Under the Sea Coleuses

A floriculture first.

NUVO Magazine: Under the Sea

Under the Sea langostino coleus. Photo by Amy Jo Ehman.

If lime shrimp, langostino, and gold anemone have you dreaming of seaside destinations, look no farther than your front garden. Under the Sea is a chic new designer line of coleuses—those purplish, reddish, and greenish ornamentals grown for their vibrant and variegated foliage—with an exotic twist. Gregor Mendel meets Jacques Cousteau.

By popular accounts, coleus originated on the South Sea Islands and in tropical Africa. After Dutch traders brought them to Europe in the mid-1800s, there was a coleus craze among Victorian aristocrats who delighted in designing gardens that resembled Persian carpets. A new cultivar of coleus could fetch a pretty price. What’s old is new again: a college project to create the “world’s weirdest coleus” could become one of the hottest gardening trends of 2012.

It’s hard to believe it was born in a greenhouse during a long Canadian winter. Several years ago, Dr. Bob Bors introduced coleus as an easy indoor experiment in plant propagation for his horticulture students at the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. By selecting the oddest coleus, particularly those with unusual ruffles and secondary leaves, Bors built a collection of eight sea-inspired specimens now bearing names such as Molten Coral and Hermit Crab. Several nurseries came calling, including Hort Couture of Litchfield, Michigan, which was licensed this spring to market Under the Sea to independent greenhouses across North America. Royalties from the sale of Under the Sea will help cover the cost of heating the college greenhouse through those chilly winter months.

Photo by Amy Jo Ehman.