Old Fashioned Globe Amaranth
Summer's arrival signals a new growing season filled with colorful annuals and perennials. Garden centers are full, and choosing from among the numerous offerings is often difficult. Why not rely on some old favorites, such as globe amaranth?
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) thrives in hot weather, and it grows and blooms until frost. My granny in Mississippi grew them. She called them bachelor’s buttons, as did my mother and all the neighbors. Globe amaranth is easily started from seeds, and it is available in nurseries and garden centers in spring. Attractive clover-like blossoms of lavender, rose, purple, red, light pink, and white are borne on stiff stems throughout the summer.
Although globe amaranth is drought tolerant, it prefers moderately moist soil. Expect the plants to grow from nine inches to three feet tall, depending on which selection is chosen. Plant them from 12 to 18 inches apart if a massed effect is wanted. Insects and diseases are rarely problems, but mildew may attack in very humid conditions. Avoid watering with an overhead sprinkler in the afternoon or evening. If overhead irrigation is necessary make sure it happens in the early morning so plants have the longest possible drying time.
The blossoms are favorites for floral crafts. Before the last frost of winter, I pull the plants up and pick off individual blossoms that are still in good condition. They are a colorful addition to potpourri. A Styrofoam ball with individual flower heads glued on makes a pretty decoration. Fill a bowl with them, or put a dowel on them and make topiaries for yourself and your friends. Consider using one of the Styrofoam balls covered with globe amaranth blossoms as a Christmas tree ornament. Of use them as a form in creative floral designs.
Sometimes the best use of the dried flowers is to simply put them in a pretty basket or bowl and set it in a strategic place for a decoration. Next spring, the dried flowers can be shredded into a new planting bed. Thin to appropriate spacing, and give the thinnings to friends, transplant them to another garden area, or pot them up for the next fund raiser.
The flower head is an inflorescence (flower cluster) made up of small inconspicuous individual flowers. The colorful bracts give the inflorescence its outstanding color, but butterflies and insects have no trouble finding the tiny white flowers.
Several cultivars offer options in color and size. The Gnome series is available in pink, purple, and white, and grows only six inches tall. ‘Buddy’ (purple) and ‘Cissy’ (white) grow only to about nine inches tall and are ideal front-of-the-border plants. For the middle of the border, choose the rich purple ‘All Around Purple’ at 18 inches tall. Both ‘Lavender Lady’ (lavender) and members of the QIS series (white, purple, lilac, carmine, rose and red flowers) are excellent as cut flowers since their stems grow about two feet tall. The Audray series is another taller-growing group offering pink, purple-red, and bicolor rose (dusty-rose flowers tipped in white). Gomphrena haageana ‘Strawberry Fields’ expands the palette to include red.
The pink and white varieties blend well with almost any color, but consider more carefully placement of the bright purple selections. Some sun coleuses have the same hue in the leaves and complement each other. Greens are an excellent foil, whether dark or light. I particularly enjoy the purple color contrasted with bright greens of goldmoss sedum (Sedum acre) or ornamental potato ‘Margarita’. White or yellow ‘Profusion’ zinnias contrast pleasingly, and the silver of such plants as dusty miller really lets them shine.
Globe amaranth is truly a plant with multiple uses, only one of which is to add color to a garden. Grow them just for the beauty they provide in the flower bed, or hide them out back and grow them just for cutting and using in floral crafts. Add them to the butterfly and pollinator garden. However you choose to use them, they are sure to be a great addition to your garden.