The sweet corn group Zea, are included for they are often grown for garden use - even though not hardy. They are basically annual grasses and will die in the winter. Ornamental sweet corn is not particularly unattractive in the autumn when it dies off. The tall spikes of bamboo-like foliage are particularly good when catching the evening sun!
They add height to the garden for almost 6 months and have an architectural appearance. Not to be discounted!
However, they have attractive flowers, followed by the edible seed cobs. The autumn foliage is not to be ignored either. Add to that, they give some height - quickly and are happy in large patio containers, and can be bought with an array of actual colorful sweetcorn seeds in the cobs.
If the ornamental corn cobs do not appeal, then you may be tempted by the varieties that have richly variegated foliage, with multi-coloured stripes along the length of the long leaves.
Most of the ornamental sweet corn plants produce edible corn cobs and in many parts of Asia in particular are sold in the markets alongside the normal golden varieties. Whilst growing, the tops of the cobs have flowing tassels, which turn brown before the rest of the plant and are in themselves an attraction.
To get the best effect, you should plant quick maturing varieties in the UK, and these can be started easily by seed from most seed suppliers. From experience, you will need to pop along to the garden centre early in the year, for both seeds and young corn plants sell out quickly.
So, we now have a dual purpose ornamental grass to grow alongside other grasses, or in perennial borders as dot plants, or even in a central feature in a lawn bed. Dare to be different!
Unless you live near an adventurous garden centre or nursery, you will probably be best ordering the corn seed from a good seed supplier – in plenty of time if you want the more ‘brazen’ varieties.
The seed will need to be sown and germinated in heated greenhouse, or heated propagator in early spring, to get your plants off to an early start. Germinating the seed is relatively easy, but then you also need to have the heated space to grow them on until all trace of frost has gone.
Alternatively they can be sown in the open ground once soil and air has warmed up in late spring. In this case, the protection of cloches or glass bell pots would significantly help in early establishment.
They will need to be grown in full sun, and preferably in a non-windy spot, to avoid having to support them with canes. We are talking ornament effect here, not vegetable cropping.
Ornamental sweetcorn – like their culinary counterparts – are best grown in groups – both for shelter and support, and also for good pollination of the cob flowers.
A group of four or five mixed in with summer bedding is a good option.
Pests are rare, though greenfly can sometimes be a nuisance. Slugs are also on the prowl in the early spring for some ‘culinary’ delights and can soon strip a young corn plant bare overnight.