Counting my summer successes: Ceratotheca triloba

About this time last year, I made my first visit to Montrose. On a tour of the gardens there, I became bewitched by Ceratotheca triloba, sometimes known as South African foxglove.

Ceratotheca triloba

Looking something like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove, Ceratotheca triloba grew tall and elegant in bare gravel and gracefully entwined with a nearby red-foliated cotton plant. Seized with plant lust, I promptly went home and scoured my seed catalogues. I found the seeds in a catalogue that promised they were rare, but since the seed pack only cost $2, I’m guessing what they meant was “rarely purchased.”

That’s a shame, for Ceratotheca triloba has been perfectly charming for me this year and would probably be equally well behaved in others’ gardens, should they learn about this under-the-radar gem. I started some of the seed at home and planted out two sturdy seedlings. They grew for me, flowered for perhaps three months, and produced seed. I cannot ask for more.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove

In dry, light shade it performed well, if it sagged a bit in its old age. (Who doesn’t?) I might have done a better job pinching it early in the season to coax it into a more shrubby form. As you might imagine, bees love the long, drooping tubular flowers. My form is more lavender-colored than the pink one I saw at Montrose; I don’t know if the color is impacted by pH or sun exposure, or if it just naturally varies a bit. Next year I’ll experiment with its placement and see what I can learn.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

Ceratotheca triloba seed pod, ready to spill its contents.

On my desk sits an envelope full of homegrown little black seeds, waiting for their chance to fill the abundant vacancies in my garden. I allowed some seed to sow itself naturally; if I remember not to mulch over the spot too heavily, perhaps I’ll see Mother Nature’s design work next spring.

Ceratotheca triloba is an annual, and there’s no excuse for not trying it next year. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I do.

ceratotheca triloba african foxglove

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New plants to try: Ceratotheca triloba

My visit this fall to Montrose hasn’t stopped inspiring me. Ceratotheca triloba, also known as South African foxglove, is an unusual annual plant that thrives in gravel soil.

Ceratotheca triloba

Ceratotheca triloba

It looks a bit like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove. Like foxgloves, it grows 3-6′ tall, attracts bees and hummingbirds, and gently reseeds itself to spread gracefully around the garden. At Montrose, it grew in the pathways.

Ceratotheca triloba

The front of the blossom looks very much like that of a foxglove. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph the flower’s face without stepping in the borders.) I imagine it looking most attractive in the company of Salvia leucantha, Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’ and Callirhoe involucrata. 

I think I must get the rest of my cyclamen sown, and quickly.