If you walk into a large garden centre during the winter, you might very well observe large pots of particularly attractive plants sporting lovely panicles of lavender blooms atop shiny, dark-green foliage. The plants may be as high as a metre and almost as wide. These plants are Plectranthus ecklonii “Mona Lavender,” and would have been offered by the garden centre during the spring bedding plant season as pot plants. Many garden centres pot up such plants if they have some left over after summer sales have ended — some do this with coleus also — and they become focal points in the garden centres’ display areas during the winter.
After seeing these plants in full bloom and putting on such a performance a couple of winters ago, I purchased a smaller version the next spring and have grown it ever since. The first year it grew quite quickly and I moved the container outdoors after transplanting it into a larger pot. By summer’s end, the plant was about 50 cm tall and in full bloom. In the fall before moving the plant indoors for the winter, I cut it back severely, using the cut-off terminal stems as slips, which I potted up into six-inch pots. The cuttings rooted quickly and I grew them on during the winter.
The following spring I used the smaller plants produced from the cuttings to add variety to a number of my mixed containers. I planted the parent plant into a large, attractive container and placed it on the patio for the summer where it served as a specimen plant. The smaller plants seemed to be right at home shoulder to shoulder with other plants in my mixed containers and added unique colour and texture to the containers.
Plectranthus ecklonii, has dark-green leaves that appear as opposite pairs on the square stems. The leaves are about four cm long and are wedge shaped at the base and quite pointed at the tips. The leaf edges are toothed, the teeth being coarse and short. The leaves have attractive purple veining and the undersides of the leaves are purple burgundy.
Blooms of P. ecklonii “Mona Lavender” are terminal panicles about 15 cm long. The blooms remind me a bit of coleus blooms and literally cover the plants while they are in bloom. Bloom is long lasting and my plants flower all summer in the outdoor garden and after they resume flowering after being cut back in the fall, they bloom off and on all winter in my sunroom.
The plant is native to South Africa; it is a tender tropical plant that will not tolerate frost. It is actually a shrub and has woody stems. It is a fast-growing plant and will bloom the first year from a cutting. Plectranthus ecklonii will take some sun but prefers a partial shade location. The leaves will burn if exposed to harsh midday sun in the middle of the summer in the outdoor garden.
“Mona Lavender” seems to be the most popular cultivar of Plectranthus ecklonii, and I have not seen any others, but there is a pink one called “Erma” and a white-flowered cultivar named “Tommy.” I will keep my eyes open for the pink one as I think it would be a good addition to my garden. I will still keep my “Mona Lavender,” however, as it has served me well both as a great flowering plant in my indoor winter garden and as a container plant in my outdoor summer garden.