Saturday, April 12, 2008

Well, I finally bought a Bismarckia. Its not a huge one, but it did have to ride in the back seat, with me coming home from, you guessed it: the Flea Market. There are giant specimens available but I have always favored, for my purposes, using smaller plants and spacing them for their ultimate size. I moved a Cycas revoluta from a prominent position and planted the Bismarckia there. Interestingly enough, or not, looking at the picture, if the car, the palm, and I weren't there, you could see the cycad by looking directly through the crown of the Bismarckia! weird.

It is basically a blue fan palm from Madagascar. The glaucous bloom is not really visible in this picture, but it is definitely there. It is good to get this into the ground because it can grow as time passes. That sounds silly, but I spend a good deal of time urging clients not to put off planting the trees in their garden designs. We all, myself included, tend to temporize on what we feel are "big features", thinking, I guess, that we will have more money later and put in larger specimens. Well one of the good things about plants is that they grow for you; they grow everywhere, but they especially grow in Florida. If you plant a container tree, say 6-8' now, over the next couple of years, it may double in height, becoming the equivalent of a smallish B&B plant, and saving you hundreds of dollars. Planting small now versus big later gives you, in 2-3 years, a plant that is established (and so relatively carefree) versus a newly planted B&B that would require lots of attention. And you spent a whold lot less money.

I put a Bismarckia in the design for this garden; originally it was intended to go at the "street" end of sunny bed #1, visible in the picture adjacent to my head. All designs get altered somwhat in the installation. Sunny bed #1 is largely planted and we visually terminated it at the front. A windfall of large chunks of limestone provided an interesting focal terminus, and at this point to add a potentially quite large palm at the front would make no sense. The Cycas, though a beautiful plant, probably didn't deserve such a prominent position and now lives in a growing bed alongside the other property line. It has more than doubled in the year and a half it has been in the ground, and has gone from being a respectable 3 gallon plant to a smallish landscape cycad.
The garden progresses.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Phormiums...Underutilized in Florida

Phormiums work wonderfully well in the Florida garden. They have a sort of architectural integrity that helps ameliorate the sense of general disorder that can creep into a sub- tropical garden. They are spectacularly colored, nice in the middle of the day but much better at sunset, or sunrise, as in this picture. They don't have an issue with being un-watered for the long periods when the house is empty. Returning to them after months of neglect, I do have to spend a few minutes pulling faded older leaves, but then you have this plant!

There seem to be not a lot of sources for Phormiums here; I think they have a reputation for not liking humidity, that has heretofore not been a problem. Since I have dedicated my life to seeking out odd and uncommon plants, I have scored a few. Again, I have found them sporadically available at flea markets. Once you have a few you are set thouogh, because they are easy to increase by division.

For years most of the Phormiums grown commercially in this country came from San Marcos Growers, a wonderful wholesale grower in Santa Barbara, California. Of late other nurseries seem to be producing some but check out San Marcos for great pictures and information. Thanksgiving Farms, a cutting edge nursery in Adamstown Maryland, carried the San Marcos plants for a few years and we bought several and grow them in Adelphi, but of course that involves bringing them inside for the winter, or mulching heavily and having the plants almost die anyway outside. It is wonderful to be able to grow them in the ground and not think about them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Natives 2008 Restoration Seed

Every year I move closer to the position that the only legitimate form of landscape design is remediation; I'm not there yet, but....I do like to incorporate as many natives as I can in designs without negatively affecting the aesthetic. Hey, I have principles, just weak ones! Since I don't have the familiarity with the Central Florida natives that I do with the mid-Atlantic plants, I am adding them to the Florida garden as fast as I can. Tuesday we visited The Natives in Davenport, about 30 miles south of us. They do a variety of things; design, restoration, production, seed collection, wholesale and retail, and I know I missed a few.Bill Bissett ASLA, and Nancy Bisset, a restoration ecologist, botanist, horticulturist are the principals.

The growing facilities cover, I think 7 acres and Bill generously gave us a tour. We focused on scrub natives and it was exciting to see, in blocks of hundreds and thousands, these plants I have been researching for the last two years. Happily, the demand for their production seems to be high as we saw block after block of plants taped off as presold! Still, it didn't take me long to fill the trunk of Karen's car. And every plant with local provenance. A part of the property is under a conservation easement and is classic scrub complete and replete with the endemic flora and fauna including a thriving population of gopher tortoises. A very cool place.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Flea Markets...Petrea volubilis and Serendipity

Now that I'm getting old (56 next month), I think I have the right to reminisce about things that used to be that I miss and that won't be coming back. Change is inevitable and I don't want to go backwards, but I do miss the passing of small, Mom-and-Pop, nurseries. The condition of the plants wasn't always great but each nursery had its own character and its own unique selection of plants. Every time you went into one of these businesses, you knew you would find, among the more mainstream choices, some odd unlikely plant that you probably wouldn't meet with anywhere else; they grew it because they liked it. I liked that.

Of course today you can go on-line and find scores of ridiculously obscure plants and I value that; indeed much of my work this week will be to plant material I acquired this way, but its not the same as driving by someplace you've never been, stopping, and finding a plant you had only read about, or maybe never even heard of. One of the good things about Florida is that a lot of people here care about plants; there are lot of "home nurseries" and you see some cool stuff.

But me, I live for Flea Markets. Yes they are acres of crap but here and there are jewels of individuality. At Webster Flea Market, one of the relatively larger Central Florida markets, I shop from three vendors and my current favorite is an older Chinese gentleman who always has some plant that knocks my socks off. This time it was this 3 gallon Petrea volubisis for $15! Wow.
It might not be hardy, but I will sure give it a try. What a color. And it blooms 4-5 times a year. And can grow to 40 feet. I will still check WalMart, a store I would never patronize in Maryland???? Hey they had a blooming Morea yesterday for $2.97!, but for the real good stuff....

Florida After 4 Months...Heliotrope Flowering

We got in about 8:00 Saturday night and there was a chuck-will's widow calling from the yard across the street. That's cool. I had not heard this bird here before and so close! It must have been a good omen because this is the first time I have come back to this garden and not been disappointed in the condition of the plants. Usually I find that dry periods have prevented much growth or even killed a plant here or there. Of course the first plantings only date to 10/2006, which is just a year and a half ago, but things grow quickly down here. Some woody plants have doubled or tripled in size. Anyway, after pruning out a bit of dead wood here and there, removing old leaves from phormiums, and pulling a few of the bigger weeds (another issue!), the garden was very satisfying.

The newly planted phormiums are wonderful, the dianella is still blooming (actually I am having second thoughts about this plant. It grows incredibly quickly and produces lots of seed...), the Meyer lemon has recovered from the frost that burned its new growth in December, the Hamelia has resprouted as advertised, Lyonia ferrugenea never missed a beat and has flower buds. And on and on. Heliotropium polyphyllum is flowering and has assumed a general aspect of health that it didn't have up until now. Native, really, farther south I had not been certain that this would be happy but it is an interesting plant, pollinated by long-tongued moths.

Now its time to weed and plant, probably not in that order.