Plant This: Little Grapes gomphrena

Since first planting it at Green Hall Garden in 2008, I’ve known this delicately branching gomphrena cultivar as ‘Grapes’, but it also goes by ‘Little Grapes’, ‘Itsy Bitsy’, and airy bachelor’s buttons. By any name, it’s a moderately reliable perennial in my fall garden, sometimes remaining in bloom well into a mild winter — like this year, still blooming in mid-January. Update 12/11/16: Jesse, a former employee at Barton Springs Nursery, where I bought this plant, tells me ‘Grapes’ was a guessed-at name when they acquired this plant from a grower who didn’t know much about it. I suspect it was actually ‘Little Grapes’, so I’ll change the name here from now on.

Its airy, slim-branching form resembles Verbena bonariensis. The singly held magenta flowers are about the size of a pencil eraser, or perhaps mouse-sized pom-poms.

Normally a freeze would have browned the leaves and bleached the flowers by now, but this year it’s still adding rich color to a part-shade bed beneath a crepe myrtle, where it combines nicely with variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) and iris foliage. The leaves, you’ll notice, have colored up with a tinge of magenta too.

In its prime, in October and November, its green leaves contrast well with silver-leaved plants. I tried it with gray globemallow (Sphaeralcea incana) once, and loved the combo, but the globemallow didn’t thrive in the part-sun bed I’d planted it in. I believe that ‘Grapes’, like other gomphrenas, would probably take full sun in our climate, but I can’t confirm.

In spring and summer, you’ll hardly notice ‘Grapes’, and it can be easy to forget. Then its fall explosion of tiny flowers is a sweet surprise. Normal winters kill it back to the roots, and a hard winter may kill it outright. But most years it’ll come back reliably in spring. To give it a good start, plant it in spring, after any danger of frost.

And consider growing it in a pot to bring those airy blooms up where you can really enjoy them. I used to grow ‘Grapes’ in a big stock-tank planter along with ‘Macho Mocha’ mangave and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), and the colors harmonized nicely.

Pick a bunch of ‘Grapes’ for your garden and enjoy its delicate beauty next fall!

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

29 Responses

  1. I can imagine all the mice in your vicinity fighting to get the best pompoms before a big frost. Nice flower.

  2. Mel says:

    I absolutely love it…but can’t find it anywhere.

  3. Yours looks great. I had some a few years back, but it melts into the background so easily that I didn’t really get enough out of it. But, now you have me thinking of it in a pot, so I’ll add that to my spring container list!

  4. Keri Byrum says:

    This is lovely! I am not familiar with this variety but I love the habit– Verbena bonariensis is is a favorite so this seems like a natural fit too.

  5. jenny says:

    How lucky you are to have missed the frost this year and still be enjoying those sweet flowers. Much as I loved this plant it had become to large and flowered so late in the season as to have a very short bloom. Look for it in Vicki’s garden.

  6. Kris P says:

    I love this plant, which also does well in SoCal. It adds an interesting element in a vase too. My only complaint is that, as the plant gets bigger (mine stretched over 3 feet tall before it rained), the stems become entangled, making it difficult to cut.

  7. Renee says:

    Cute! I always wonder how to make little flowers like this stand out. Normally they just disappear in my garden. Maybe I just need to find the right partners for them contrast with?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Yes, I think that’s part of it. And if you can plant them against a colored background — like the dark-gray deck lattice in one of my pictures — that helps too. —Pam

  8. Chris says:

    Mine grows so vigorously in my sunny bed that I have to cut it back hard to keep it from taking over.

  9. Wendy says:

    That is an interesting strain! Any ideas on where to find seed?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Wendy, if mine goes to seed, I’d be glad to mail you some. I’ve been emailing Kelly Kilpatrick (see her comment below), who has some experience propagating it, and she says it’s best propagated via cuttings. That’s not so handy for mailing, unfortunately. —Pam

      • Wendy says:

        Thanks, Pam! Would love seeds, if it could happen. It is a darling variety. I’ve been trying to collect seeds from my (regular) gomphrena, and even after drying and outdoor freezing, I still don’t spy the seeds. Fingers crossed! :)

  10. I love this Gomphrena! Years ago I brought a plant back to California from a nursery in Austin (ssh! don’t tell Cal AG) and loved it in my garden. I was working at Annie’s at the time so I brought some in to propagate. They still have a batch every year and I love seeing it grow in Bay Area gardens. I always think – that’s “my” plant! :-)

  11. rickii says:

    I may not be able to grow your plant picks here, but I’ll always keep reading for little gems like “mice pom poms”.

  12. Pam says:

    Pam, We love Gomphrena “Fireworks” here in Baton Rouge, LA. Wonderful pink flowers with yellow tips and a long bloomer as well.

  13. Xericstyle says:

    So pretty! I had some pop up this year that I did not plant…I tried moving it. But shouldn’t have :( I hope more pops up nxt year

  14. Jesse Gaudet says:

    I had totally forgotten about this plant! I am a former Austinite and more importantly, a former employee of Barton Springs Nursery (2004-2008 and a few months in 2012). From what I recall while trying to make signs for Grapes Gomphrena we never knew what it actually was and the owner didn’t really recall where he got it from. We all agreed that it was probably a strange type of Gomphrena, but couldn’t even confirm that! As for everyone asking about seed, we only used cutting propagation on this guy. I’m guessing that it either needed to be cross pollinated or (this is my real hunch) it was a sterile hybrid that never really made a real flower. I would be more than delighted if anyone could solve the mystery of its heritage. It pained me to write its scientific name as “Gomphrena sp.”

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Jesse, thanks so much for the backstory on how it got labeled at Barton Springs Nursery! Now that I know the name was a guesstimate, I’ll change the name on my blog to ‘Little Grapes’, which seems to be a known cultivar.

      As for seed propagation, I remember Jenny at Rock Rose blog telling me that hers seeded out in her gravel garden each year. Might be worth checking with her to be sure. —Pam