Kiss me over the garden gate – but only if you have a ladder!

I like to experiment with new plants each year and with a nickname like Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, Persicaria orientalis sounded like an entertaining annual to try to grow from seed. It’s an old-fashioned cottage garden plant, growing to 4ft (~1.2m) apparently. I’d seen photos of its deep cerise tassles mixing in beds filled with echinacea, purple cleome and amaranthus. You can imagine it against a white picket fence, nodding over it, maybe tapping you on the shoulder in a bit of a breeze.


Flower tassles of Persicaria orientalis

They looked wonderful and since I’d been reading an article by Mary Keen, who had coincidentally been trying to track down some of these plants, things came together because she had found seeds at (It is well worth checking out Derry Watkin’s selections on this website. It is like a treasure trove.)

The seeds arrived, were shallow sown and placed in an unheated greenhouse. Germination was said to be slow but reliable.

Seedlings of Persicaria orientalis

Seedlings of Persicaria orientalis

In fact germination was fairly quick and the little red seedlings looked very attractive.

persicaria seedlings

Pricked out seedlings

Soon they were big enough to prick out and they quickly made sturdy plants ready for outdoor homes. In the end the germination rate was practically 100% and so friends and family were gifted examples of the experiment.

The plants began to get quite tall and since they seemed to be all stem at this point, I staked the few in exposed spots. I need not have bothered. They behave just like bamboo and seem to thrive on a good blow around in the wind. Their stems became thick and the they have curious sheaths around the leaf axils. They look rather like exotic elizabethan ruffs:

Persicaria orientalis sheath around leaf axil

Persicaria orientalis sheath around leaf axil

And on they grew. Their leaves were larger than might be attractive, but the plants seemed to be using the energy supplied by them to reach for the sky. However, it got to August and there was no sign of flowers and the stems were still reaching upward. This was a bit disappointing.

Then all of a sudden in mid-August I could see flowers beginning to form at the top and the stems finally started to put out side branches, ripping those pretty sheaths to shreds in the process. By mid-September the plants were looking dramatic.


Towering Persicaria tassles waving in the the breeze against a blue sky

Now they have reached 8 or 9 feet (>2.5m). They are branching nicely and extending the flowering zone into an umbrella shape. The deep cerise tassles look absolutely glorious against blue sky.

The plants are like small trees. I’ve put them in the wrong places in the borders (at the front, because of my quaint ideas about picket fences, kissing gates and growing to only 4ft). In a strong wind I can imagine them hitting a person around the head rather like a whomping willow!


Dominating the border

I asked a colleague at Wimpole what he though of the new persicaria I’d tried in the borders. He asked for them to be pointed out to him because he was looking down (and had walked straight passed/under them)!

However, I am getting more excited and fonder of them as they get more exuberant. I wonder what their final height will be?


They are looking good and so I am joined this week with Gillian at Country Garden UK who is hosting a new meme on Fridays to celebrate and share things that have caught our eye and are looking good at the moment. Why don’t you check it out?


About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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31 Responses to Kiss me over the garden gate – but only if you have a ladder!

  1. Gillian says:

    Well they are fantastic Allison! Annuals are often exuberant but this Persicaria takes the biscuit. I have never seen anything quite like it. You must have the perfect conditions in your garden for those plants. Thanks very much for joining in with my first Looking Good Friday.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Wow, these are stunning! I like the pink stripes on the sheath, thanks for the introduction. 🙂

  3. Julie says:

    Just read your post and realise now you work at Wimple Hall, I love the walled garden there! I visited recently with my mum and spoke to a lady gardener about the 3 cultivars of Verbena chosen for the borders, I wonder now was it you and if so can you please tell me again, what your Verbenas are!

    • Yes, I look after the double borders down the middle of the walled garden and I do remember telling someone about the three verbenas about a month ago. They are (from shortest to tallest): Verbena rigida ‘Polaris’, Verbena hastata ‘Pink Spires’ and Verbena bonariensis. Pink Spires has been a brilliant performer this year. Nice to have (probably) met you!

