Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chrysothemis pulchella 'Black Flamingo'.....this is not your grandmother's Gloxinia, er Gesneriad

Evanescent yellow flowers, persistent orange calyxes, pretty nice. And it can get a couple feet high and as wide. Excellent Caribbean plant. I never heard of it. It's such a spectacular plant that many many people grow it and I've read lots of posts and followed a few threads. Apparently the plants sometimes form tubers, sometimes not. Hardiness is also a question. The dormancy is dry/wet but some sources suggest a hardiness of USDA Zone 9 which would make it work for us. Others suggest, a bit warmer. I seem to see a pattern of success with plants outside just a bit farther south than we are. So it's coming north and will winter inside in a pot. Still, apparently it will grow and flower so long as the weather stays hot and humid and it doesn't dry out.

Saturday morning's haul.....I was bad!...of course I can't help myself...

Believe it or not, most of these plants, including three I had not encountered before, came from a Box Store: Dietes bicolor, a South African yellow flowered irid with "peacock eyespots"; Chrysothemis pulchella 'Black Flamingo', a dark-leafed Gesneriad with yellow and orange flowers native to Central America and the Caribbean; and Hamelia macrantha, a dwarf version of Hamelia patens, one of my favorite plants in the Florida garden. The Dietes and the Hamelia will go into the garden, 'Black Flamingo' will go north and spend the winter inside. Also for the garden I got a 1 gallon pot of Jatropha multifida, an obscenely red large shrub that will attract hummingbirds. I had one earlier, but killed it, I think, by watering it at Christmas just two weeks before temperatures fell to 25. It's not dependably hardy in 9a anyway, but I see it around; maybe it may be a die-back here.

Because plants are so inexpensive down here we tend to use potted flowering things in place of cut flowers. Two Curcumas potted together provide a nice flowering arrangement for the big urn on the screen porch and will come back to Adelphi to be bedded out for the balance of the summer along with a dwarf orange Heliconia. Couldn't resist a dark maroony pink cultivar of Spathiglottis, or Philippine Ground Orchid; that'll go north as well. It's perfectly hardy here but it can't take the winter drought. And finally a flea-market Cattleya and a Phalaenopsis just for color.

I've been shopping the nurseries, garden centers, box stores, and flea markets down here regularly for four years and have never seen the variety, the quality, or the prices I saw this time at Home Depot; while they typically have the best selection, their prices this time were very low and the quality was outstanding. I shop for and buy plants anywhere I can find them, but I have to give this store credit. Prices are down, I estimate, 20-30%. That makes sense in light of the economy but I've not seen plants in this good condition before outside of a growing facility. They were perfect. And all three of the new plants came from Home Depot. Wow. I must say in fairness that I didn't go to any Lowes but I did hit four WalMarts and they weren't even in the ballpark. HD seems to have the best handle on plants both here and back north.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Myrcianthes fragrans: Simpson's Stopper

When Richard Olsen (USNA Urban Tree Breeder/Scientist) learned that I had a place in Central Florida, the first plant he recommended was Simpson's Stopper. All the literature had raved about this plant and when I hear a unanimous consensus, even I generally get on board. This plant went in October 2007 (note: this is not a good time to plant as the 6 month dry season starts just a month or so later; it didn't even slow the Stopper down!). It was less than a foot tall, yet even at that size it had a few fruits. The orange/red fruits are edible though small with a citrusy taste. As the name implies, the (white) flowers are fragrant and occur throughout the growing season. They are apparently quite appealing to butterflies. I often see them on the flowers. The fruits are a favorite of birds. I have seen cardinals on them; I wonder if they aren't eating the fairly large seeds.

The plant itself is a roughly vase-shaped small tree/large shrub. I have planted it off the SE corner of the tool shed, siting it much as I would a Crape Myrtle. It's a great plant for landscaping. In the Myricaceae, its small evergreen leaves give off an intriguing fragrance when bruished. It has grown to ~4' in less than two years. You can almost watch the plants grow before your eyes down here, which is a good thing as many of us are not as young as we were 50 years ago.

