Pig Weeds and Elephant Heads
Despite its beauty and practicality, amaranth is an underestimated plant for gardens.
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Another amaranth that's no stranger to ornamental gardens is love-lies-bleeding. These 5-foot plants produce uniquely pendulous red flowers that can reach 2 feet long. These were coveted in Victorian times and still prized by flower arrangers and crafters. It is a form of Amaranthus caudatus that originated in the Andean highlands of Peru. Its seed was a staple known as 'Inca wheat'.
All of these outstanding amaranths and other equally fascinating varieties are available online at www.seedsofchange.com. They are simple to grow because they are really just civilized pig weeds! Grow from seed in warm soil or start ahead indoors in pots with other veggies. Arrange seed in rows or in patches like the Hopi waffle gardens. Mulch well in the heat.
Cut flowers at peak of bloom, and to dry hang upside down in a dark closet to retain as much color as possible. For a seed crop, allow flower heads to remain on the plant where they mature later in the season. Cut the head or bend it into a clean paper bag and shake the seed free. Then winnow off the chaff.
Amaranth is relatively unknown and yet few plants offer so many benefits for so little effort. This winter order your seed to spice up ornamental beds, kitchen garden or add a new look to pots on porch or patio. You'll discover a plant more ancient than corn, cultivated long before the Aztecs entered the Valley of Mexico that still feeds a hungry Third World today.
(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of "Weekend Gardening" on DIY-Do It Yourself Network.For more information, visit www.moplants.com or www.DIYNetwork.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)