Corn is a space hog in the kitchen garden, the roots go deep and absorb quantities of nutrients from the soil. Plus fresh corn is easily available from a local farm stand. This year, however, I was tempted to try an heirloom ornamental corn called Japonica Striped Maze and ordered a packet from the Seed Savers Exchange.
It’s not corn that I plan to eat, yet it is growing as an edible ornamental alongside the garden. Corn is one of the easiest crops to grow; seeds germinate fast, and the plants growing vigorously with very little care. Since most corn grown commercially is a genetically altered crops, this has led to a huge loss of diversity within the corn family. Corn is no longer an environmentally friendly crop for pollinators, and unless you are growing an heirloom variety, the seeds are sterile. There is really no good reason to grow corn as a home gardener, yet I wanted to give it a try.
In mid-April, my seeds for Japonica Striped Maze were sown in soil blocks (see below) which made them easy to transplant into the ground by mid-May for a head start on the summer season. My kitchen garden is reserved for herbs, salad greens and food crops, so I stuck a few plants into the container at the entrance to the garden. The plants were small to start, but after the recent heat wave a showy wand of variegated leaves appeared, elegant ribbons of green, white and pink stripes on the leafy stalks. In a few weeks, dark purple tassels will transform into deep burgundy kernels.
Planting corn in a container may not have been the best idea, yet the dramatic vertical structure of the stalks allows space below for other ornamental plants of varying heights to thrive. The pots are filling up with white petunias, annual purple penstemon, and a few small coral geraniums tucked into the gaps. I’m already scheming a much larger plot along the fence row, as a long decorative border.
Corn is not only an edible ornamental but a useful plant that will provide shade and privacy, as a sanctuary space. This magnificent ornamental heirloom corn is originally from Japan, known in the 1890’s as Striped- Leafed Japanese Maize. Since it is an open-pollinated variety, I will save the seeds for more plants next year. I may even give seeds away as holiday gifts to encourage other gardening friends to try something new.