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Alternanthera – an annual, once considered a weed

The alternanthera has always held a high spot among my favorite plants for bedding or edging.

The popular garden writer Eben Rexford wrote in 1910:

“Carpet-Bedding is not the most artistic phase of gardening, by any means, but it has a great attraction for many persons who admire masses of harmonious and contrasting colors more than the individual beauty of a flower.”

Alternanthera ficoidea [below] is an upright, herbaceous perennial from the Amaranthaceae family. Originating from Tropical America, this tender plant may be grown in full sun to partial shade. It has a mat-forming habit and is commonly known by the names Parrot Leat and Joseph’s Coat, amongst others.

Denis Adams writes in her wonderful book Restoring American Gardens, “The best foliage plants for carpet-bedding included coleus, Alternanthera (red was best), golden feather feverfew, dusty miller, and variegated-leaved germanium.”

Downing on Flower Beds

To my surprise, Andrew Jackson Downing promoted the whole idea of carpet bedding in the early 1840s. He saw it as an important part of the landscape.

He wrote the following words in his book A Treatise on the theory and practice of Landscape Gardening:

“The Architectual Flower-garden has generally a direct connection to the house, at least on one side by the terrace.

“It may be of greater or less size, from twenty-feet square, to half an acre in extent.

“The leading characteristics of this species of flower-garden, are the regular lines and forms, employed in its beds and walk. The flowers are generally planted in beds in the form of a circle, octagons, squares, etc., the center of the garden being occupied by an elegant vase, a sundial, or that still finer ornament, a fountain, or jet d’eau.”

In 1910 another popular garden author Harriet L. Keeler wrote about the alternanthera in her book Our Garden Flowers:

“Alternanthera, though low growing Brazilian weeds, have a definite value to gardeners, as they rank among the stock plants for foundation work in carpet-bedding.”

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