Not long ago, a friend stopped by bearing gifts of flowers and herbs — lavender and rosemary tied in bundles, marguerite daisies and bunches of four o’clocks that she’d picked along the way to my house. But the flower that captivated me was a sweet, rose-colored thing, an unusual blossom called kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate (Polygonum orientale) is an old-fashioned annual, not widely known but easy to grow from New England to the California coast. It shares the genus Polygonum with a number of evergreen and deciduous annuals, perennials and vines including the sprawling silver lace vine (P. aubertii), the bamboolike Japanese knot- weed (P. cuspidatum) and a number of common weeds. Once established, it self-sows readily, bearing splashes of color in summer and fall. Not only is the name charming, evoking images of young lovers sneaking kisses over the garden fence, but the blossoms are delicate and delightful.
Plant it in a sunny border of your garden, protected from harsh winds that might damage its towering stalks. Let it preside over sweet Williams, pansies and baby’s breath, luring birds and bees to its domain.
In mild-winter areas (Zones 9 to 11), sow seeds outdoors in September or early March where the plants will grow; or in February, sow them in flats kept indoors until the weather warms. In May, they can be transplanted to their permanent locations. In cold- winter areas (from Zone 8 northward), sow seeds indoors in early spring and transplant the seedlings when all danger of frost has passed. Either way, sow seeds ½ inch deep and keep the soil moist and slightly cool. Thin or transplant seedlings when they are 2 inches tall.
To prepare your flower bed, dig in a shovelful of completely rotted manure or compost for each 2-foot-square section of bed. Dig the bed to the depth of one or two spades to make a friable soil that gives the roots plenty of room to spread. Top-dress established plants with another generous helping of manure or compost (one spade per plant should do) and mulch them with leaves or straw. No other fertilization is needed.
Over spring and summer, the flower stems climb to 6 feet tall, often reaching 8 feet in rich soil. Give plants ample water, especially during the hottest months. By late summer into fall, dangling blossoms of deep rose appear among the large leaves, and the mature stalks bend to drape over the garden gate.
Kiss-me’s lightly fragrant blossoms are perfect for fresh or dried bouquets and autumn potpourris. Picked at their peak, their brilliant color lasts long after other flowers have faded. They add a bright contrast among other warm-weather blossoms, such as soft yellow or cream-colored calendulas or delphiniums. Clip blossoms with stems attached; hang them in bunches in a warm, shady place for about one week until dried, or add them to your fresh-flower bouquets.
As the blossoms pass, seeds form and fall to the ground to reseed for next year. In the spring, watch for new growth. Move these tender new plants to a sunny spot and space them 12 inches apart. Give them the same care you gave their parents. With very little care they’ll reward you with an outstanding show.
Editor’s note: Sources for seeds of kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate are listed.
COPYRIGHT 1998 KC Publishers, Inc.
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