Magilla perilla, sometimes called beefsteak plant, is a type of wild basil (Perilla frutescens). This tender perennial has become a very popular foliage annual, and with good reason. Though it looks very much like coleus with the same vibrant foliage colours, magilla perilla has much stronger stems and is very heat tolerant. The ‘Purple’ variety sports beautiful leaves with deep pink in the middle and a rich, burgundy around the edges to make a very tropical looking statement in the garden. Magilla can easily reach 1 metre (3 feet) tall and grow just as wide. Plant them near banana plants, elephant ears or pink cannas to add an exotic look to your garden. They also look great paired with ornamental grasses. Purple fountain grass is a good choice. Grow 3 to 4 plants spaced 14 to 16 inches apart for a breathtaking display.
The leaves of the ‘Vanilla’ variety are variegated in bright green and cream. They can be used anywhere in the garden where a splash of light is needed. Both varieties of magilla are excellent candidates for large containers. The white nettle-like flowers that bloom in slender racemes in mid-summer are not showy and should be pinched out.
Valued for its frilly, burgundy-coloured leaves with a bronze luster Perilla frutescens ‘crispa’ is an old variety that is coming into favour for mixed flower beds. It has frilled bronzy, burgundy-coloured leaves that have a cinnamon scent. Used as an herb it is popular in Japan for flavouring, and is spicy tasting when eaten raw. This variety self-sows.
How to Grow:
Magillas grow best in a sunny location. Though they tolerate partial shade, their colours are less vibrant in lower light.
Grown as an annual, this frost-tender perennial loves heat and can develop into a dense shrub about 1 metre (3 feet) tall and wide by the end of the summer.
Feed magillas with a light application of slow-release balanced fertilizer once a month after planting and then again in mid-summer. Or, feed every two weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer.
Keep magilla watered and mulched during the growing season
Magilla grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy, amend it with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter such as compost or humus. Soil must not be allowed to dry out.
Cuttings taken from new growth will root very easily in water or in a growing medium. Take cuttings in late summer and grow them indoors in a sunny window for use as houseplants. If you can find seeds, they can be started indoors 8-12 weeks before the last frost date. Seed may also be planted directly in the garden after the last frost date.
When to Grow
Plants are available in the spring in garden centres. Plant out in the garden after the danger of frost is past.
Pinch the plants throughout the season to keep them bushy. Watch for aphids, spider mites and whiteflies, particularly on indoor plants.
- ‘Purple’ – Deep rose-pink leaves each with a prominent central cerise vein.
- ‘Vanilla’ – Large, bright green leaves with a vanilla-coloured centre.
- Perilla frutescens ‘crispa’ – Frilly, burgundy-coloured leaves with a bronze lustre.