      • Julie says:

        Oh my goodness! We especially liked ‘Polaris’. How does that one overwinter? ‘Pink Spires’ is gorgeous too. I am fairly sure I asked you too about an Ammi you have there, I grew Ammi Majus and was disappointed with the blackly and pulled it out, but you have one that seemed not to attract blackly or you talked about one that was more resistant. I have mentioned our conversation in a blog reply and was kicking my self as I hadn’t written your answers down.Lovely to have met (I am now very certain) you too!

      • We leave the ‘Polaris’ in the ground, but leave some protective foliage for overwintering and we mulch around where we can. It seems to come back reliably. We are growing Ammi visnaga this year. It flowers for longer than A. major I think and the domes (rather than flat umbels) look excellent in flower arrangements

  4. Patricia says:

    Thank you for visiting my blog. Everyone’s posts are so beautiful and full of new ideas.

  5. Pingback: Looking Good 25th September | Country Garden UK

  6. A very interesting and enjoyable read, thank you for the detail and great images – wonderful to see the detail of the leaf axil sheath, another good reason to grown this one. If you’d put it at the back of a border you might have missed it!

    • Thanks. Like Eliza I love the red stripes at the bottom of the sheaths. Classy or what? It’s the leaves that really detract from them being front of border plants (and I do worry a bit about them hitting someone if the wind gets up). Maybe the middle then?

      • Yes, I think you’re right, maybe weave them other perennials … maybe late flowering (white) asters or something with a froth of healthy (lovelier?) leaves come September?

  7. I grew them in my CT garden and they just made me smile! Supposedly they will re-seed but I was atop a hill and I don’t think they approved that micro climate of Winter, icy winds.

    • I bet they looked wonderful on the top of a hill with all that sky around.
      I’d been wondering if they’d self seed, but we have wet, sometimes cold winters, so I’ll collect some in case. Will you try again or something new?

  8. There’s something about really tall plants, isn’t there? I like to have a variety of plants over 6′ – 10′ is better! They add drama and give you a reason to look up at the blue sky. Your Persicaria is certainly a fun plant, and I like the red-tailed flowers.

    • Yes they are great, because even though they are overhead the tassles are hanging down so that you can see the flowers clearly. Best against a blue sky certainly… if only there were more days like that.

  9. Chloris says:

    I love these plants. I grew them last year but I ended up with just a few plants. The seedlings are irresistible to slugs. I don’ t know why they are not more widely grown they are so pretty.

    • I love them too now, but the wait for the show was longer than I expected. I’ve put some in the borders at Wimpole and a lot of people have been asking about them, so there maybe a few more next year? Hopefully! I didn’t plant mine out until they were ~2ft tall and they escaped the worst of the slug onslaught (I have no dahlias this year for instance in spite of growing 20 or so)

  10. NJ says:

    I just received the seeds from Did you have to keep the seeds in the refrigerator before you sowed them? I just sowed a few seeds yesterday without any cold treatment. But I am reading at several sites that these require some cold treatment. What is your experience about the germination – what was the temperature like when yours germinated and how many days did it take? Thanks for any insights.

    • I didn’t cold treat them, but I did start them in April in a cold greenhouse when average and night-time temperatures were still quite low. Some of the seeds germinated quickly (7-21 days) and then more sporadically for a few late starters. The seeds I gathered from last years plants germinated in spring again without specific cold treatment, but not as quickly (it’s been warmer I think). Are you north hemisphere and in warm summer weather now? Could you split the packet, plant half immediately and keep in as cool a place as you can find, but stratify the rest in a plastic bag in slightly moist vermiculite in a fridge for a week or two (or till germination) to give yourself a range of conditions. Kerry Watson of Special Plants does specify that cold stratification helps germination and that after sowing temperatures of 10 – 18 deg Celsius should be maintained. Good luck. I wish you success.

