Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate

Polygonum orientale (Princes Feather) with pink flower sprays
Photo: David Q. Cavagnaro/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Although kiss me over the garden gate is native to China, it has a long history in American gardens, going back to President Thomas Jefferson, who liked to include bold plants in his famous gardens. The plants gradually fell out of favor, a victim to the trend of breeding compact bedding plants that could be sold already in flower in tidy nursery six packs. Contemporary gardeners looking to bring back the bling to their gardens have rediscovered the Victorian favorite, and now you’ll find this plant on seed saving lists and in heirloom seed catalogs everywhere.

Get to Know Polygonum Orientale

A member of the Polygonaceae family, this flower is correctly classified as either Polygonum orientale or Persicaria orientale. Both the Polygonum genus and the Persicaria genus include a variety of knotweeds, which gives you a clue to the invasive potential of an otherwise charming ornamental plant. The pendulous racemes of kiss me over the garden gate are similar to some varieties of amaranth. Flowers are usually a rosy magenta hue, but can vary from white to red. Leaves are slightly hairy and ovate.

Also known as lady’s fingers, prince’s feather, princess feather, and oriental persicary, this fast growing flower will adapt to any climate as an annual flower. When the weather warms up, the plants grow very quickly, eventually reaching a mature height of five to seven feet, rewarding gardeners with blooms from early summer to first frost. Best of all for those who like tall flowers, this heirloom never needs staking.

Varieties to Try

In addition to the common heirloom prince’s flower, you can find the variegated ‘Shiro-Gane Nishiki’ cultivar from some seed purveyors. Some gardeners share that this cultivar requires more irrigation and less sun than the standard variety.

How to Plant

Kiss me over the garden gate grows so rapidly that you won’t find transplants of this annual for sale, and must start from seed. The seeds require stratification to successfully germinate. Don’t let this technical term intimidate you; the one month chilling period the seeds need can occur in the refrigerator, but can also happen naturally outdoors if you sow the seeds in the fall. The plants take about 100 days to produce their first flowers after sowing, so plan accordingly.

If your growing season is short you can start the seeds under a cold frame, or indoors about two months before the average last frost. Press the seeds lightly into the soil, and thin seedlings to about 18 inches apart.Full sun will keep your lady’s fingers from getting floppy in at attempt to stretch towards the light, although some afternoon shade is acceptable. If you experience volunteer seedlings (and most people will) you should also thin these in the spring.

Care and Maintenance

A bit of benign neglect won’t harm this easy care annual. Average soil, an inch of rain per week, and no supplemental fertilizer will keep you in blooms all season long. In general, kiss me over the garden gate is pest free, but Japanese beetles can sometimes be a nuisance. If you notice any skeletonized leaves on your plants, you can place traps with lures at the border of your property, and control the next generation in your turf with an application of milky spore.

Garden Design Tips

As you would imagine from the mature size of this flower, kiss me over the garden gate belongs at the back of the border. The plants are great for adding substance to a new garden when shrubs and trees are still getting established. The flowers are a welcome addition to the cutting garden for adding mass and height to arrangements, and crafters will find that the blooms dry well. The rosy pink flowers stand out against green flowering companions like ‘Envy’ zinnias, and they complement blue flowers like bachelor’s buttons as well.