Nora Leigh phlox does best in full sun to partial shade

March 22, 2018

Just when things in the garden are going well, we worry that we will get a streak of bad luck. But not always. And usually, garden leaves that have streaks of white are diseased or weak, but sometimes they are just meant to be that way, variegated. The term "variegated" means the leaves have more than one color. Usually they are two-toned or bicolored, but sometimes a variegated plant will have three or more colors on the leaves. Plants with variegated leaves are very popular in landscaping, because they are showy even when not in bloom.

Many flowering plants have variegated leaves, including Nora Leigh phlox (Phlox paniculata). This phlox not only has two-toned leaves, but also two-toned flowers.This small perennial grows to just 24 inches tall and can live for up to 10 years. Nora Leigh phlox does best in full sun to partial shade. It grows well with very little care, and is tolerant of urban pollution. This variegated phlox also grows well in outdoor pots or raised beds.

Variegated annual flowers include Alaska nasturtiums which grow to be spreading, bushy plants whose rounded leaves are splashed with creamy colors. The edible single flowers bloom in a wide range of colors including yellow, creamy white, orange, and a dark mahogany red. For a colorful herb, try Variegated Peppermint whose leaves have the same brisk taste of green-leaved peppermint, but with the added bonus of spectacular green-and-white variegated leaves. Use Variegated Peppermint as you would any mint, in tea, in salads or on lamb. Try mixing Variegated Peppermint leaves with chunks of watermelon and feta cheese for a refreshing summer salad. Variegated peppermint is often used to treat indigestion, and the strong, somewhat pungent flavor helps relieve sinus pain. Because all mints can become invasive, you may want to grow this in containers or a part of the garden where you won’t mind it running wild.

The Fish pepper is an heirloom pepper made famous in the oyster houses along Chesapeake Bay. This African-American hot pepper goes back to the 1870s. Each 18- to 24-inch-tall plant produces two- to three-inch-long hanging peppers that start out cream colored, striped with green, and eventually ripen to solid red. Fish pepper is good in pots. The tasty but hot peppers are ready to pick about 80 days from transplanting.

The variegated tomato, also called Splash of Cream tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) has blotches and streaks of white throughout its leaves, making it an unusual and highly decorative plant. These plants are very productive, with lots of small, two- to five-ounce round red fruits. They are sweet and flavorful, and ideal for salads, slicing, or to top a sandwich. Each tomato is nearly perfect, with few blemishes and little or no cracking. Variegated tomatoes grow in clusters of five to six fruits, and the plants have high yields. Because they are "indeterminate plants," they will keep growing and producing all season long. Originally from Europe, variegated tomatoes are ready to pick about 75 to 80 days after setting plants out.

So try mixing things up a bit, and plant some variegated vegetables and flowers this year. You just may be on a winning streak.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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