Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ in a Jackson Pollack Landscape

November 29, 2023

If you have yet to visit Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, (CMBG) then come this year. And when you do, be sure to check out the Alfond Children’s Garden. There is a change in grade from where you enter the garden down to the vegetable garden and pond. One way to get down takes you along a winding ramp planted along side with annuals. This curving and raised plant bed is called the Rainbow Terrace. It begins at the golden Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ and descends to the pitcher plant bog. From the Sun King aralia, this plant bed has typically been planted en masse with annuals in a ROY G. BIV fashion (red, orange, yellow, etc.).

This year, the gardener for this area, Justin Nichols, wanted to shake things up a bit. Instead of planting in blocks of color, he tried to plant the space as if Jackson Pollock had designed the garden’s carpet bedding scheme. What he did is wonderful and the colors are a riot!

cerinthe ina  jackson pollack inspired carpet bedding scheme at coastal maine botanic garden
This carpet bedding scheme featuring cannas, cosmos, petunias and cerinthe is a rich jewel toned masterpiece.

Using Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ in a jewel toned planting

Among the many colorful plants, the unsung hero that pulls it all together is the honeywort or Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens.’

This annual has silvery leaves and dangling, purple, bell-shaped flowers. Honeywort can be easily grown from seed and may overwinter in warmer parts of USDA Zone 7b and 8.

A native of the Mediterranean region, Cerinthe will grow best in full-sun with adequate moisture and well-drained soils. Hummingbirds and bees love the nectar off of the flowers, hence the common name (honeywort).

Justin combined a few plants with Petunia ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ and the effect is outstanding. I don’t know what the real Picasso would think about having his name on loan to a Pollock inspired masterpiece but in this case, because of the color and texture of the Cerinthe, the combination works.

Honeywort is also commonly known as the Purple Shrimp Plant with blue wax flowers
Honeywort is also commonly known as the Purple Shrimp Plant due to the shape of the flowers but it’s also referred to as Blue Wax Flower due to the waxy appearance of its flowers.
Cerinthe purpurascens via
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ flower is a nectar source for pollinators.

You can expect Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ to reach around 24″ or taller in the height of the summer. I am definitely making notes on this plant. I think I have heard somewhere that good artists steal even better ideas from other artists. Well, I am definitely going to steal this plant from Justin’s garden and use it in other areas of the gardens next year. It is outstanding!


Photos: Rodney Eason

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  1. Debbie Feely says:

    You encourage me to try cerinthe again. Nice! Love the colors in these shots.

  2. rochelle says:

    Rodney –I love that top shot! Beautiful!

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