Colorful Coleus

Baker’s Acres greenhouse grows 200 varieties of the exotic coleus plant, a quick fix for a garden that needs some color.

By
From the June 2014 edition
  • Photos by Tim Johnson

Running a successful horticulture business doesn’t mean you lose your sense of humor. Take the names of some of Chris Baker’s original coleus varieties, for example: Big Enchilada, Grape Expectations, Trailer Park Princess. Of course, when you’re cultivating what Baker of Baker’s Acres calls the “Hawaiian shirt of the plant world,” it’s only natural to have a little fun.

“The coleus has always been a favorite of mine,” says Baker, whose Alexandria greenhouse specializes in unusual plants. “In the late 1990s, I started breeding them.”

Today, Baker’s Acres sells nearly 40 original breeds, which can brighten a garden with shades of green, pink, purple, orange, yellow and red. In total, the greenhouse grows 200 varieties of the plant, which is native to Southeast Asia and now goes by the name Solenostemon scutellarioides (though many gardeners, including Baker, prefer to stick with coleus). Today, sells nearly 40 original breeds, which can brighten a garden with shades of green, pink, purple, orange, yellow and red. In total, the greenhouse grows 200 varieties of the plant, which is native to Southeast Asia and now goes by the name Solenostemon scutellarioides (though many gardeners, including Baker, prefer to stick with coleus).

Baker and his team propagate their plants through cuttings, and they’ve shared their creations with coleus fans throughout the region.

“I went to New York City a few years ago,” Baker says. “At Tavern on the Green in Central Park, they had one of our varieties planted around the restaurant.”

Large plant brands have also picked up Baker’s varieties, and there’s more to come. This winter, he sowed 20,000 seeds with the hope of discovering 10 new varieties.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” he says. “We’re just looking for something that’s new or that will improve upon a variety that’s already out there. Maybe it branches better or doesn’t flower.”

Coleus plants are grown for their vibrant leaves, not their tiny blue buds, which only look nice for a day or two.

As for growing and maintaining the coleus plants, Baker’s advice is to choose a variety that’s good for where you want to grow it. Almost all coleus plants will grow in shade. Avoid direct midday sunlight, as too much sun washes out the leaves.

“There are so many different colors and leaf shapes and edges and growth habits,” he adds. “It’s just a huge variety, and my favorite changes every day. Pick what makes you happy.”