In A Vase on Monday – Gift Bag from Zeus

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Zeus, I am told, is the Greek God of Rain. He gifted my garden with several gentle showers this week. I, in turn, was rewarded with flowers from my thirsty garden. The glass handbag was a thrift store find I happily filled with flowers.

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The white flowers are Bridal Bouquet Frangipani, made especially happy by the rain and flowering in earnest. I cut these to use in arrangements as they are very prolific, but a bit different in form from other Frangipanis that tend to be small, deciduous trees. These are a little more than a foot wide and planted to screen my neighbor’s fence. The fragrance is subtle, first thing in the morning when the dew is burning off the flowers – the scent (in front of my garage) divine. The foliage is also semi evergreen.

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The rest of the flowers are:

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From the left side: in red and yellow Parrottflowers (Heliconia psittacorum); in orange, Mexican Bush Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera); pink are Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes, no clue on species, but another Greek God); red flower, Miniata Bromeliad (Aechmea miniata, from last week). A few of my favorite indestructible ferns for accent.

Happy Gardening and I hope Zeus is kind to all gardens this week.

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Gardening Outside Your Zone

Burgundy Loropetalum in Atlanta

Burgundy Loropetalum in Atlanta

The song by the Rolling Stones goes, and I am paraphrasing  “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need.” Sage words. That made me remember I want to plant some sage..

There are many transplants here in Florida – people and plants as well. The people are trying to grow the plants they know from home, maybe 4 hardiness zones north. The plants are unhappy. I was surprised by the number of folks trying to grow Lilacs in South Florida. Lilacs grow in the Northern US, not South Florida. South Florida may be the mold and mildew capital of the world and Lilacs are extremely susceptible. Of course, there are some delightfully fragrant plants that people in the North are trying to grow that thrive here and are really well suited for this climate- on it goes. Ylang ylang, anyone? If for no other reason it would be fun to try this because of the name. I actually had a vanilla orchid for a while, but I think one of my dogs stepped on it.

Tabebuia

Tabebuia

I am as guilty as the next gardener, to a certain extent. I like the new and unusual and there is a lot to see when you move to the tropics. My favorite tree ever, the Autumnalis Cherry, cannot be grown here. I readily accept that because of the other trees that can be grown here. My new favorite is Tabebuia which I have just found with orchid colored flowers – the Ipe Tabebuia. I also like the yellow one because of the nice corky bark. It is a dilemma to choose between the two, fortunately the back garden of my house is, well, um, non-existent. So, I can have either.

Burgundy Loropetalum in South Florida

Burgundy Loropetalum in South Florida

I have succumbed to Zone pushing by planting some Burgundy Loropetalum. One of my favorite shrubs from the frozen north. This is not supposed to grow in Zone 10, my research says Zone 9 is it for the Loropetalum. But I found one for 5 bucks and decided to try it. It is cheerfully blooming in my front yard in January. You may notice the Atlanta Loropetalum is robust and more than 6 feet tall. The one here in Florida tops out at 8 inches and looks a bit chlorotic. I guess it is time to wait and see.

True Gardeners

Fruit of the Mahonia bealei

Fruit of the Mahonia bealei

For many years I thought the plant that separated True Gardeners from posers was the Mahonia bealei. I provided six Landscape Design Consultations weekly for years, talking with many, many people and over the years the appreciation of that particular plant rang true for me and separated the True Gardeners in my mind.

True Gardeners are people who have the ability to separate the beauty of the plant from its less attractive attributes. Sometimes this is a seasonal thing sometimes it is purely the ability to appreciate nature.

Mahonia bealei is commonly known in the US as Leatherleaf Mahonia. It is one of those plants that is difficult to kill except in full sun. It doesn’t really die in full sun it just suffers and turns red. Probably sunburn. Otherwise, it is thorny, reproduces copiously via birds and generally stabs the passerby. Many people detest this plant and for good reason.

