Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate plant (Polygonum orientale), has been an American favorite since the first seeds were planted in Colonial Williamsburg by John Curtis in 1737 – though it’s been rumored that it was first grown in the U.S. by President Thomas Jefferson. This bold, old-fashioned charmer displays stately stalks, handsome foliage and masses of cascading pink blooms from early summer until autumn. It isn’t difficult to imagine the eye-catching display of color against a traditional white picket fence or garden gate. Ahh, can you see it?
Also known as Oriental Persicary, Lady’s Fingers, and Princess Feather, this Asian native has been a cottage garden favorite for over 200 years, regardless of who first grew it. The plant was commonly used as a summer hedge or a screening for a fence. Gardeners in the know about heritage plants aren’t quite sure why kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate plant fell out of favor, but some believe the sheer size of the plant makes it impractical for today’s small, urban gardens. A healthy kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate plant can reach heights in excess of 7 feet and widths of 3 or 4 feet. Certainly a good reason for its name, I guess.
Another theory is that Polygonum kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate is discouraged by modern plant growers and nurseries because the plant doesn’t lend itself to compact, contemporary nursery pots. Taking its place were petunias, pansies, and other compact plants with root systems that easily conformed to six-packs or other small containers that are popular today.
The aggressive nature of the plant may be another reason why the plant isn’t as popular; kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate flowers are generous self-seeders and these seeds provide rich sustenance to birds that are happy to pay it forward by spreading the seeds far and wide in their poop as well. The plant is also related to common weedy plants like smartweed.
You may not find kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate at your neighborhood garden center, but entities that specialize in heirloom plants may have seeds. Although seeds aren’t difficult to grow, germination requires a four-week chilling period.
Kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate thrives in poor soil and tolerates either full sun or partial shade. Once the plant is established, it grows happily with very little care. Water once a week during dry weather, but skip the fertilizer; it isn’t needed. Even though the plant is tall, it is sturdy and stands upright with no staking.
Pull volunteer seedlings in the spring to prevent out-of-control growth. You can always share a few seedlings with plant-loving friends too. It you decide to give this lovely plant a chance, it’s a good idea to check with the University Extension or Department of Natural Resources in your state. Although the plant is rambunctious, it is considered invasive in a few areas.