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.


My Former Japanese Maple (s)

Best Red Dissectum Maple

Having moved to South Florida a few years back there are some things I miss about living in a more temperate climate. Spring flowers, for example. The thing, I think that is so enticing about spring flowers is the living proof winter is ending. Now, truthfully, I don’t miss winter at all and there are really a lot of flowers year round here that are so interesting it makes up for the lack of Yoshino Cherries (my all time favorite)

Ryusen Japanese Maple


The thing I can’t come to terms with is the lack of Japanese Maples. When I first married, we lived in urban townhouse, there was a seedling Japanese Maple in a weasley back garden. Weasley is the operative word. This Maple had a spectacular fall color and when we moved to a bigger house I took a seedling with me. This Maple grew to 10 or 12 feet tall over a period of 17 years and is one of my all time favorite trees. The above Japanese Maples are from my former garden, a ‘Best Red’ and the Green is ‘Ryusen’. When we moved to South Florida I decided to chance it and dug up a seedling and carted it down here only to find out it was a Red Maple!

The Red Maple

The Red Maple

Bah! Undeterred by my lack of Japanese Maple I decided to buy and prune into tree form a ‘Raggedy Ann’ Copperleaf. This is a burgundy and red tropical shrub with raggedy edged foliage kind of like a Dissectum Maple.

Raggedy Ann

Raggedy Ann

Raggedy Ann turns out to be uncooperative and less than graceful. The tree form pruning attempt produced an ungainly shrub 5 feet tall with 5 stems,  with perhaps a width of 10 inches. However, the color is pretty good.

Some things just cannot be replaced.



Christmas Palm – Veitchia merrillii

The Christmas Palm on Christmas Day.  This particular Palm I learned as the Adonidia. I think Christmas is a much better name; especially with the red mass of berries resembling ornaments during the holiday season.  These are also called Manila Palms as they are from the Philippines. Not an exceptionally cold tolerant plant they will grow in South Florida in coastal areas south of the magical State Highway 60 line. Many of these palms were lost during the unusually cold winter of 2010.

Christmas Palms can be used as single or multi trunk trees and grow to about 20 feet tall, this makes them excellent for residential use near buildings in the one to two story range. These are not a self cleaning Palm so fronds past their prime must be trimmed. They also add a tropical flair to pools and near spas, I have planted a multi trunk near my lanai to provide shade in the summer. And I am just waiting for some Christmas berries.href=””>Image