Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’

Why am I preoccupied with red this week, I wonder? Somehow it seems apropos to talk blush when Valentine’s Day vendors have painted our world wall-to-wall red. But if you assumed from the last sentence that this is about long-stemmed sweetheart roses — fooled you. Instead, I’m taking the opportunity to talk about ruby in a place where you would never think to look — in a cosmos.

I’m a pushover, it’s true. Give me a great dahlia, and I’m all yours. But did I ever imagine that I’d be turning cartwheels over a cosmos? Never.

Okay, conjure up the color red, fix it in your mind’s eye, and fast forward to a much warmer (dare I say sizzling?) time in your life. That would be summer. And you’re on the hunt. No, not for a hottie of the hunk kind. More like cruising for plants, okay? (Some of us think that way.) So you hop in the car and drive halfway to nowhere and back just to check out the action. Bad carbon footprint, I know. But what can I say? I’m a sicko.

In my own defense, I went to Claire’s Garden Center in Patterson, NY with a mission. They have a broad selection of homegrown plants beyond the predictable inventory that everyone trots out in summer. Has anyone else noticed that garden centers are going the way of chain stores? Go to a nursery in North Carolina and you’ll find the same old same old just like the nursery in New England. If anyone out there wants to recommend some nurseries that grow/propagate their own stock, now is the time to pipe up. Anyway, I was looking for off-the-beaten-track herbs (more on herbs in a future blog, I promise) when Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’ called out to me. You’d think I had just discovered America. The blood thundered in my ears. The surge ran up my spine. Are you seeing the Valentine’s Day connection here? I’ll leave you to connect the dots.

We’re speaking of a cosmos that starts blooming early and continues flowering without a watercooler break through the entire season. Okay, extended bloom duration is no longer a novelty for cosmos. They’re all like Eveready batteries (don’t bother grousing about your batteries here) and they all tolerate drought, more or less. Finding a cosmos with broad, almost overlapping petals is also not breaking news. But you’ve grown accustomed to cosmos in cutesy seashell colors, I bet. Or the orange C. sulphureus. Or maybe magenta (alias fuchsia). We’re talking ruby red. We’re talking the very same color as Dorothy’s shoes (the ones that got her back to Kansas, for gosh sakes, people). We’re talking (and this is a biggie for the cut flower crowd) a red that combines favorably with other colors. Granted, it starts with sparks and sort of fades down to a rumbling thunder (get the subliminal Valentine’s Day analogy?). But still. I became rather fond of the today and tomorrow aspect of the flower’s progression, but as I said, I’m easily besotted. A cheap date.

Now for the bad news. Try Googling Cosmos ‘Rubenza’ and you’ll find photo after photo showing an ocean of red blossoms giving you the glad hand in unison. Sorry, it just ain’t so. ‘Rubenza’ isn’t Superman. ‘Rubenza’ is more like Dudley Do-Right. It doesn’t have biceps and it won’t flex up and pump out more flowers than any other cosmos under the sun. Whoever achieved those photos bundled the harvest of many cosmos plants together to deliver the goods. So when you direct sow ‘Rubenza’, do it liberally. Get your red mojo working that way. In other words, cosmos wants company. Doing it right might even take more than one packet. And speaking of packets, I found ‘Rubenza’ in the Thompson & Morgan (www.tmseeds.com) catalog as well as through Select Seeds (www.selectseeds.com).

I admit to splurging on a couple of ‘Rubenza’ cell packs that day at Claire’s. Usually, I grow my cosmos the economical way from seed. That’s what I plan to do this year. I’m going straight for my heartthrob. After all, cupid is more appropriately dressed for summer, wouldn’t you say? I’m seeing red.

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