Kong coleus

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Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

You may have noticed even more coleus varieties at your garden center this spring. This is a plant that our mothers liked a lot, but like clothing and wine, plants wax and wane, falling out of favor only to rise again. Coleus is definitely king these days. 'Kong' popped onto the gardening scene in 2005 and caused a sensation. It's pretty, yes, but its main claim to fame is size. It is truly a coleus for our times - supersized, monster-big, splashy, flashy. This one is planted in a container with an apricot-colored canna in the middle. Not a dwarf canna, either. I expect this to be a conversation piece by July. Like so many of the coleuses on the market now, it's very colorful, a really interesting plant. I've tried 'Chocolate mint' and a trailing variety that's a startling combination of pink and violet and quite a few others. They're fun to play with. Coleus expert Ray Rogers calls coleus "a living paintbox," but that's exactly what some detractors don't like. Coleus can be bright and covered with blotches. But there's one for everyone. Or two. Lime green, autumn orange, with curly or broad leaves and funny names like 'Careless Love,' 'Inky Fingers' and 'Fishnet Stockings.' They're endlessly variable and quickly becoming one of my - and many other consumers' - favorite container plants.

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