The reasons we appreciate this plant are many. Reliable under most circumstances, it remains cheerfully Evergreen through the iciest of weather. The holly like foliage can be used in holiday arrangements. I have spray painted the leaves metallic colors for wreaths (leather gloves required). The yellow flowers are borne in winter and are followed by grape like fruits that are enjoyed by numerous species of birds. Hence, another common name, the Oregon Grape Holly.

My mother had an enormous specimen she tree-formed to screen her garbage cans. We usually admired the flowers at Christmas, New Years or even Valentine’s Day depending on the weather. The only other flowers in the garden were pansies planted as annuals or Hellebores.

Oddly enough, almost everyone who enjoyed these referred to them as Mahonias. That was it. This may be ascribed to Americans not being particularly concerned with botanical nomenclature or just simply that was the most prolific Mahonia in the area. That said, plant taxonomy hasn’t worried me too much unless it defines a plant that I need to specify. Botanical nomenclature I love, plant tax not so much.

I think there is a plant like the Leatherleaf Mahonia the world over..not sure what it is in the UK or Australia; I was emailing with Karen (smallhouse/BIGGARDEN), a fellow Florida blogger about a weed we both like yesterday – Florida Snow. Karen identified this as Richardia grandiflora, which works for me. It is a horrible creeping weed if you are a turf purist, as gardeners we love the white flowers that look like snow in our backyard meadows..and we need no chemicals! My greyhounds run amuck in this and I have no worries.

Florida Snow

Florida Snow

And really if you have moved this far south, I think this is sufficient snow. My husband, the turf purist, is not really enjoying the flowers.

Vive La Difference

Purple Oxalis in Floridian mode with Oyster Plants

Purple Oxalis in Floridian mode with Oyster Plants

I am from Tucker, Georgia USA. While I have titled the post in French, I do not and will not speak French and have a Southern accent that creeps up on me sometimes, mostly in colloquialisms that cause folks around here to scratch their heads. I said to the podiatrist I couldn’t “sit on my haunches” he was completely puzzled. That means squat down in Southern. Genetically bad ankles, I think. Or too much gardening.

“That dog don’t hunt” is another confusing Southernism. It just means it doesn’t work. More head scratching. I don’t really sound like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind but Vivien Leigh was English anyway.

This past year I have been enjoying numerous gardening blogs; I have read about everything from Lupines in Australia to Roses in England to Daisies and Aloes in the US and Fall color just about everywhere but where I live. South Florida is a bit lacking in that regard.

What I have taken from all my reading is there is a lot of difference in the things people grow, but there are also a lot of similarities in favorites. Here is my take on some universal favorites:

Maples for Fall Color, Japanese Maples especially. Cherries and Deciduous Magnolias for Spring color. Everybody loves Cosmos and Hydrangeas and some type of Asters, Daisies, Mums, Lilies of all shapes and sizes, Roses. The UK writers like Sweetgums, which still boggles my mind. Southerners go searching for the chainsaw when a suspect Sweetgum seedling arises. Azaleas and Rhododendrons are very popular and the everpresent Viburnums.

Another interesting aside, gardening magazines will have you thinking succulents and tropical plants are all the rage in temperate gardens. I don’t read about as much of those types of plants as good, well suited garden plants. Of course, there is always something you must have that is a few plant hardiness zones away from reality. I had palms in my temperate garden, I am guessing after last winter they have expired.

While I couldn’t hope to grow many of the favorites in my garden, what was interesting to me to find out is there are some things that will grow just about anywhere. For example,  Oxalis and Viburnums will grow just about everywhere, even at my house. I have some fantastic Purple Oxalis my neighbor gave me. Who knows where it came from – maybe England.

Strange Fruits

Passionflower

Passionflower

Here it is almost December and I walked out into my backyard to find a Passionflower in full bloom and fruiting. Very nice and so typical of the landscape in South Florida. Just when you are wrapping your brain around the fact that the holidays are here and the temperature outside is around 80 degrees – there is a Passionflower.

