Chris Eirschele is a garden writer whose recent work is published on and on her blog, She is a member of the Garden Writers Association.

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Mixing It Up with Cool Cosmos: Notes from My Garden Journal
by Chris Eirschele       #Flowers

Cosmos ‘Sonata Carmine’ potted with a licorice plant trailer in an old watering can likes this Ohio patio. The Sonata series include a white flower and one called Sea Shells.

Amid the autumn plantings, gardeners record plant ideas onto new journal pages this time of year. Cosmos found a way into my writings some time ago, and never left.     

Cosmos is a plant grown for its annual flowers. The seeds are especially cherished for easily starting outside after temperatures warm the soil and air. Beyond growing fast, the plants let loose and self-sow their bounty everywhere. The planting bed of flowers in mass takes little effort but gives back a high-impact display of color. Just as easy and colorful is mixing up combinations in pots. 

Companion Colors of Steel Gray Purple and Yellow

Cosmos ‘Cosmic Orange’ stays short but flowers will bloom early when days are warm.

Cosmos and Lantana spp. flowers will attract butterflies to a Midwest garden, even on a second story balcony.

Purple and orange colors are so iconic to fall; gardeners may feel out of sync mixing hues, of each, in a pot at the start of the growing season. But, ‘Cosmic Orange’ cosmos (Cosmos sulfureus ‘Cosmic Orange’) and a cool color of Ageratum spp. will be a pretty combination in midsummer. 

Dark and light rose shades common in cosmos flowers complement yellows in Lantana spp. blooms or coleus foliage. In a large round pot, plant tall cosmos in the center and stagger short annuals around the edges as many will trail over the pot’s rim.

Reds of any tint pop against steely gray shades, whether on leaves or against manmade materials. Old metal milk pails or watering cans give cosmos a simple backdrop that shows up the plant’s airy needle-shaped leaves. Use the gray foliage from licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolatum) or silver falls (Dichondra spp.), which cascades downward as much as 3 feet. Both with gray leaves, the licorice vines tend to meander out the top, as well as over the edge of a container. 

What to Know About Cosmos     

Cosmos plants produce good armfuls of cut flowers, blooming summer through fall until it gets too cold. Cosmos plants tolerate hot, dry gardens, and do not like sitting in too much water.      

The disk-shaped flower makes an attractive landing pad for butterflies. Dwarf-sized varieties are available to gardeners but the common tall plants still look good for their wispy sway in a cottage garden alongside snapdragons.     

For gardeners who love to save seeds and start their plants from seeds, cosmos is a traditional favorite that has not gone out of style. Seeds germinating in just a week grab the attention of kids who like working in the soil, too.

Search for Old and New Cosmos     

Before next spring, gardeners will search for cultivars to mix in their gardens. The All-America Selections and the National Gardening Bureau websites are good places to begin the search. The variety of seed selections ensures finding a ready supply of cosmos in seed packets and in multi-packed transplants at local garden centers.     

As far back as 1936, AAS chose winners like Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sensation Mix’ for its pink, rose and white flowers that grow on a 48-inch-tall plant. The big white flowers edged in a rose hue that gardeners love can be found in ‘Sensation Candy Stripe’. In 1986, AAS liked the dwarf habit of ‘Sunny Red’ and in 2000, C. sulfureus ‘Comic Orange’.

From State-by-State Gardening October 2012. Photos by Chris Eirschele.


Posted: 10/01/12   RSS | Print


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