Amaranthus caudatus – Love Lies Bleeding
There is nothing fancy or special about this amaranthus which bears the unfortunate common name of Love Lies Bleeding. It is just an annual which has seeded down over many years in our rockery, but in early autumn we welcome its return. It grows at a remarkable speed. Throughout most of summer, the tiny seedlings are only a few centimetres tall, taking up next to no space at all. Look away for a couple of weeks and suddenly they have rocketed up to a metre or more and produced these eye-catching red tassels which will last right through autumn. The advantage in our garden situation is that the plants still take up very little ground space so the bulbs that are shooting away in the same pockets of the rockery are not crowded out.
There are many different amaranthus species – maybe 70 of them. Some species are eaten as fresh greens, some are predominantly grown as ornamentals while some provided grain in their native habitats of Mexico and South America. There is some resurgence of interest in amaranth grain, including from alternative lifestylers. It appears that A. cruentus is the main grain species but our A. caudatus also gives edible grain and so does the oddly named A. hypochondriacus. The problem we see in using our Love Lies Bleeding is that, while it sets prodigious amounts of seed, it does not all ripen at once, which would make harvesting difficult. However, should armageddon come, we do apparently have a potential source of grain in our front garden, as long as I leave one or two plants to seed down each year in the interim. In the meantime, they do a great job of feeding the birds.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.
A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.
Sanvitalia procumbens planted for the monarch butterflies here
It has not been a good year for monarch butterflies. We put this down to the unusually cool, wet summer but find it worrying how just one season can almost wipe out the population. We don’t just grow one or two swan plants (usually Gomphocarpus fruticosus). We plant them in succession throughout the season, like green beans and sweet corn, to ensure continued supply because it is the end of season caterpillars we target so we can have them wintering over. Usually we will have monarchs visible in the garden at any time of the year, but they are a rare sight this season so it is not looking good for winter and the early flush in spring. It is not for want of food – there are untouched swan plants in abundance.
In order to provide plenty of food for the butterflies in autumn, Mark fills any spaces in the vegetable garden with nectar rich annuals. We don’t do a lot with annuals in the ornamental gardens beyond self sown pansies and love-in-the-mist (Nigella damascens), but the autumn vegetable garden resembles a meadow mix these days. The gem this year has been a miniature zinnia relative, Sanvitalia procumbens “Mandarin Orange” from Kings Seeds. While the flower colour could be a little cleaner, it is such a tidy, little filler plant it has been promoted out of the vegetable garden and into the rockery.
Winter food is also necessary to keep these monarch delights at home. The most successful plant we have is the yellow daphne (Edgeworthia papyrifera) which attracts them from a considerable distance. As a general rule, it is single flowers which are rich in available nectar. The fancier and fuller the bloom, the less likely it is to feed butterflies and nectar seeking birds like tui. There is plenty of information on http://www.monarch.org.nz if you wish to know more about encouraging butterflies in your garden.
1) Mark is relocating the late season monarch caterpillars into the warmth of his glasshouse to give them a better chance of reaching maturity before the winter chill. Every caterpillar is precious this year.
2) Cut off the Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) in the rockery. We let these naturalise for autumn height and colour, but they set vast amounts of seed and there is a narrow line between naturalising and taking over.