Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Purple-leaved Rice

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Purple-leaved, water-loving, and good to eat.  You can grow purple-leaved rice in a bed—or even in a paddy—but if you grow it in a pot you keep filled with water, then you can put it where the sun catches the purple leaves the best.  This morning, it was atop one of the stepladders. 

 

By late Summer, you'll even get grain.

 

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The seed heads aren't all that showy—imagine if they were ebony instead of greenish tan!—but they're the real deal.  Rice pudding, anyone? 

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How many gorgeous annuals can also show up as dessert?

 

 

Here's how to grow this glorious ornamental grain:

 

Latin Name

Oryza sativa 'Black Madras'

Common Name

Purple-leaved Rice

Family

Poaceae, the Grass family.

What kind of plant is it?

Tropical perennial grain, but most often (even in the tropics) grown as an annual.

Hardiness

Zones 9 - 11

Habit

Strongly upright, with only the leafets spreading out from vertical.  Vertical plumes of rice kernels at the tips of some of the stems.

Rate of Growth

Very fast.

Size in four months

Rice grows quickly in congenial conditions, and by late Summer is full size and fully mature: a clump about eighteen inches wide at the top and tall.

Texture

Exciting and dense:  The strongly-vertical stems crowd together, and young clumps are completely vertical in stem as well as leaf.  As the clump sends up more stems during the summer, the outer stems and their leaflets are forced into wider array. 

Grown for

its foliage: Deep burgundy leaves are thin enough to glow seductively when back-lit.

 

its ease of culture: Rice is a cinch to germinate, and it grows quickly in sunny and warm weather.

Flowering season

Late Summer to frost:  September into October here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Full sun and in moisture-retentive soil; easiest in pots set in shallow water or, better, submerged an inch or so. 

 

How to handle it

Rice is extremely easy from seed as long as you don't cover the seeds, which germinate better when they have some light.  Sow a few weeks before the last frost.  Seedlings grow with very gratifying speed; transplant to gallon-size pots when you set young plants outside after the weather's settled into almost-Summer warmth. 

 

You can grow rice right in the garden as long as the soil is rich and the plants never lack for water.  But it's easier on the watering—and more interesting for the plant and gardener both—to feature 'Black Madras' in a small water garden.  You could plant directly into a decorative pot that you set in a deep as well as large saucer filled (often) with an inch or two of water.  Or, as I did here, you can plant in a nursery pot that you set into a larger water-tight cachepot, to grow your rice as a portable specimen. 

 

Easiest of all is to plant in a plastic nursery pot that you submerge an inch or two in a deeper water garden as part of a mixed aquatic planting.  This is by far the best tactic for summer-long growth; on a scorching day the rice can suck up all the water from even a large saucer or cachepot, leaving the foliage to scorch the next day when you weren't there with the refill.  In a larger water garden, even after several hot days there will still be enough water to keep the rice's roots submerged.

 

Rice needs nothing but an unfailing water supply, heat, and all possible sun to thrive.  Your proof of good parenting will be vertical spikes of rice kernels by Labor Day; they're pleasing but by no means climactically showy:  The beauty of 'Black Madras' is in the foliage itself, which combines dramatically with both green as well as variegated foliage of other aquatics.  I often include a pot of 'Black Madras' in a washtub water-garden that also includes a pot of yellow-striped 'Pretoria' canna, a green-leaved water Crinum erubescens, and some yellow creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'. 

 

I doubt that the 'Black Madras' kernels would germinate into the next generation of 'Black Madras' plants; few cultivars come true from seed.  But if you're in a back-to-the-land lifestyle, you could mill and then cook them instead.   

Downsides

Ornamental rice is easy as long as it doesn't lack for water.

Variants

Rice is the world's most important agricultural crop for human consumption, providing one fifth of the total yearly caloric intake for our species.  Rice has been cultivated for between 8,000 and 13,000 years, so it's no surprise that there are a lot of cultivars—several tens of thousands of them.  To my knowledge, 'Black Madras' is the only one grown more for ornament than for food. 

Availability

Seeds are available on-line.

Propagation

By seed.  

Native habitat

Oryza sativa has been grown world-wide for centuries and in Asia and Africa for millenia.  In 2011, it was confirmed as originating in the Yangtze River valley in China.

 
 
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