Salpiglossis 'Purplestar Galactica' (Xera Plants)

Salpiglossis ‘Purplestar Galactica’ (Xera Plants selection)

I’m mad for Salpiglossis this year. And my timing’s impeccable: Salpiglossis are back in fashion and much more richly colored, compact and slinkier than the ones I painstakingly started from seed when I was a nerdy 11 year-old. Yes, they were big in the ’70s, and before that, in Victorian times.

Painted tongue (oh heck, just call it Salpiglossis!) are annuals – this is another way of saying, we only get to enjoy them for one growing season, and then they die – just like tomato or zinnia plants.

But even if just enjoyed for one season, Salpiglossis are truly worth growing. For one, they look like real plants – unlike so many annuals that look stiff, overbred and too much like little dwarf flowering machines. Salpiglossis flower like crazy but on waving, two-foot stems that blend beautifully with other plants. I love them with soft grasses like Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) and other delicate, feathery or tiny-flowered things like catmint or near the elegant spires of Salvia ‘Caradonna’.

Modern hybrids come in an astonishing array of fashionable and vibrant colors from bright orange, yellow shades and brown (these go great with plants from New Zealand!) to zingy electric purple, blue, mauve (very Victorian), and burgundy, often with contrasting veins. The flared, funnel-shaped flowers measure an inch or two in diameter and are produced continuously from summer to frost.

They are easy to grow, providing their basic needs are met: partial to full sun, rich soil and regular water. I deadhead them, too, to keep them flowering. I have planted some in containers this year and suspect they’ll do well, as long as I remember to water them.

Start Salpiglossis from seed in early in spring – or just procrastinate until it’s too late and buy already growing plants from Annie’s Annuals or local retail nurseries that sell Xera Plants.

Here’s a selection of wholesaler Xera Plants’ Salpiglossis for 2010 – or just head to one of the retailers that sell Xera Plants.

Here are Annie’s Annuals’ Salpiglossis (mail-order).