One of my favorite garden quotes is, “Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.”
English writer and gardener Maria Theresa Villiers Earle made the comment in her 1898 book, “Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden.” She thought people devoid of imagination could never be good gardeners.
Imagination brings great joy — and a little risk — into a garden. For me, it sometimes translates into growing something weird and wonderful. Celosia, or cockscomb, tops my list of weird-looking annuals.
This old-fashioned cottage garden classic comes in three basic types — C. cristata (crested), C. spicata (spiky) and C. plumosa (plumed), but there are several newer cultivars to keep these weirdos looking fresh and modern.
Celosia requires full sun, good drainage and soil enriched with organic material or compost. Most varieties can be started indoors or direct-sown in the garden. You also may find bedding plants.
“Gypsy Queen” (C. cristata), a Burpee exclusive, produces stunning 6-inch crested burgundy — dark purple-red — flower heads and greenish-burgundy foliage. Flowers bloom from late summer into fall on 8- to 16-inch tall plants.
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Another Burpee exclusive, “King Coral” is a small plant that produces a king-sized coral pink velvety flower head measuring up to a foot in diameter. A real conversation starter, this celosia reaches 8 to 10 inches tall.
“Red Velvet Cake” is a luscious offering of velvety, intense crimson flower heads. The improved re-selection has large, shapely heads with deeper, more vibrant red florets on vigorous, strong stems, according to Burpee.
Two other Burpee exclusives, “Fan Dance Scarlet” and “Fan Dance Purple” are described as free-flowering, tall plants with fanlike, rippled blooms in rich colors. Tall plants have large, crested blooms. No staking is needed.
Monrovia offers the Kelos series that includes “Fire Purple,” “Fire Scarlet” and “Fire Yellow,” each with vibrant plumes that hold their color throughout summer and into fall. Plants reach 12 to 18 inches tall.
Check out the oddity “Dracula,” which darkens to blood red in full sun. The single, upright crested bloom can measure 6 to 7 inches long.