Butia capitata Pindo Palm

The dog and I found a whole row of short (~10') fruiting Pindo Palms in a gas station parking lot in Georgia. I like Pindo Palms; they're dependably hardy to Zone 8b the silvery foliage is classically pinnate and typically clean. Native to dry savannas of southern South America they are dependably drought resistant. The leaf bases persist for some time providing a habitat for epiphytes, and the fruit is abundant and edible. Pindo Palm Jelly is an obscure tradition in those areas where Pindos are grown. The flavor is unique and delicious. Good palm.

We left Maryland about 3:30 am Thursday morning and arrived in Wildwood at 5:00; that's pretty good time for us. The dog gets a short walk every couple hundred miles, but otherwise we roll on. Our early arrival gave me time to do a walk through of the plantings. Nothing died; that's good. The Florida natives defenitely are among the happiest of the plants. Salvias, many I just threw in as temporary filler, are spectacular. The Salvia gregii selections and hybrids have all bulked up and are all flowering. Hummingbirds like them. Three Salvia leucophylla have become shrubs.

Sunrise is significantly later down here than it is in Washington: 6:43 versus 6:02 at home. Sunset is essentially the same: in Washington it sets at 8:26, down here, at 8:21. At any rate I find myself sitting here at 6:00 in the pitch dark. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Viburnum henryi with lovely red berries

This a a pretty plant. I've already praised the leaves and the general form of the plant, but now I see these berries.....The problem with red berries is that birds eat them and then the discharge the seeds randomly throughout their range with the result that maybe we have Viburnum henryi taking over habitat that we would prefer to be occupied by native plants. Or maybe not.

This invasive thing is tricky. Some are and some aren't. How do we tell? Is it better to err on the side of safety than to be careless and possibly let something dangerous loose? Nobody really knows. We do know that this shrub has been in North America about a hundred years and seems not to be a problem. I haven't even come to a conclusion myself; I do know that after digging countless Asian Viburnums out of Fern Valley over the last four years I think a bit longer before I plant a non-native Viburnum. Even if I like it a lot as I do Viburnum henryi.

Cyrilla raceminflora and Asclepias incarnata in the infiltration basin and the bioretention basin respectively

I was in a meeting this past week where part of the subject matter was the storm water management construction in the Ellipse. I realized that I hadn't been there for a long time so I went after work today. There wasn't a lot flowering, but there was a lot of interesting plant material. Sedges, Rushes, Cattails, as well as the Cyrilla, the Swamp Milkweed, and a lot of Verbena hastata.

There are two roughly kidney shaped basins between the Herb Garden/Bonsai and the Capitol Columns. We planted both, but the top one is far the most interesting. If you're feeling daring and you're willing to go cross country, start out on the flowering tree walk from its intersection with the road across from the Bonsai. Look to your left and you will see the top basin. Break away from the path as it turns left and head out into the meadow. The most dangerous thing you'll encounter is blackberries and while they may scratch you, the fruit is ripe so there's some reward. Eventually you reach the basin which is well planted with Native wetland plants. The Swamp Milkweed and the Vervain attract butterflies though it seems to be a late season for them. The Sedges and Rushes are interesting for their unusual flowers and fruit. And there's alway the dragonflies. It's a less visited feature of the National Arboretum!

Colquhounia coccinea....this is an interesting shrub from the Himalayas

With wooly leaves, and orange flowers. At least in theory. I can see buds forming (click on the picture and look closely in the middle) so I'll know for sure within the month. Hey, I just like the leaves. Research tells me that this is an "evergreen" Zone 8 shrub. Well, in China Valley, we're growing it in Zone 7 and we had a legitimate winter last year, and so far as I can tell almost all the plants regrew from the roots. That officially makes it a dieback shrub. We'll continue to monitor it and my experience with this sort of plant suggests that there will be a year when nobody resprouts, but things look optimistic now.

I'd grow it just for the leaves. The felting, the veining, and they mostly come in whorls of three. I don't have to admit this but I will. Online research tells me that the foliage is aromatic, which is a characteristic I value highly....I just didn't notice it! Oh well. I'll check them out on my return. And when it flowers I'll post the location.

