In A Vase on Monday- Fire and Rain

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I have seen rain this week, every day, off and on, all day long. My husband is grumpy, the dogs are grumpy and I am getting gardening stir crazy. But, the Firebush is very happy and flowering magnificently.

If anyone remembers James Taylor’s song Fire and Rain here’s a link, before you click on the link realize there is always advertising and I had nothing to do with it: James Taylor. 

I decided a vintage copper teapot filled with warm colored flowers was necessary to lift my dreary spirits. After trimming some fiery flowers, I donned my red plastic raincoat and headed into the garden to see what I could find to join the Firebush. My greyhounds declined the offer to join me and sulked in their (sort of) dry beds.

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My neighbor’s Mexican Flame Vine (Senecio confusus) long ago left its bounds and was hanging down over a hedge that grows between us. Beaten down from all the rain (myself, my husband,my dogs and the Mexican Flame Vine) I cut a few stems to drape over the side of the teapot. Then I discovered some Tropical Red Sage flowers (Salvia coccinea) for the back of the arrangement; added some Beach Sunflowers (Helianthus debilis); and found a few Parrotflowers (Heliconia psittacorum). I have been missing the Parrotflowers. Hurricane Irma followed by a mid thirties temperature in January nearly did them in. The few I found are about half the size they were last year. The flowers and foliage from the flourishing Firebush (Hamelia patens var patens) filled the framework of the flower arrangement. Say that 10 times fast.

Here is a close up of the flowers:

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It is raining again. The good news is the Frangipani loves it and I have my first blooms this year.

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Happy Gardening!

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In A Vase on Monday – Surinam Shrimp

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I am aware ‘Surinam Shrimp’ sounds like a dish at a Vietnamese restaurant, however the two main components of this vase are Surinam Cherries and Shrimp Plants. The Surinam Cherries are the fruit in the lower part of the arrangement.

I have a large hedge of these shrubs and was pleased to have a fruit producing hedge, thinking (silly me) the fruit could be eaten. I kept thinking the fruit wasn’t ripe or something as it tasted so bad. Finally my neighbor, a Florida veteran, picked one for me – properly ripe. Still tasted bad. I have seen the taste described as resinously bitter, and the description fits the fruit. Given the taste of the fruit and the colors in various stages of ripeness an arrangement seemed like a better use of the fruit. The rest will be left for our wildlife friends.

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Here is another view with the nearly ripe Surinam Cherry beside the vase. As for the other members of the plant crew, we have: in dark red, flowers of the Red Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana); the foliage of Boston Fern and the upright sticks are from a ‘Firesticks’ Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Firesticks’); in orange and chartreuse, the fruits of the Surinam Cherry (Eugenia uniflora).

The vase was a long ago Christmas gift to my husband from his ex-wife’s cousin! We have absolutely no idea what it is, so if anyone has a clue please send a comment. We have been wondering for years what this is. The top of the vase is much thinner than the base and has a hole in it. It reads “Gd Cafe des Viticulteurs”

As for the ‘Firesticks’ Pencil Cactus’ here is a picture of the plant. Euphorbias still blow my mind, hello, Poinsettias? so weird- I have a few of these around the garden as they easily root from cuttings:

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Now I am craving some Shrimp Pasta for dinner. Without the Euphorbias, of course.

In A Vase on Monday – Plum Tropical

20160124_133405-1I started my Monday vase thinking I was going to have a plum and grey theme as the Kalanchoe ‘Flapjack’ plants are blooming. These are grey, somewhat otherworldly and I thought they would look great with some purple flowers in my plum blown glass bowl.

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Flapjack Flowers

So, I cut some Flapjack Flowers. As all gardeners know, Mother Nature often has other plans for us. I went over to my ‘it was blooming last time I looked’ bed and no purple flowers. Plan B, the Heliconia were blooming a little as well as the Tropical Blue Plumbago. I cut some of those and proceeded to another bed and my wonderful white Sweet Begonias were blooming. For greenery, I cut some Boston Fern and from the vegetable garden a little Fennel foliage. I grew some Fennel last year and ended up with volunteers this year I am hoping to eat. I love roasted Fennel.

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The bowl is a souvenir from a long ago trip to the North Georgia mountains where my husband and I stopped in a local artisan cooperative. We both appreciate handmade items and have enjoyed this little bowl.

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After starting a vase around the Flapjack flowers, they are barely visible (grey flowers and succulent leaf) I think the result is more Tropical Punch or Plum Tropical.

It’s Winter Starburst Clerodendrum Again

Everybody in South Florida is talking about Winter Starburst again. This time of year the shrub bursts forth with a floral display like no other. The flowers eventually spread to about 10 inches across and the shrub itself can grow to 10 feet tall. A Winter Starburst Clerodendrum in full bloom is nothing short of spectacular. A bonus to the Winter Starburst is deep green coarse textured foliage with purple backs that look great year round.

My first January in South Florida I nearly wrecked my car trying to get a good look at this shrub and figure out what it was. It is a showstopper that resembles a funky tropical rhododendron. Here’s the scoop, the botanical name is Clerodendrum quadriloculare. These shrubs are native to Southeast Asia and members of the Clerodendrum genus of plants which encompasses vines, shrubs and vining shrubs. Given their viny tendencies these plants can be troublesome in our gardens, they can spread unchecked and lend either – overgrown or if you prefer, a cottage garden vibe to your environs.

The photos above are of my late Winter Starburst. It expired last year due to poor installation and maintenance by the owner. It is true that these plants need partial shade and moist soil until well established. As I live in Scruburbia (Florida Scrub – sand, not sandy soil) I did not take the advice to heart and prepare the soil or water regularly. However, having witnessed another winter display from this shrub, I think I will try another planting or three!

Piecrust Croton and Friends

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Piecrust Croton

I have been reworking  the design of my front yard because the access point for the septic tank was in a lawn area and actually needed access. What this really means is once a year a 3 foot circle in the lawn  is dug up and destroyed to clean the (ewww, yes) septic tank filter. The joys of country living. I am certain I did not know septic tanks had filters prior to moving to Florida. I also realized I would like to have a pathway to the side.

For many years I have advised my clients to live in their houses for a while to see how they move around the property as sometimes a good guess just really doesn’t do the trick. The upshot is I did not take my own advice and I like to travel to my side garden (ah, future garden) more than I thought I would. Design that originates with how you live in a place is always a good plan. This may be Plan B as I did Plan A. Who knew St. Augustinegrass wouldn’t be happy over a septic tank. Oh, well. I am liking the new bed thus far.

A nod to my husbands pie making skills was the purchase of a Piecrust Croton, a multi colored tropical shrub that hails from the South Pacific. These shrubs are easy to grow and ubiquitous in South Florida. There are a few stalwart standby varieties that are common, but of course I love the weird stuff.

Here are the standard varieties:

At the top of the post is the foliage of the Piecrust – it looks like, you guessed it, Piecrust!  The rest, clicking on the picture will give the name. Being the plant freak that I am, I couldn’t resist photographing several more interesting varieties:

I  love all of these, but I think Stoplight might be the next Croton purchase on my Croton bucket list. How many people have a Croton bucket list?

Yes, the beds are getting bigger. The good news is I probably have a quarter acre left!!

Back to the inspiration for all of this, the piecrust. Here are a few of my husbands pies:

I think these merit a celebratory Croton in the front yard.

Speaking of celebratory, Happy New Year to all.

Royal Ponciana – Delonix regia

The Flamboyant Tree

The Flamboyant Tree

If Tabebuia is the harbinger of spring in South Florida, then The Royal Ponciana (or Flamboyant Tree) is the harbinger of summer and the rainy season. I prefer not to use the H word in regards to seasons.

I have heard people refer to these trees as Flamboyants, and I always have to stop and think about what that is for a minute. They are pretty flamboyant. I think the trees look as if they are covered in sprays of red orchids. Ponciana starts blooming in May and then continue  into Summer the leaves seem to follow the flowers and are ferny, deep green and eventually cover the tree with a fine textured foliage providing shade for the sun weary Floridian. The floral display is followed by large pods like beans (this is a member of the bean family) In some Caribbean countries, Poncianas are called “Woman’s Tongue” because the pods rattle in the wind.

A native of Madagascar and India these trees are planted the world  over in the tropics for their fine floral display. Named for  M. DePoinci, a governor of the French West Indies in the 1700’s, the Ponciana is celebrated with a Fiesta and a Festival in Miami around the first week of June.

These trees lend a tropical flair to any landscape and eventually take on an umbrella form reminiscent of trees in the African savanna. There are numerous Poncianas in my area. Of course, most of the horticultural literature I have seen says they shouldn’t grow here. Generally, I see 10B as the hardiness zone limit, I am pretty sure this is 10A – the coastal area of Martin County. Gardening friends in Vero Beach report Ponciana do not do as well there and I have heard that Ft. Pierce is their northern limit.  The lady down the street who is a great gardener advised throwing all the books away and just giving things a try. A reasonable suggestion.

These trees should be placed in the sun and are not for the faint of heart. Fast growing and with the potential of attaining a size of 40 by 40 feet, they need some room to spread and also produce a deep shade that it is difficult to grow anything under. They are semi-deciduous; so if you are a Snowbird tired of raking leaves this tree is not for you. The pods also are pretty messy. I got in touch with my inner Southern Belle at Christmas by spray painting some Ponciana pods silver and using them as a front door decoration along with preserved Cabbage Palm fronds..

Winter Starburst Clerodendrum – garden fruition

Winter Starburst Clerodendrum

Winter Starburst Clerodendrum in bud

This is my favorite burst of winter color and it has finally bloomed, the cold snap slowed it down, then the rain slowed it down. I have been waiting (somewhat patiently) for the full flower.  Here is the next phase:

Half Bloom

Half Bloom

And finally the full Starburst effect:

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Starburst

Bursted

Bursted

The Latin name for this plant is Clerodendrum quadriloculare. This is an interesting group of plants, ranging in size from vines to perennials then shrubs up to small trees. Mostly native to tropical South Asia and with a tendency towards creepy habits you must be careful who among them is invited into your garden. I have seen some gardens overrun by a perennial orange version of Clerodendrum which is beautiful but really creepy.

I am glad to have this shrub in my garden, I think of it as a Tropical Rhododendron, and it is so much easier to grow than the cursed Rhododendrons (my former garden had heavy clay that was impossible to grow Rhodos in) The coarse textured leaves have an added bonus of deep plum colored backsides which make the foliage attractive year round.

So far the Winter Starburst has not exhibited any bad behavior, I have sited it in the prescribed partial shade, but the soil like substance in my garden isn’t given to over production of anything except Heliconias as of yet.