Hey Cleome, Can we try to be friends?

February 25, 2014

I hate Cleome. My disdain stems from a bad experience back when I was a baby gardener.  In my baby gardener days, I had a tiny plot in front of a duplex (so really I just had the right hand side of the garden).  I was eager to make my mark (my parents, of course, got to make all planting decisions in every garden I’d ever worked in or enjoyed up to that point).  It was my very own house with a small yard.  I built weirdly shaped raised beds (that ultimately fell apart), planted trees where they had no business being planted (an ash tree in a raised bed right next to the house), and I experimented with anything that looked cool in a catalog (I had limited small successes with ranunculus) – and I had my first (and last) Cleome experience.

Cleome via

I can’t remember if I planted seed or if I actually bought baby plants (I suspect the former), but what I got was a gangly mess in the wrong place – with lots of thorns.   When something looks terrible and is flopping all over every thing around it, the last thing you want it to have is giant thorns that magnify the indignation of the situation.  My annoyance from that one season has led to years spent scoffing at these plants.  I mean I scoff hard, so hard that I literally made an audible sound as I recently passed their page in the Proven Winners catalog. The noise was so stupid and obnoxious that it literally stopped me in my tracks (laughing at myself).  I mean really, how dumb is it that I (a grown woman) hate a plant so much that I snort at it in a catalog?  Dumb.

Clearly this has gone too far…so I’ve decided to give them another chance.  There is (after all) overwhelming proof that I had no idea what I was doing way back when, so my memories are surely tainted (right?).  I know lots of people who love Cleome and Guara is one of my favorite plants ever (you have to admit there is a certain resemblance in the flower). I had a boss once get annoyed at me for never planting Cleome at client’s properties – she (who was also responsible for the maintenance dept.) found them particularly easy to care for and she wished for more.  I used to care less about maintenance but I’m busier than I’ve ever been and lately I am all about easy care.  And then there is the fact that Cleomes have come a long way since then — apparently the Proven Winners varieties don’t flop, don’t have the thorns or seed heads (things are looking up for this relationship!).  So I wonder if Cleome and I can be friends.

Thinking this through (I’d hate to repeat the past), I’ve spent considerable time looking for interesting cleome-centric planting combos that I can fall in love with.  This picture of a planting at the Dallas Arboretum on Pam Penick’s blog is nice – I love the color mix of the really dark leaves of the Pennisetum ‘Prince’ with the pink Cleome and purple Salvia. I think that this combo on Carolyn’s Shade Garden is interesting for the same reasons.  Sarah Raven also makes some great suggestions for Cleome here and she inspired my addition of the amaranth.  The three together inspired this:

Planting plan to highlight cleome by rochelle greayer

It this too much? I am not so sure myself and I am thankful that some of the most dramatic and perhaps tiring elements are annuals (so if this all goes pear-shaped, it isn’t a big deal).   From the top left:

Pennisetum purpureum ‘Prince’ – I always see these in full-grown stature at the end of the season – ready for autumn container plantings.  It will be a challenge I think to find them earlier – but I am looking forward to seeing how they perform in my bed where the sun beats down.  (apparently these get even darker with the hot sun)

Caryopteris incana  – What a lovely plant.  We’ve discussed my chartreuse leaf obsession before, so obviously this plant is totally flirting with me and I am all goggly eyes over it.

Amaranth Love Lies Bleeding‘ – I grew this and other amaranth varieties from seed a few years ago in my vegetable garden.  It was super easy and crazy happy at my house.  At the time, I wanted to figure out how to cook with amaranth – which never quite happened because ultimately the garden was profuse that year and in the end I was too busy admiring its odd ball flower heads and canning other things.  Maybe this year – but I won’t feel bad if it doesn’t happen.

Senorita Rosalita Cleome  – Backed and supported by so many others and planted in clumps, not only do I think I will solve any sort of flopping problems, but the Cleome provides a welcome airiness to what is admittedly an overly dramatic pairing.  (I am quite aware that the black grass and the love lies bleeding combo offer a real vampire quality.) – The contrast will make the pale pink Cleome (even with its spikes) seem quite sweet.

Chives – I have lots of chives in the bed where I am planning to install all of this.  I love them and refuse to tear them out; and I think they seem to play along quite nicely.

Weigelia florida ‘Wine and Roses’   – I also have a few of these and they have been sorely under appreciated in my garden.  When I got them, I blithely planted them in the middle of a large bed thinking that they would get much larger than they do (duh, if I had read the details on the tag – it would have been quite clear that these are not huge). You can’t even see them behind the large grasses and butterfly bushes that also share the middle of this bed, so I think moving them to the front of this planting scheme will nicely bring them out of hiding.

Do you grow and love Cleome? I’d love to hear why you like it – I am trying my best to be open-minded. 😉


Images: courtesy of Proven winners.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Proven Winners.  I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own. See the other posts in this series. 

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  1. John Hod says:

    I think it goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway…) that every plant has its place and purpose in the garden- Cleome is a plant which can truly liven up the summer and fall garden wether it’s placed in a large, sunny border or in a foundation bed. As you’ve discovered with your Weigela, if you’re installing a plant without knowing its habits first- you may not enjoy it the way it is meant to be enjoyed!
    My advice- plant Cleome again, but give it lots of space, lots of sun, and if you do not want it spreading all over the garden next year- deadhead the thing before it forms those pesky seed pods…other than that- sit back and enjoy the show!

  2. Thanks for linking to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens!

  3. Beth Couet says:

    I think you are going to love using Senorita Rosalita!!! It has been a go to plant for me since it was introduced. I use it in beds and borders on a very open and windy golf course here on Cape Cod and because it is shorter and more compact than the original variety it has never needed to be staked. No thorns either.

    I have found it to be a great filler in perennial beds especially in the late summer. It keeps the color going when many other summer plant are through blooming.

  4. commonweeder says:

    This was such a useful post. I’ve always been of two minds about cleome, but I am going to do a lot of annuals this year for a really splashy colorful garden. Cleomes would fit right in. Thanks for all the links, too.

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