Flowers of Mexico

Our gardens feature the native flowers of Mexico this summer, complementing the alebrije sculptures. We hope you enjoy the extra burst of color!

Find these flowers in the Cantigny Gardens!

Amaranthus

Amaranthus produces prodigious amounts of seeds, so it will likely re-sprout where it was planted the previous year. The cultivated seed is typically white, but wild-grown amaranth is usually dark-colored. The young, tender leaves can also be eaten (cooked like spinach), but the plant collects materials from the soil (like nitrates in heavily fertilized areas), so care should be taken when collecting for consumption.

Amaranth can also be grown as a fascinating cut flower.

“The seed of Amaranthus cruentus (what we call red or purple amaranth) was one of the staple foods of the Aztecs, who called it huautli and demanded it as tribute from their Mesoamerican subjects. They even used the ground seed and honey to form religious figurines. Spanish conquistadors cruelly banned amaranth cultivation because of its religious significance and use in human sacrificial ritual, although amaranth figurines have persisted as part of Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Now, Indigenous groups and others are pressing to bring the grain back: it’s very protein-rich and may withstand some harsh weather conditions that make other crops vulnerable to climate change. The leaves of amaranth plants are edible, too, used as a cooked leafy vegetable in cuisines worldwide.” (source: phillyorchards.org)

Varieties at Cantigny this year:

  • Amaranthus ‘Dreadlocks’ – Idea Garden
  • Amaranthus ‘Love Lies Bleeding’
  • Amaranthus ‘Oeschberg’
  • Amaranthus ‘Red Spike’ – Idea Garden

Dahlias

Dahlias are grown from tubers, which are similar to a bulb, but more like a potato. Dahlias are native to Mexico and Central America. A dahlia comes in many different patterns, textures and colors.

Varieties at Cantigny this year:

  • Dahlia ‘Sun Explosion’ – Idea Garden
  • Dahlia ‘White Perfection’
  • Dahlia ‘Who, Me?’ – Upper Display Garden
  • Dahlia Delaya ‘Yellow’

How to grow: They can either be directly sowed (2-6 inches deep) into your garden bed or potted and transplanted once the plant emerges. They should be planted in full sun (6-8 hours) after the ground has warmed up and you, the gardener, also would like to be outside. They will bloom all summer long if they continue to get deadheaded. Water regularly and fertilize when new growth appears.

Lantana camara

Lantana is native to regions of Mexico, but has become invasive in many tropical areas, particularly in Hawaii. These are very popular annuals in temperate areas where they do not survive the winter. The colorful flowers and heat-loving nature of this plant makes them a perfect choice for home gardeners.

Varieties at Cantigny this year:

  • Lantana ‘Bandana White’ – Containers
  • Lantana ‘Landmark Red’ – Front of Visitors Center
  • Lantana ‘Landmark Yellow’ – Park Front Entrance
  • Lantana ‘Luscious Marmalade’ – Visitors Center Lawn

How to Grow: Lantana grows best in full sun (6+ hours direct sun), flowering from Spring to Fall when given ample light. They require good drainage and do not tolerate wet soil. The soil should be allowed to dry out between watering (Use your finger to test the soil. If it is moist below the surface, supplemental watering is not needed). Lantana benefits from fertilization with an all-purpose fertilizer on a bi-weekly schedule. Plants can be trimmed back if they become too large for containers or displays and will resume blooming after 1-2 weeks.

Poinsettias

Native to Mexico, this plant is typically seen in most homes during the Christmas holiday season. If you are able to keep your poinsettia alive until summertime, you can place it on your deck or plant it in your garden.

Variety at Cantigny this year:

  • Euphorbia pulcherrima – Lower Display Garden

How to grow: When growing outdoors, place this plant in full sun and in well-drained soil. The plant does not “flower”. It actually has modified leaves called “bracts”. The process of getting your poinsettia to color again can be accomplished, but it is not an easy task. This requires you to eliminate light from the plant for varying periods of time, all while trying to keeping it healthy. Keeping the plant from light prevents it from producing chlorophyll, the pigment that makes the plant parts green. If this is achieved the plant will then either turn red, pink, or white.

Ruellia

Ruellia simplex, aka Mexican petunia or Mexican bluebell. Ruellia is native to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. This plant is a herbaceous evergreen perennial. This plant has become a widespread invasive plant in Florida, but since it is not hardy in zone 5b it is only used as an annual.

Variety at Cantigny this year:

  • Ruellia simplex ‘Purple Showers’ – Lower Display Garden

How to grow: Plant in full to part shade and it can tolerate a drought as well as wet soil. Ruellia has a showy purple flower that attracts butterflies. The flowers on Ruellia only last one day, but this plant blooms continuously.

Tagetes lucida

Mexican tarragon, aka Mexican marigold, false tarragon, or Mexican mint marigold. It is native to Mexico and Guatemala where it is a heat-loving perennial herb. This plant is primarily grown for its licorice-like flavorful leaves. It is hardy in zones 9-11.

