There is a plant growing in the Fairegarden that is so common, so lowly, so plentiful that it is stepped upon without guilt, pulled without remorse and ignored on a regular basis.
It was brought here accidentally from the Tennessee garden where we were living when this house was purchased for our daughters to live in while attending college, in 1996. In the digging and potting up of plants to bring from the existing Fairegarden to the Annex, there must have been some seeds that snuck, or sneaked in the soil from the herb garden, for this plant is considered to be an herb, by some. Seeds are its means of world domination. The flowers are insignificant, as shown above, nearly invisible against the dark purple foliage.
Dark is the word best used to describe the whole plant, stems and all. It is the perfect filler for the Black Garden and is allowed to mature and set seed in that space to be sure of having future generations of the frilly foliage to complement the bright Croscosmias, among others. Perilla frutescens ‘Atropurpurea’ is an annual, but is so reliable a germinator that it will be here forever. Even if the entire garden were paved over in concrete, this plant would find a crack in which to grow up. In fact, it loves to seed about in the gravel paths, preferring stone to soil. Good drainage is a must.
Many plants love to seed in the gravel paths, as seen in the warts and all shot of the lax weeding methods being applied this summer. Foot traffic is the
laziest best way to keep the paths somewhat clear, treading in the middle to squish emerging unwanteds. The gravel is our nursery and when good guys reach a transplantable size, they are easily pulled and replanted elsewhere, the entire root system intact. The Perilla is simply left to grow in a few spots, the rest is pulled, eventually.
Since Perilla is so high up in the hierarchy of weed status here, imagine our surprise and amusement when it was found to be mentioned in the rarified pages of the English gardening magazine as a featured plant in Jekka McVikar’s herb border design. (Issue 174, pages 66-69.) She suggests using this plant as an edible, but I am wary of it, having read about toxicity issues, including that all parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. As an ornamental, however, it is first rate. Still, Perilla is a traditional crop of China, India, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other Asian countries and seems to be used extensively in traditional dishes there. In North America, it is occasionally called by its Japanese name, shiso (various spellings on this one), and/or beefsteak plant, wild coleus or Chinese basil, but is not included on most menus.
Culinary questions aside, the purple Perilla is a first rate garden plant, even if it is an assertive annual self sowing overachiever. The large crinkly edged leaves are exactly the weapon to do battle with the dreaded Little Leaf Syndrome that can afflict hot, dry and sunny spots, but Perilla is equally at home in partial shade, as well. The color of the leaves recedes when used alone, but give it a lighter shade of pale to play with, and the results will please even the most discerning colorist. Shown above with Sedum ‘Mediovariegatum’.