Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Pretty Muse: Cleome

Several people asked about the flower I had in my header last week, so I thought I might feature it in the blog this week: it's Cleome. 

As a young plant, Cleome is a bit of an ugly duckling. The foliage is sometimes compared in appearance to marijuana. Grow a big patch of it and nosy neighbours might begin to wonder you're panning on smokin'!

Cleome don't begin to impress until the plants are well-established sometime in summer. By the time August arrives, the flowers seem to glow in golden light of late summer.

As much as you might think Cleome is a nice flower, it pays to research any plant you want to consider for your garden. This may sound like a bit of drudgery, but it is a smart idea to make yourself aware of any problem issues associated with the plant. A little bit of investigation will also help you chose the cultivar that will work best for your needs.

Cleome's long stamens are responsible for the common names "Spider Flower" and "Old Man's Wiskers".

The flowers have no fragrance, but the foliage has a slight scent that I have heard described as anything from 'minty' to having the 'aromatic smell of a skunk'. One review I read boasted that the unpleasant smell was enough deter deer.

The stems are a another prickly issue. They have thorn-like spines, so you definitely want to wear gloves when working among Cleome.

Cleome is an annual flower here in zone 6, but a perennial plant in zones 10 and 11. 

Every thing I have read suggests that you should grow them outdoors in early spring from seed rather than starting them indoors. (Apparently they require bottom heat for indoor germination and don't like to be transplanted). With our short growing season here in Southern Ontario, I am thinking of buying seedlings that have a good head start from a local nursery.

Plant Cleome in average garden soil with at least 6 hours of sun. Too much organic matter can actually lead to leggy plants. 

Water seedlings well to get them established, but after that, they are drought tolerant. 

Be aware that taller varieties may require staking. 

Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and hummingbird moths all love these flowers. 

Unfortunately they do not make particularly good cut flowers.

Be warned: Cleome self-seed to the point of becoming a bit of a nuisance and in some cases can even become invasive. 

You can lessen this problem by removing the long slender seed pods are they appear, but this requires diligence and effort. 

Perhaps a better option is to select one of newer varieties like Senorita Rosalita, which produce seeds that are sterile.

Sparkler Series are hybrid cleome with a shorter, bushier habit (3.5-4 ft). They tend ot be more vigorous than open-pollinated varieties.

Queen Series is an open-pollinated series that can reach 4 to 6ft tall.

Spirit Series: Spirit Appleblosson has an earlier display of flowers than most Cleome, but fades a bit towards the fall. It reaches a height of about 4 ft. Spirit 'Frost' is white in color and Spirit 'Violeta' is lavender.

'Linde Armstrong' is a cultivar with rosy-pink flowers. It is a compact plant that reaches a height of 12-18 inches, which make it perfect for container plantings. This variety is also thornless and is know for its heat tolerance.

'Helen Campbell' is another cultivar with white flowers on a 4ft plant.

How and where best to plant Cleome? 

This is one annual that benefits from being planted in a mass grouping. 

Older varieties, which can be can be tall and lanky, look great toward the back of a garden. Tall Cleome make a wonderful companions for ornamental grasses.

Cleome also looks great alongside yellow Rudbeckia, Sedum, Verbena bonariensis and Zinnias. 

Here Cleome are planted with pink Astilbe and Coleus.

For me, Cleome seem to have become a bit of a photographic muse. 

This spring, I think I may have to add some plants along the white picket fence 
at the front of the house.


  1. What a beautiful post Jennifer! I have never grown cleome, since I don't have much room for annuals here in the garden. But this is beautiful!!! I loved every photo!

  2. Very informative Jennifer. I have only tried to grow Cleome from seed which, as you point out, does not work very well as our season is too short. I should look for some plants. I remember a garden that had very good old-fashioned ones every year. They were always in the same spot so perhaps they self-seeded. I expect that when they self-seed, they come up faster than from bought seeds.

  3. I can see why they fascinate you Jennifer girl .. their structure and different soft colours are beautiful. I don't have that much room for annuals either but I can admire ones in the neighborhood no problem !
    Joy : )

  4. Ah man....I just started some seeds from Mindy inside...I wish I would have read up a little more on seed starting for Cleome in this area. It sounds like I would have done better starting them outside! Oh well...we shall see how it goes because I have always wanted to have these in my garden! They are stunning and your photos knocked me off the couch Jennifer! Wishing you a happy end to your week...and yes these would look gorgeous against your fence! Nicole xoxo

  5. Awesome pictures, Cleome are up there with one of my favorites. I usually plant them in groups of 5-10 real close as a back drop .The smell I would describe as a skunk, but as for mint...I sure dont smell mint. I think thats awesome idea if used the deep purple ones against the white fence!

  6. it's such a gorgeous flower! I can see why you are taken with photographing them. I've only every grown it once - may have to add some this year along with my favourite cosmos.

  7. Cleome is one of my all-time favorite cottage garden flowers, Jennifer. In summer, it reminds me of a burst of fireworks. I've never had to stake it. I like that cleome reseeds itself. The clover-like seedlings are easy to spot and pull out if they are growing where you don't want them. I have even lifted seedlings in their soil with a spade and placed them in a more desirable spot. Lovely posting. P. x

  8. Cleome, and your pictures just look heavenly. I've always liked 'cottage garden style' and these look custom made for it.

    All the best Jan

  9. What a lovely plant, I love the blues and purples, old man's whiskers is a great name! Here, a wild version is often seen growing along old railway

  10. Your pictures are heavenly, Jennifer! Happy first day of Spring. :)

  11. I love these but have been hesitant to grow them because they self seed so easily here. But I have a friend with an abundance of seedlings so I may take a few just for fun. Your photo of them with the zinnias and rudbeckia is gorgeous!! It makes me want to go ahead and take the risk. :o)

  12. I only wish cleome would self-seed here. The winters must kill the seeds off. Or the birds eat them. Gorgeous photos as always!

  13. I have missed planting this stunner for the last few years, but have my seed waiting for the weather to warm. I agree a wonderful muse.

  14. I saved seeds from my giant white and pink ones. I used to grow them all the time, but had forgotten about them until last year. I absolutely love them and have to agree, they are so dang photogenic.


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