Not everyone feels the same way I do. Many love it but others have a love/hate relationship with it, while some simply hate it. It is not uncommon to hear unflattering whispers about it when gardeners gather:
“It smells bad.”
“You give it an inch and it takes a mile.”
“What’s that yucky sticky secretion?”
“Touch one and you bleed.”
“It never grows where you want it to grow.”
“It’s just a 4’ stick with a flower on the top.”
Tisk tisk. They’re talking about cleome or spider flower, a bloom I think is exotic and jazzy. For me it was love at first sight. I’ll be the first to concede the leaves and flowers are pungent, the stems are covered with spines, they are sticky, and you never know where they will germinate. But the flamboyant purple, pink and white blooms are spectacular and I’ll overlook any shortcomings these plants have.
Let me count the ways that I admire this oft-criticized and maligned flower.
1. Heat tolerant. Cleome scoffs at high temperatures and brings welcome color to the borders until first frost.
2. It’s free. That’s the beauty of a self-seeder.
3. Fun surprises when the babies appear in the borders.
4. Drought tolerant.
5. Bees love it.
6. Hummingbirds love it.
7. Bunnies hate it.
8. They pull up easily.
Advice: Water occasionally to prevent leaves from drying. Plant in established borders so other plants will support the stems. New varieties like Senorita Rosalita are more compact and have no odor, nor spikes. They are sterile however. No fun there.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester