I usually write about the art of the garden, but here is a bit of art in the garden. The above photos are of a woven willow structure currently under construction at the McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, Florida. This piece of environmental art is nestled in a grove of palms and constructed of willow saplings and bendable twigs woven together to form a temporary structure. The structure will eventually have three willow towers. Here is a close up of the twig structure:
And here is an overall view:
The artist is Patrick Dougherty and the concept is STICKWORK, here is a link to more information on the artist and installation, http://www.mckeegarden.org/current-exhibition.php
I am usually not very enthralled with environmental art, but I love this. The organic willow towers complement the formality of the palms and I like the facts that the structure is built from willows grown in a sustainable tree farm and after a few years the structure will be evaluated to decide to keep it or compost it. I have visions of the entire thing rooting into the ground and growing a twisted fairy tale castle in the palm grove.
The rest of the garden has a bit of a fairy tale feel as well. Conceived by pioneer developers in South Florida during the first half of the twentieth century – the first buildings were based on Polynesian structures in keeping with the “Jungle” theme. The garden fell into disrepair and was reborn in the early 2000’s shepherded by a dedicated group of garden enthusiasts. Below is one of the original buildings, a great hall centered around a table constructed from a 38 foot long single piece of Mahogany:
The rest of McKee is well worth touring and has a wealth of tropical plants. I saw many types of Bromeliads I had never seen before and an array of Palms, Orchids and tropical trees. The garden began in a mature forest hammock and boasts some incredible native trees and a pathway meandering through the garden inviting you to stop and study the flora. Here are some of my favorite photos from my trek through the garden.
I had a Pygmy Date Palm installed last year in front of my house. This is a dwarf palm rarely exceeding 10 feet in height and it looks great in front of my bathroom window. I selected a triple trunk palm to accent the house and landscape because as the largest element in the foundation planting it needed some mass.
These palms are native to Southeast Asia and are common in South Florida. They actually do bear dates, but a male and female plant is required. I am perfectly happy without dates. Dates have always reminded me of roaches and I just don’t like to eat them.
I let the palm grow for about a year before attempting to prune it. Pruning done right reveals a trunk that resembles neatly stacked rows of whole wheat crackers- I have heard these called Triscuit Trees. What is not mentioned is the enormous spines at the base of the palm fronds. The spines are up to two inches long. Somewhere in a jungle I think Pygmies used these for poison darts. Later in the week I was talking to a physician, these palms are well known to the medical community due to the thorns. Wounds from the thorns tend to fester and cause infection.
While getting into the holiday spirit I decided to wrap the trunks with miniature white lights. It would have been wise to drink some spirits and don opera length leather gloves before attempting this. As I was decorating I was skewered through the hand and the thorn hit a vein; I now have a 3 inch bruise on my hand that looks terrible. Then I got stabbed in the head and decided to stop for a moment and go in the house. It took a while to get the thorn out of my hand and the bleeding from my head wound staunched. Duly anointed with antibiotic ointment, I persevered and completed my light display, then waited for darkness.
Ahh, holiday magic.
Fall color…in South Florida. This is a seek and ye shall find situation. I have found some signs of the Autumn season here in the tropical Zone 10A hinterlands. The Golden Raintrees started blooming in late September which kind of freaks me out as I associate these trees strongly with Summer. The above pictured Fall color is actually seed pods – which are kind of cool and are fall color as far as I am concerned.
This is a Koelreuteria bipinnata, some call it a Chinese Flame Tree, some call it K. elegans. People in Florida seem to think this tree will grow as far north as Zone 7, this is not true. I am guessing maybe Zone 8. It’s friend Koelreuteria paniculata grows further north (to Zone 5 – I seem to remember these while in Chicago) and has brown much less attractive seed pods. Both are sort of weedy, rambling trees, but the flowers and pods make it worth having. I think well drained soil is key with these trees; my mother killed these trying to grow them on what she referred to as “road bed” yellow, impenetrable clay.
I planted some Muhly grass, for its pink clouds of flowers blowing in the wind during Fall. Mine are just starting to bloom and I am hopeful they don’t reseed everywhere and overrun me..always a concern in a no frost environment. More touches of Fall include the Pennisetums, which are in full bloom here as well, but apparently Miscanthus doesn’t grow this far south.
I thought Miscanthus grew everywhere! Oh, well. I have Bromeliads..
This is my husband’s favorite tree; possibly the only tree he ever really focused on. The ornamental, exfoliating bark is the main feature of this tree. Native to the Phillipines and surrounding islands, it is sometimes called the Mindanao Gum tree. The tree provides most of the pulpwood for paper and is grown on plantations in the Phillipines.
We first ran across this tree and its spectacular bark on the road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii. Intrigued by the tree, I researched it and was interested to find that it can be grown in South Florida. The tree is not tolerant of frost and our average low is 40 degrees. It is sited in a protected area, but is getting pretty tall.
And grow it does. I bought this tree in November 2012 at a plant sale in West Palm Beach at Mounts Botanical Garden. It was run over with a Riding lawn mower shortly after being planted and smashed flat. This resulted in two scrapes down the entire length of the trunk. Eschewing arboricultural reason, I decided to try and save the tree rather than buy another one. I went to Home Depot and bought a tree staking kit, cleaned its wounds, took out the damaged bark and wrapped the trunk with tree wrap and staked the tree until it healed. A few months later the bark had calloused and the tree was off to the races.
Currently, nearly two years later and overwhelmingly robust I would estimate the tree is 30 feet tall. It doubled in size in one year (it was 5-6 feet tall when I bought it!) and has grown 18 feet in the past year. Now I am a little afraid.
The bark is currently not showing any purple or blue, but I believe it will. The new growth is red and it flowers in summer, not terribly exciting flowers, little white panicles – fortunately, no fruit thus far. The bark is the star of the show.