Painted plants? It’s only Ok when I do it.

Orange spray-painted allium schubertii with purple angelonia

It does seem a bit hypocritical. For years, we have consistently ranted or hosted guest rants decrying glittery silver poinsettias, blue orchids, and garishly painted succulents. I heard about glow-in-the-dark nicotiana a few years ago. And now my favorite garden center is featuring cactus that have been injected with color (below):

Ugh. But I may have undermined my right to express outrage by bringing artificially colored plants into my own garden. The idea of painting allium seed heads has been around for at least a decade. I vaguely knew about it, but hadn’t given it much thought until I saw some lovely hot pink varieties (below) on the DC-area garden bloggers tour. I had tried small allium (moly, mostly) in my front garden and got nowhere—too much shade. Then, a couple years ago, I started with the big ones—Globemaster, Gladiator—in a patio bed. They performed well and it was easy to see why people would spraypaint these big, sculptural seedheads. They’re so prominent; why not give them a goofy second life? And the schubertii—which look fabulous in bud, in bloom, or as seedheads—are very cool painted. At least I think so.

If you’ve never done this, an easy way is to cut a slit in a big piece of cardboard. The stem should fit through this (but be careful: it is brittle) and the cardboard will enclose the plant, keeping the paint on the seedhead. Put pieces of cardboard or paper over anything you think might get sprayed. Of course, for people (unlike me) who actually space out their plants and don’t keep them in a big mass, jungle-style, there might be less risk.

The big danger here is when you eyes start roving to other interesting seedheads. Hmm, how about those thalictrum? And those big Joe Pyes? And maybe that dingy rodgersia bloom, which never looked good? And …

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Nooooo! I’m still having trouble accepting some of the hybrids that are showing up out there. I can see a florist painting indoor arrangements, but outdoors while living? As you said, ugh!

  2. I’m a huge fan of spray paint. It has brought to life lots of my furniture and decor, indoors and out. I spray paint just about anything that isn’t moving. But I couldn’t bring myself to spray paint a plant–I draw the line there. However, I have spray painted twigs for indoor decor. A lovely, shimmering silver.

  3. I have never spray painted the seed heads – but this year as I was pulling out some of the really big ones – they looked so cool that as I was walking by my weeping norway spruce I stuck them in! And it gives me a smile each time I see them. I think I am the only one who knows they are there – the dried brown seed heads are not that noticeable even in the green of the spruce.

  4. Those cactus are dead. They can no longer use photosynthesis when their green is color is blocked. Ugly cruel death for a plant.

  5. Painting seed heads goes back to the 1950’s. Have seen articles promoting in magazines as decorations for Christmas.

  6. Fabulous when done well! Some folks have the knack of composing the perfect vignette with just the right color..

  7. I’ve seen fake alliums in gardens: painted balls of poultry netting mounted on plastic coated rebar. That is as close as I will get to painting plants, as most of mine are natives and planted for the wildlife.

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