Plants which thrive and flower prolifically in reasonably dense shade are rare indeed but Justicia carnea is a stand out this week with a particularly lovely combination of foliage and flower colour visible from quite some distance. The tufted flowers of justicias always remind me of the old candlewick bedspreads despised by my mother but now having a second coming as a collectable on Trade Me (our NZ equivalent of Ebay). This form of carnea has a salmon pink flower complimented by very dark green leaves which are velvety maroon on the back but it does come in other colours, including a pure white form. And the yellow candlewick form which we used to know as Jacobinia chrysostephana is also referred to as Justicia aurea (which means yellow).
These central American shrubs are members of the acanthus family. It had never occurred to us that they are frost tender but in large parts of the world they are regarded as glasshouse plants or they are lifted each winter so they must be more tender than we thought. We have never seen them suffer from frost or cold in our garden but we do tend to favour them as a woodland plant. We just ignore them most of the time. When they start to get a bit rangy and leggy after several years, I cut the tallest stems back to the base of the plant. The old wood is surprisingly hard which is why I use loppers in preference to secateurs. It takes many years for them to get to the size of this one and you could keep them more compact by pruning and pinching out from the start but we don’t mind the tufted pink flowers and slender growth occupying an area about 2.5m x 2.5m. It combines well here with a tropical cordyline behind and ferns, Solomon Seal and mid green hosta at its feet.