“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair…”
~Susan Polis Schutz
With winter deeply snuggled in for the foreseeable future, I am thinking of spring thaw and summer heat. And in that spirit, I recently started some early seeds in my basement grow station; specifically pansies, snapdragons and Torenia. The seed starting got me thinking about flowers, and the fact that I haven’t written a plant profile in a while. So I thought I would share with you another of favorite container plants.
I first saw Torenia at a local nursery one year when I was looking for a different container flower that would grow in shade. I planted a few, and a love affair ensued. I found seed the next year, and grew my own although they were not as lush as those from the nursery. But I learned a lot about growing my own, so I am ready to try again as my local nurseries do not regularly sell these wonderful flowers.
Also known by their common names, Wishbone Flower, Bluewings or Clown Flower, Torenia fournieri is classified in the family Linderniaceae. You can see by the picture above how they came to be called Wishbone Flowers, with their united stamens resembling a wishbone. And it is said these brightly colored flowers resemble the face of a clown. They are native to Asia and Africa where they are usually in shades of blue, but through hybridizing now come in a myriad of colors, from white to yellow to violet and purple.
These profusely blooming, snap dragon-like flowers form a mound of blooms up to a foot tall that spill over, beautifully, in containers. They require very little deadheading or maintenance, and bloom nonstop until the first hard frost.
Torenia are considered an annual in most of the United States, but can be grown as a perennial in zones 10 and 11. In hot climates they prefer more shade, so they do well in my shaded areas in summer. They do need a rich, moist, well-drained soil, and do not like to left standing in water so they are not a good drought tolerant plant.
They grow best in containers or hanging baskets. As they do not like to dry out, mulching them is a good idea to keep them moist and cool. You can pinch them back to promote a bushier growth, but I have not found that necessary. Because they are heavy bloomers, you’ll want to fertilize them every 2-3 weeks.
Torenia are virtually problem free as long as they have good circulation and the container drains freely. Otherwise you might see some powdery mildew and root rot. Pollinators and hummingbirds love these flowers, and I have not seen other critters nibbling on them. But we shall see as my newer resident rabbits seem to eat anything.
If you want to start your Torenia from seed, it is recommended you give them 6-8 weeks, before the last frost date, to germinate and grow. I actually give mine about 12 weeks as I have found them to grow slowly. And they can take a week or two to germinate.
You should not cover the seeds with soil, and keep them moist. Give them lots of light and warmth to germinate. Torenia does not transplant well, which may be why mine take longer to grow. I hope to transplant the seedlings into biodegradable pots to help them grow a bit faster. After the seeds germinate they can handle cooler temps, although my basement is about 60 degrees so I will probably keep them on heat mats for a while.
In warm climates, Torenia can be direct sown outdoors, about 1 week before the last frost date.
If you have the right conditions to plant these in the ground, they can make a great edging plant especially in a shade or woodland garden. You can pair them with other shade lovers like hostas and ferns. And if you have window boxes in the shade, they would make a great display as they love to spill and trail.
I usually plant mine just when pansies are fading, and other shade lovers like coleus are taking off. I love pairing the two.
Although I have never cut my Torenia for a vase, I have read they last a long time when cut. So I am looking forward to seeing if this is true. I have also read you can bring the containers indoors for winter bloom and color. I may have to try that as well.
Do you grow Torenia? What is your favorite flower or plant for shady summer containers?
Paperwhites are stealing the show in my Belleek Valentine vase. Paired with left over boxwood foliage, red twig dogwood stems and winterberries they look perfect for this holiday vase.
Planting some of the paperwhites later in the season has been a bonus. And the left over plant material from my Christmas vase has held up nicely to use again.
As there were loads of paperwhites this year, I made another vase. This one just simply arranged in the first vase I purchased almost 40 years ago.
A long crystal bud vase. I love the height of these flowers in this vase.
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