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My display garden at the OPC senior center in Rochester is surrounded on three sides by a rather large area that is filled with a flotsam and jetsam of grasses, sedum, daylilies and weeds. It’s a great place to plunk test shrubs and perennials, along with donation plants that come in at the end of the season.

But we are on a limited budget that mostly goes to into planting the Stone House garden that most people see, so filling up this “back lot” with pretties is slow going.

This year I’m going to experiment with growing flowering annuals from seed and one of the collections I’m going to plant is Amaranthus. What I love about this family of plants is its rich history as well as its looks.

Currently used as edible greens, herbs and grains in Africa, China, Greece, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet, Amaranthus is a well-kept secret when it comes to using it in flower gardens.

If you’re a foodie and like to try new things in the garden, Amaranthus “Dreadlocks” may be worth growing. This 3-foot tall plant with a weeping habit produces scads of 11/2-inch burgundy ball-like flowers that can be used in flower beds, as cut flowers and dried flowers. The seeds of “Dreadlocks” from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com), one of the most complete proteins in the plant kingdom, were a staple grain of the Aztecs. The young leaves, said to taste like spinach, are also edible. It’s a “having your cake and eating it too” flowering plant.

Another heirloom Amaranth, “Aurelia’s Verde” (Baker Creek) is a Guatemalan native that produces lime green plume-like flowers. Primarily used for grain that’s rich in vitamins B, A, E and iron, they also make attractive accents in gardens.

Thomas Jefferson was also a fan of Amaranth, a k a Amaranthus. Listed among his choice of seeds to plant in his flower gardens on April 4, 1767, at Monticello are Love-Lies-Bleeding and Amaranthus tricolor, also called Joseph’s coat.

Select Seeds (selectseeds.com) dates this colorful character to 1806, but Jefferson may have gotten his seeds from one of this many gardening friends around the country with whom he traded seeds by mail.

Select Seeds also features “Molten Fire,” a tricolor Amaranthus introduced by Luther Burbank in 1922.

Another late-season stunner from Select Seeds is A. creuntus, which develops huge plumes of copper flowers tinted with apple green that ripen large quantities of seeds and attracts birds in late fall. An end-of-season bonus.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.

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