  11. MAB says:

    I found these plants in an elderly person’s garden nearly 40 years ago. I asked them if I could have some of the seeds after I realized that Japanese Beetles would feast on this plants leaves first before all other plants in the garden. It doesn’t appear to be an attractant, but if you have other plants and don’t want them to be ruined by beetles, and can’t stand the thought of using insecticides on your garden plants, these will at least help with the beetles, they’ll munch on these first. I’ve used them in my garden every year, requires no effort, just let them drop their seedlings in the fall and then work the garden up in the spring and then be sure to leave a half-dozen of these plants in multiple locations when the hundreds (if not thousands) of seedlings begin sprouting in the spring instead of weeding all of them out. One pass with a tiller takes about 90% of them out so they’re not that invasive or difficult to control.

    • You are so lucky that the persicaria self seeds. Winter seems to wipe them out here, so I have to collect seeds each year. Interesting to hear about the japanese beetles and that you’ve found that this plant is their preferred snack. I think that we are well off without them here in the UK!

  12. Daisy A says:

    Oh I’m so glad to see your photos of Persicaria Orientalis seedlings. Thank you for the article. I’m the excited owner of a seedling that started to sprout in 10 days on a damp piece of kitchen paper in a food bag on top of the fridge. Was potted up but seemed to have no new growth apart from its seed leaves for days and days. Now it is pushing out a lump below and to the side of the seed leaves. My seedling looks just like those in your photos and my key question is what happens next?

    Kind regards

    • Things should start to move very quickly now. Be prepared for a lot of straight upward growth for a couple of months. The flowers come later than you’d expect, but are so dramatic when they do arrive. Do you start a lot of seeds this way? I’ve heard that it can be very successful for slightly difficult seeds. It certainly would stop me digging around to see if anything is happening!

      • Daisy A says:

        Hello Frogend_dweller,
        Thanks for getting back to me. Am now seeing another little nodule on the stem – seemed to appear over night so things are starting to move very quickly now, as you say, Looking forward to the flowers when it gets planted out. Straight upward growth would be good as it’s going in the back of a raised bed.
        I do start a lot of seeds on a damp paper towel and with easy-to-germinate seeds like tomatoes I have a success rate of well over 90%. However it’s a bit trickier to sow a high volume of seeds like you might do in a low seed tray. Although you could sow multiple packets I suppose….
        I’m realising that plants that produce a lot of seeds, like squashes and persicaria do so for a reason – because the natural germination rate is not necessarily high. I also try to get open pollinated and heritage seeds so often only 10 in a packet and with prolific self-seeders only a small proportion of the 10 will germinate. After I get plants started I try to seed save so looking forward to plenty of persicaria seeds!
        Nevertheless I still find the damp towel in a plastic bag in a warm place by far the most successful method with difficult to germinate plants. I use food bags and fill in the seed name and date. I was stunned that the persicaria only took 10 days rather than anything up to 60 as stated on some sites but I had kept it in the fridge.
        As with plants you have to hit the right note with the moisture – too little and the seed shoots stick to the paper and tear. Too much and they rot. At first you wring out the soaked towel and leave it wet but not sopping wet and top up with a water spray if needed.
        You have to check them often and try to get the little shoots before they stick to the towel! If they are a bit dry I treat the towel as a seed tape and tear round the germinated seed and bury it with the little bit of towel. The two usually separate when the pot is watered.
        Thanks again for your help! I found a big gap online between advice on seeds and advice on grown plants, which your blog filled really well.

  13. Lynda says:

    Thank you for your detailed diary on Kiss me over the garden gate. I’ve just rec’d my seeds and have put some in the fridge on damp paper towel baggie and I will take a few and try starting them in the house without the cold treatment. Again, thank you for taking the time to document the growing of this beauty. I’m looking forward to seeing what I get in the fall. Hello from Vancouver Island.

    • Greetings, Lynda, all the way from Vancouver Island! I hope that you are successful with this impressive giant annual flower. It is wise to try alternatives. I’ve started some seeds again this year, shallowly sown in a half tray in a cold greenhouse (from saved dried flowers). They are germinating fairly well, about 3 weeks after sowing. Good luck with yours!

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