Every so often a plant name pops up that is so charming or unusual that tracing it down becomes compulsory. Previously known as Persicaria orientalis and by various common names, kiss me over the garden gate may be the Prince’s Feather that Thomas Jefferson planted at Monticello. Other sources, as per usual, differ suggesting that the Monticello plant was Amaranthus hybridus hypochondriacus, which was also known as Prince’s Feather at that time. Whether it is Jefferson’s Prince’s Feather or not kiss me over the garden gate is a very old plant and has been a cottage garden favorite for over 200 years.
Nowhere could I find any source that would speculate as to how the plant acquired its unusual common name. Since the plant is a very fast growing annual that reaches a height of 6 feet or more, it is often used as a summer hedge or a screening for a fence. If one walked through a gate where this plant was growing one was figuratively “kissed” over the garden gate by its leaves and flowers. It probably also made a nice screen for those “young’uns” who wanted to say lengthy goodbyes at the garden gate out of the sight of an ever watchful parent. Perhaps one of these explanations is applicable.
The plant is an Asian import that will grow just about anywhere in the U.S., given a moist well drained soil and a reasonable amount of sunlight. As its alternate name, Persicaria orientalis, suggests it is very similar to the knotweeds. This annual is generally started from seed, which needs a 14-16 week stratification period. This can be done in the refrigerator but fall sowing is equally effective. The plant is said to readily resow itself once it is established. Under the proper conditions it can be somewhat of a nuisance.
Kiss me over the garden gate is not only planted for its striking height but for its flowers as well. They are not that different from the flowers of the knotweeds but are pink, white or red and pendulous. One of the alternate common names, lady’s fingers, no doubt is derived from the graceful flowers. The flowers are also said to be fragrant and dry well for floral arrangements. Blooming starts in summer and lasts well into the fall. The leaves are large attractive ovals, providing interest even when the plant isn’t blooming.
As a plant that adds height to a border and supports itself without staking, unless planted in a windy area, kiss me over the garden gate might well be a welcome addition to a garden. Other than the reseeding, which may or may not be undesirable, the only bad thing to be found about this plant is that it is attractive to Japanese beetles.