I was wondering if this was a culinary Passionfruit and apparently it is not. This is called a May Pop in northern climes. My father in law was from Northern Ohio and one of his favorite childhood memories was stomping May Pops on the way home from school. Probably in May and not December.

Passionfruit comes from Passiflora edulis, which is native to South America. The North American version is Passiflora incarnata, the May Pop. There are an additional eight varieties native to North America, the culinary variety is tropical and may be grown in South Florida.

Ponciana Pods

Poinciana Pods

Here is some more interesting fruit. These are the dried pods of the Royal Poinciana tree, a member of the bean family. The pods are about two feet long and I enjoy spray painting them a metallic color and using them in Holiday decorations. I am truly getting in touch with my inner Martha Stewart.

The last bit of strange fruit I spotted at my local library. I have watched these trees bloom for the past couple of years, but had not noticed the fruit (it is strange that I did not notice this fruit)

Golden Shower Fruit

Golden Shower Fruit

My husband was snickering when I showed him this photo. It is pretty strange fruit, the whole thing is around 3 feet long and looks like someone has been making green sausages and hanging them on the tree. The tree is a Golden Shower (Cassia fistula) – in the spring and summer it has chains of yellow flowers that resemble Hawaiian leis hanging down from the branches. Beautiful and kind of peculiar. Like many things in South Florida.

Another Bromeliad for South Florida – Aechmea blanchetiana

The Whole Plant

The Whole Plant

I found this on my doorstep earlier today and it is my birthday, so this was a great present. It is a Blanchetiana Bromeliad – another beauty from the rainforests of Brazil. The flower spike on this plant looks to be about 4 feet tall. These are fairly common on the Treasure Coast and they start blooming around Labor Day, I consider this a Fall color plant!

I know it seems weird thinking of a Rainforest plant as a Fall indicator, but, hey, they have fall in the tropics. The days shorten and things that are red and orange flower. Not much in the way of leaves changing color, but other things do.

The Flower

The Flower

The Flower is a funky thing that makes me think of crustaceans, King Crab legs or something like that. Now I just need to decide where to plant this…..

Muhly Grass – Muhlenbergia capillaris or filipes

Muhly Grass

Muhly Grass

I planted Muhly Grass recently for its interesting pink mist fall flowers and reputation for indestructibility. The Grass started blooming nearly as soon as I planted it in September and has been slowly filling out with misty pink plumes. This is an interesting grass – it grows as far north as Massachusetts west to Kansas and south to Florida. A huge range, at least 5 USDA hardiness zones, apparently with a native habitat on the edges of marshes. I found in previous attempts that it is virtually impossible to grow in heavy clay soil. So, it should be really happy in my front yard atop a sand dune.

I am getting a feeling I might have to water it a bit. Plants that are designated drought tolerant with conditions usually are not as drought tolerant as you would like.

Another common name for this is Sweetgrass, supposedly when dried it has a sweet fragrance like hay. I haven’t noticed the smell, but I haven’t dried any either. I think I prefer the Sweetgrass name to Muhly Grass. Muhly sounds like beer or something. Muhly Ale?!

This grass is the source of material for basketry by the Seminole Indians in Florida and the famous Sweetgrass baskets of the Low Country of South Carolina. The Low Country basketry tradition was started by slaves from West Africa imported to the American South to work in the rice plantations in the 1800s. The tradition continues and to this day sweetgrass baskets are made and sold in the Low Country. The grass is sewn in ropes, then coiled to make a basket – a time consuming task that produces a beautiful basket.

According to the Seminole tribe website they started making sweetgrass baskets 60 years ago. Their baskets are based on grass from the Everglades, which is dried and constructed in a similar way to the Low Country baskets.

Given that I now possess a mass of Muhly I might try a basket. I suspect this is a lot harder than I think it is.. and my backyard has been blessed with an overabundance of Muscadines (a native grape) – the local wildlife population eats all the fruit, but I have such a large amount of grapevine I may take up basketweaving or wreathmaking..