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Bright Lights turn on ornamental landscapes
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The Bright Lights have finally come on in the landscape. Kind of catchy, isn't it? This outstanding, award-winning Swiss chard is being planted in cool-season landscapes everywhere -- from homes to office buildings and even the mall.
I was trying to remember when Bright Lights arrived. I looked back at old columns and found it mentioned 10 years ago in December. I could hardly believe it. I have been writing about new plants for a long time now. Some have taken off and some have fallen flat, but it's rare when one, particularly an herbaceous plant, just hangs on until people finally take notice a decade later.
It might be that everyone who saw it back then liked it, but they just didn't know what a Swiss chard was. Maybe they saw it as a plant only for the vegetable garden. Maybe the real reason is that those of us in the ornamental landscape industry failed to get the vision.
Swiss chard is sometimes called “a beet without a bottom,” and it is edible. Eat the leaves like spinach or cook the stems like asparagus. The plants have attractive stems and leaves in colors including yellow, orange, pink-violet, burgundy and red. I was looking at a planting the other day that was backlit by the sun, and the glossy leaves glowed with the different colors.
In one such placement, it was mass-planted as understory plants to giant taro elephant ears. In another planting, it was near the princess flower, or tibouchina. At an office complex, it was growing with pansies similar to how you would use flowering kale or cabbage. Then outside one business, landscapers had created a small, cool-season, edible landscape where it was partnered with red giant mustard and collard greens.
Bright Lights Swiss chard, the 1998 All-America Selections winner, is a plant that everyone should fall in love with. It's easy to grow in well-drained soils, performs equally well in sun to part sun and is weather-resistant, taking frost and withstanding heat better than a lot of other spinach-like crops.
Use it as a fall or spring crop. Space plants about 6 inches apart. In the garden, this would usually mean rows 18 to 30 inches apart. But I think the flowerbed is the real location of choice. Here you would still use the same 6-inch spacing, but plant in large, informal drifts where you might plant a couple of flats.
Another good way to use Bright Lights in the landscape would be as a pocket planting of seven to nine plants clustered behind pansies, or use three in the center of a large mixed container.
Feed with a dilute, water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks during the growing season. This time of the year with garden centers going full speed on poinsettias and other Christmas plants, the bedding section may be a little thin. It will pick up in a couple of weeks, so keep your eyes open for opportunities to get Bright Lights Swiss chard.
Editor's Note: Ideal publication dates of Southern Gardening columns are within one month of their release. Editors should examine older columns carefully for any information that could be time sensitive.