If you Google it, you'll find a few sources, one of which is Annie's Annuals and Perennials. I have no relationship with any retail establishment. I notice that I tend to keep citing a few. Except for the occasion order I make to them they don't know I exist. If I keep mentioning them it's only because they work for me, so I'd like to keep them in business!

This time tomorrow (5:20 am) I'll be in North Carolina....we're driving south

It may seem like an odd time to be going back to the Florida house, but we leave tomorrow for a week and a half. I watch the weather obsessively both here and in Florida and its only fractionally hotter there than here. Which is sort of disingenuous I suppose; that 10 degrees F from 85 to 95 is a killer! Still, the rainy season began in May and will likely extend to or through October so this is the time to plant. Other than a lime, Agave geminiflora, and Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy'. I've got nothing. I'll go by a few Florida Native Nurseries, and look for inspiration among the scrub plants.

Actually, this is the best time to go down. It has been raining for almost three months so the plants will look good. At least they will once the weeds are removed from on top of them. I have it on good authority from multiple sources that, while the lawn service is keeping the grass and paved surfaces beautiful, the beds are somewhat frightening. Hey, in April when the world is wonderful here in DC, Central Florida is at the end of a 6 month drought. It's always depressing; there are always dead plants. This trip there'll just be live weeds!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nice Gladiolus. Forgive me I have no idea of the cultivar because it was a gift from a client

We should all grow more Glads. I resolve to put them into more designs. Think of the pluses: they come in a range of colors unmatched by any other flower...well maybe roses? The foliage is a wonderful vertical textural element. They flower in the summer after the flush of perennials is finished. In addition to thousands of cultivars, there are several hundred species and within the framework of their basic structure, there is an extensive range of sizes and flower shapes. Are they perfect?

They are not. There are a few issues that always arise in respect to these flowers but at least a few of them are easily addressed. The larger (standard) forms require some kind of grow shorter varieties and/0r plant the corms deeper in the ground so the stalk is partially supported by soil. They aren't hardy in the Washington DC area....Well, if you can bring yourself to look for the silver lining inside of Global Warming....they are hardy here now. Especially if you plant them 9-10 inches deep, which of course helps them to stand up! The other big issue that I hear about is that for many people, Gladioli, in some Pavlovian way, evoke images of funerals. I can't do anything about that except suggest that maybe you stay away from the cliched orange color, unless, of course, you like it!

The Internet has made it tough for plant pornography in the print media. Still I own two copies of The Color Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs, from Timber Press: one for Maryland and one for Florida. Like real porn (I know this only in theory) they keep working their way to my nightstands. There are more species of Gladiolus than you would ever have imagined. They're all beautiful and this book will make you want to grow them all. Silverhill Seeds and Books, located in South Africa, is a source for seeds of thousands of African Plants including most pictured in the Cape Bulbs book. A simpler source is Annie's Annuals and Perennials, a California nursery that does mail order and offers a continually changing selection of, mostly xeric, Zone 7,8,9 plants. Admittedly most are 8 or 9, but we can grow ?25% ? of their catalogue and they ship plants from inside the US as opposed to having to import southern hemisphere seeds.

Tecoma 'Mayan Gold'...look what I found at a little nursery in Potomac Maryland

Actually it seems to be everywhere now, a gold form of Tecoma stans. I have considered growing the standard Orange Tecoma for years but always chose not to. It's a beautiful orange color, it flowers heavily all season, it's vigorous....and I could put it in the ground in Florida, (where I'm going day after tomorrow). Still, I don't want to plant it in the Florida garden; Bougainvillea is my uncontrollable vine of choice down there. Since there's a nice Trumpet Vine on the back deck here that flowers 2-3 times a summer it would seem kind of redundant. Still... the color is better on Tecoma, somehow more alive. And I'm ruthlessly slashing the number of non-hardy containers that have to come into the basement for the winter: I couldn't resist this ont though.

It's interesting to see a "new plant" so readily available in what is basically it's first year. I have heard that it was available from Ball Seed last year, and various gardens "trialed" it, but wasn't readily available in retail outlets. Well that has changed; it's everywhere. And maybe rightly so. It will be an easy, free-flowering, dependable container plant that can start the season as a small 5"-6" potted plant, and finish 2'-3' tall, flowering all the way. Not bad.