On gardening: Persian Shield is beautifully exotic | Nation

Recently I came across a herbal recipe called “C’est la vie”. Not only was it a collection of some of my favorite plants, but it was also a callback to an old favourite: the Persian Shield. Known botanically as Strobilanthes dyerianus, it is native to Myanmar and has 8-inch-long iridescent leaves in shades of purple, lilac, and pink with purple-brown on the underside. If these colors aren’t impressive enough, the foliage looks like it has a light coating of silver plated on the leaf.

It’s been around for a while, even in the Victorian era, but it kind of fades into the background, at the whims of the producers. It was selected as the University of Georgia’s Athens Select plant and won Top Performer as well as Best of the Zoo at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Luckily, it has secured its position in the Proven Accents section of Proven Winners, where you’ll also find all the new ornamental sweet potatoes.

The Persian Shield prefers well-drained soil rich in organic matter. I rarely see it in full afternoon sun at its best in the south. I like to plant it in morning sun and afternoon shade to keep its brilliant colors still picture-worthy. This spring, wait to plant until all danger of frost has passed, then space plants on 18- to 24-inch centers. I think we can finally be safe in my part of Georgia. Plants should reach nearly 3 feet in height and are truly considered maintenance free. Don’t be afraid to pinch back if necessary to keep the plants bushy.

It is not exactly a drought tolerant plant. On the other hand, those in our show garden when I was with Mississippi State endured far more than I ever thought possible. Keep plants evenly moist throughout the growing season. It is a tropical plant that likes summer humidity and does well in the heat. Keep it growing vigorously by fertilizing monthly with a light application of a slow-release fertilizer. My choice would be something like a 17-5-17 with minor nutrients, but that’s okay; just be sure to use a slow or controlled release blend.

Almost everyone would think Persian Shield is an annual planting, much like coleus. It is considered a perennial in zones 9 through 11, however, and ours has been back several years in zone 8. Don’t expect that, but rejoice if it does. Many find it hard to believe that Persian Shield belongs to the Acanthus family (Acanthaceae) with relatives like Mexican Petunia, Shrimp Plants, Firespike, and even Thunbergia which we grow as vines.

There are some good combinations to plant with the Persian Shield, that’s where I started with “This is the Life”. The recipe includes pink gomphrena Truffula, pink star Supertunia Mini Vista, alternanthera Plum Dandy, also from the Proven Accents section, and of course Persian Shield. You can also find eight other recipes to choose from.

I love how they look with large bananas or in combination with lime green or chartreuse foliage. The purple foliage really contrasts with these colors. Another great choice would be to use purple or white colored impatiens like those found in the new Soprano series.

Every week someone asks me what plants deer don’t like. Reports say this is a plant the deer will leave alone as the party begins. If you’re looking for that special plant to make your friends and neighbors “wow”, Persian Shield will do just that.

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(Norman Winter, horticulturist, gardening lecturer and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden”. Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives free plants to review from the companies he covers.)

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