Cleome. Some people hate it. I always loved the old-fashioned cleome in my Virginia garden. A prolific self-seeder, it was fun every spring to see where it chose to pop up in my large gardens. And to see the different colors of blooms was exciting, too, since the babies could vary from white to purple, quite different from the parent.
Complaints according to those who avoid cleome in the garden:
Spines and thorns
Sticky excretion that could irritate
Tall and leggy later in the season
and a self-seeder
All those criticisms have become passé with new varieties on the market. The hybrid cleome I grow is compact…. only a foot tall and an annual. No thorns; no odor; no seeds (sadly); smaller blooms than my Virginia plants but just as floriferous all growing season; bushier than my original; planted in my soil/compost border and seem to be happy there; still loved by insects; still visited by hummingbird moths and hummingbirds. No good reason I can think of not to consider it for your garden…. unless you just don’t like the color!
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