here in the Midwest.

As a test, I placed the plants out overnight in our three-season, unheated gazebo when we weren't scheduled to go below freezing. The Senetti® Pericallis have looked their most vibrant on the mornings they've started outside in the 34-40°F range.

Senetti® Pericallis 'Magenta Bicolor'
Though 'Blue Bicolor' is my hands-down favorite variety of the three I received, 'Magenta Bicolor' is a stunning plant as well. With the same gradient pattern as its blue counterpart, the tips of the ray flowers (commonly called petals in daisy-like flowers) appear to be dipped in a gallon of neon fuchsia paint. The central flowers (called the disc flowers) are a dark magenta and somewhat flatter than in the blue varieties.

Senetti® Pericallis  'Magenta Bicolor'
The ray flowers of all the varieties open tightly-wrapped, upright and almost sharp compared to their fully-displayed rounded form that falls away from the disc. Since they flower continuously (at least in cool weather), the Pericallis almost appear to carry several types of flowers on one plant.

Senetti® Pericallis 'Blue' (Seed head)
Although I would likely keep the plant deadheaded to maintain appearance and prolong blooming, the seed heads do have aesthetic appeal. Their fuzzy appearance reminds me of the spent flowers of Gaillardia, another member of the aster family.

Senetti® Pericallis Series
My eye and camera lens tend to focus on the details of plants, but to fully understand the potential of the Senetti® Pericallis, I needed to take a step back and appreciate a massed grouping. The true impact of these plants only appears in numbers. I arranged the three varieties into a number of different groupings on my deck and was extremely pleased with the impact.

Senetti® Pericallis Series
My favorite arrangements were composed of the solid blue varieties along the edges, with rivers of bicolor running through the middle. Standing alone, 'Blue' can seem somewhat too saturated. As a foundation to the bicolor varieties, it shines.

I don't seem to be the only one entranced by this series of plants. When I posted photos on my From the Soil Facebook page, I received comments like:
  • "Wow. That color is amazing."
  • "I'd plant this in a second."
  • "Very, very, very yummy"
  • "Makes me think springy 'I want that' thoughts."
  • "[I like] all of them! What a color!"
Smitten by definition implies a certain unreasonableness in your fondness for something. In the spirit of objectivity, I do have some concerns about this plant. The foliage is covered by the prolific blooms, so I can't be sure what they'll look like once the heat of summer hits and flowering subsides. In my research, I've found a recommendation to cut the plants back to half height in summer to stimulate a possible fall rebloom. The flat green foliage, which i can only describe in shape as a mix between annual geranium (Pelargonium) and wild violets (Viola), doesn't look to have a great deal of ornamental value once the flowers are gone.

The plants also seem to a bit susceptible to wilting if underwatered, particularly the 'Magenta Bicolor' variety. The Costa Farms plant information does warn to water regularly and not allow to dry out, so be forewarned. I woke up one morning to all of the 'Magenta Bicolor' plants wilted, foliage and flowers drooping low. The recovered nicely after watering, with just a little bit of foliage browning along the lower leaves. I can't imagine that the plant could withstand repeated wilting and recovery. If I hope to grow these through the summer and into fall, watering will be a significant factor in their success. This is not a install and ignore kind of annual.

Even with these challenges, I'm excited about the potential of Senetti® Pericallis to energize my spring containers and mixed borders. The garden center offerings for early spring annuals has been improving in the past few years with the introduction of hardier and more interesting Viola cultivars, but these Pericallis have the potential to leave pansies as an afterthought in my cool season garden.

Many thanks to Costa Farms for introducing me to the the Senetti® Pericallis. I'll be giving these plants a thorough run for their money in my garden this year and can't wait to see how they perform. If I can keep them alive inside the house until our spring temperatures are consistently above freezing, I fully expect to be smitten for some time to come.

The Senetti® Pericallis Series includes additional varieties including 'Deep Blue', 'Magenta', 'Violet Bicolor', 'Lavender', 'Light Blue Bicolor', 'Baby Blue', 'Baby Blue Bicolor', 'True Blue' and 'Baby Magenta'. For more information and photos, please visit:
Disclaimer: Aside from the sample plants, I received no compensation from Costa Farms for writing or taking photos for this article.

1 comment:

  1. I love my cinerarias! I have magenta bi-color. Here is a photo of mine from last summer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/redthreaddiy/4525624353/sizes/l/in/set-72157623564150341/

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