Variety at Cantigny this year:

  • Tagetes lucida ‘Mexican Tarragon’ – Lower Display Garden

How to grow: If planted in our zone 5b and left in the garden in the fall it will not tolerate a frost. This plant thrives in a well-drained soil and will likely rot in wet soil. Leave 18-24” between each plant as they can reach 2-3 feet tall. In Mexico, much to the delight of the gardener, a little yellow flower will appear in late summer and autumn. In the Lower Garden, where you will find this plant, it already has started to bloom.

Tigridia pavonia

Tiger Flowers also known as Mexican Shell Flower. The Tigridia plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala. This flower is a must for your mid- to late-summer garden.

Variety at Cantigny this year:

  • Tigridia pavonia – Octagon Garden

How to grow: This plant is hardy in zones 8-10 but can be planted as annuals in our zone 5b. They do not like a lot of water, so a dry area in your garden is best. They absolutely love full sun. This is a bulb, so most likely it should be started indoors to allow the foliage to start emerging from the soil before transplanting to your garden. Once the summer season is coming to an end, simply dig up the bulbs to use again. Excellent as a cut flower or in a container. Size is 12-18” tall.

Vegetables & Herbs in the Idea Garden

All of the featured plants are staples from Mexico that require full sun. More than 8 hours per day is ideal, with the exception of onions, garlic, and cilantro. They need to be planted when the soil temperatures have warmed sufficiently in late spring (at least 50 degrees), and all prefer well-draining soil as well.

Cilantro
Cilantro prefers cooler temperatures, and will bolt (a stem will elongate and go to flower). This is actually ok, and it is a great pollinator plant while flowering. The flowers will eventually produce a seed called coriander. If you let the seeds fall from the plant you will have a new batch of cilantro (typically in the fall when it is cooler again).

Garlic
Garlic should be planted in the fall with a dibble. Each garlic clove planted will result in one garlic bulb (grouping of cloves) next year in early summer. They likely will sprout this fall and hang in there until spring and then start growing. Garlic scapes can be harvested and eaten before the plant produces seed at the end of that scape. Harvesting takes place usually in early-mid August.

Onions
Onion plants look like a green onion and can be planted in spring. Use a dibble planting tool to make a hole in the soil and tuck the plant in and let them go!

Tomatillos
Some varieties grow up like a tree with a spreading crown, while others grow straight up. They are Harvest when the husks surrounding the fruit split open and turn a papery tan. The fruit is sticky but can be easily washed off. Tomatillos can be pan or oven roasted and make a very tasty salsa.

Tomatoes and Peppers
Tomatoes and peppers like hot and sunny days and will start producing fruit (for early varieties) around the 4th of July, with most varieties producing at the end of July/beginning of August. It helps to stake the plants early so they won’t lie on the ground when they start bearing the heavy fruit. Harvest at the appropriate color for that fruit. Hot peppers typically have a longer growing/producing time frame. Regular watering is a must.

Note: our multi-grafted pepper was “created” by our horticulture fellow, Ryan Stull. You can graft multiple peppers onto one plant using similar techniques to grafting multiple varieties of apples on an apple tree.

Zinnia elegans

Zinnias are incredibly popular amongst home gardeners and horticulturists. Beloved by butterflies and bees, these bright and cheery plants are a native wildflower that grows from Mexico to Nicaragua. Many of the cultivars we use today are a hybrid of two or more species, which provides us a color range from white to orange and red to green.

Varieties at Cantigny this year:

  • Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Deep Red’ – Idea Garden
  • Zinnia ‘Benary’s Giant Orange’ – Idea Garden
  • Zinnia ‘Benary’s Golden Yellow’ – Inner Ring
  • Zinnia ‘Park’s Picks Deep Red’
  • Zinnia ‘Starlight Rose’ – Lower Display Garden
  • Zinnia ‘Super Cactus Sungod’
  • Zinnia ‘Zahara Cherry’ – Lower Display Garden
  • Zinnia ‘Zahara Fire’
  • Zinnia ‘Zahara Raspberry’
  • Zinnia “Zahara Sunburst’
  • Zinnia ‘Zahara Yellow’
  • Zinnia ‘Zesty Purple’

How to Grow: Zinnias require full sunlight (6+ hours direct Sun) and well-drained soil. The soil should be allowed to dry out between watering (use your finger to test the soil. If it is moist below the surface, supplemental watering is not needed). Zinnias can be prone to powdery mildew or fungal diseases if the weather is hot and humid or if they are overwatered, so be sure to space your plants 6-8 inches apart when planting and water in the mornings if possible. Zinnias benefit from deadheading (removing spent blooms). To do this, cut the flower stem off where it meets the main stem; removing only the flower and not the stem will not encourage new blooms, so be sure to cut all the way back at the base of the flowering stem.