I joined my husband on a short road trip this week (about 80 miles north). Along the way, I noted green buds on trees and the first flowers on roses climbing fences as we drove through Melbourne, Florida. Signs are more evident of spring further north as we have few deciduous trees and roses are a long forgotten dream in my garden.
What is a harbinger of spring in South Florida? The Hong Kong Orchid trees and Winter Starburst Clerodendrum are two of my top picks. I have featured the Orchid tree flowers a few times this spring and killed every Clerodendrum I so much as looked at…
What’s toasting spring in my garden:
Front and center, the Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet); in purple, Mexican Sage (Salvia luecanthum); in blue, our native Porterweed; Asian Sword Ferns for greenery and some bits of a Purple Spike Dracaena along with the foliage from a Solar Sunrise Coleus. The white spikes are from a recent addition to my garden, Sweet Almond (Aloysia virgata) native to Argentina reportedly flowering year round with the scent of honey accompanying the flowers. I have planted this beside our screened porch for fragrance and hopefully butterflies and pollinators.
The vase is actually one half of a pair of wine glasses I painted to go with my Portmerion Botanic Garden china at a fund raising event hosted by my longtime friend Diane. In respect of the length of our friendship, I have ceased using the term ‘old friend’. Diane raises funds to provide college scholarships for kids with Tourette’s syndrome. A great cause, the foundation was started in honor of her daughter, Kelsey. For more information, here is the link: https://www.dollars4ticscholars.org/
The glass not filled with flowers from my garden will be filled with wine to toast spring.
My Northern Hemisphere concept of the harbinger of winter has changed along with the latitude I now call home. We have Christmas Palms starting to bear red berries and many plants coming into bloom as the seasons change. A sled pulled by a team of flamingos has appeared on a front lawn up the street and the flamingos are wearing red capes! I laugh everytime I see this bit of holiday yard art.
Hong Kong Orchid (Bauhinia) trees start to flower in December and I spied my first one this morning while walking my hounds. The first one was white and as I walked back into my driveway, I noticed my neighbors purple one had just started to flower as well. In the next month or so this tree will be covered in what appears to be purple butterflies.
Winter is just around the corner.
This is a Tabebuia in the parking lot of my grocery store. To me, Tabebuias are the Forsythias of spring in South Florida. Bright, cheerful yellow flowers on a semi gnarly trunked tree with corky bark. This tree will soon be covered in yellow trumpets.
Tropic Florida, to the best of my knowledge is a term coined by Frederic Stresau to describe South Florida, he is a fellow Landscape Architect who wrote the book on Florida. The book is unfortunately titled Florida, My Eden, making it sound more like romance than shrubbery. Mr. Stresau has been gone for many years and I think his book could use a little updating and really a new title.
Onward, I do like the sound of Tropic Florida vs. South Florida. Whereas it never gets really cold here winter has its cold fronts and they are finally passing into warmer cold fronts. It is late March and here are the actual signs of spring from the garden:
The fruit trees are blooming and the bees are out in full force:
On the left, we have a Rose Apple, Syzgium jambos, a rather weird fruit common in the Caribbean, it has a rose scent with a slightly sweet taste and the texture of a water chestnut. We keep meaning to make a pie from the fruit.
On the right is a Mango in bloom, I think this is a Haden Mango, nice fruit for eating or baking a Mango Rum Cake. I have had fruit from this particular tree and it is highly recommended.
Other harbingers of Spring from Tropic Florida
On the left, Shell Ginger, Alpinia zerumbet, a true sign of Spring peeking out from its foliage and to the right flowers from the Hong Kong Orchid tree. I have cut these for flower arrangements these past couple of weeks.
I am trying to get everything in place for the hot summer weather and feel time slipping away for working outside. My tomatoes have set fruit and I think the Armadillos ate it! Tomato season really ends about Memorial Day here, although it can be pushed to July 4th. I have seen people use umbrellas over tomato plants to extend the season.
Time for me to get back to the garden.
I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia; the Deep South. Celebrating Easter has some traditions. There is usually an arrangement of flowers centered around Spring featuring pastel colors and bulbs, maybe some forced branches from Cherry trees if Easter is early.
The traditional Easter fare is a ham criss crossed with a knife, canned pineapple rings centered in the squares, cloves inserted (and sometimes a maraschino cherry) the entire ham is then doused in brown sugar and baked. The women are madly working in the kitchen while the men are outside having a Bourbon and Branch.
Bourbon and Branch is a cocktail, branch is water from the pure running creek in the backyard.
I have eschewed the ham tradition and the bourbon tradition. This leaves me looking for some other kind of branches as the creeks I would drink water from are few and far between. What is currently blooming in my garden is mostly orange, not what I had in mind for an Easter arrangement.
The Hong Kong Orchid tree has been flowering for a couple of weeks, a nice lavendar color and has a gnarled branch look about it. I decided to try one of those large branch arrangements that appear effortless. Ha, the branches are twisty and uncooperative and have to be pruned into submission. Then I decided to add a Palm frond, it is Easter, just a bit late for the palm part. The frond overwhelms everything so I cut it down to a smaller size and add some russet Bromeliad foliage to pick up the darker color in the Orchid flowers.
Here is the result, I thought this was a bit weird, but I like it. I left the pods and some browning foliage on Orchid tree branches and crushed the ends a bit to see if they would last longer that way. A semi traditional Easter arrangement, as I have the branch part covered, maybe I should try to find the bourbon.
I stopped by the grocery store this afternoon to pick up some things for dinner. After shopping I went back to my car and was stopped by the beautiful flowering trees in the parking lot.
Having experienced Tropic Florida’s winter for the past several years, it is difficult to conceive of the season of spring. Winter is a whisper in your ear one night in February. In my mind, the season following winter is a literal release from the prison of your house. Standing in the parking lot was evidence of spring occurring further south than my mind had grasped.
The first clue was a Purple Hong Kong Orchid Tree, here is the flower. Botanically speaking this is the Bauhinia purpurea, although there are many varieties. Capturing this tree with photography has been eluding me.
The failure of the photo to do the tree justice may be a difficulty with purple, but this tree is spectacular. Draped with the purple orchid like flowers, it appears large purple and pink butterflies have landed in graceful groups along the tops of the branches.
The next tree in the lot was a White Geiger Tree. I would characterize these trees as semi evergreen. The genus is Cordia, I am not sure exactly which one this is as one is from Brazil and another from Texas. Nevertheless, a good addition to the landscape.
The next tree I spied was a Tabebuia, nothing shouts spring like the golden trumpets of the Tabebuia.
My Epiphany was that spring does come to the Tropics of Florida. I suppose it is my North American predisposition to think of Spring flowering trees as Redbuds, Dogwoods and Cherries, but before my eyes the trees were evidence of spring blossoming everywhere.