Gardening with Georgia

Archive - November 2010

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A bittersweet little garden story

Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 05:12:10 PM

Last week, a beautiful male monarch emerged from his chyrsalis in my butterfly garden, and so I was watching two additional chrysalises in anticipation of seeing the event occur.

The jade green cases were smaller than normal, but on Thanksgiving, one chrysalis began its gradual change to transparency, a sign that a butterfly soon might hatch.

There's a small slit in the chrysalis,
on the right side, but the butterfly
did not emerge.

So at 6:30 Friday morning, I set up my camera on a tripod, positoned a little garden seat in the right spot, and, with coffee at the ready, began the chrysalis watch.

A tiny black foot poked through, followed by a split in the casing. But five hours later, the butterfly remained inside.

It did not make it, nor did the second one.

Yet, today as I was working in the garden, a handsome monarch flew through.  A return visit, no doubt.


Shifting into high season

Wed, Nov 24, 2010 at 01:15:20 PM

The place is more interesting these days.

As the summer residents dwindle – goodbye to a badly battered Red

A juvenile red-masked parakeet.

Admiral butterfly and a dragonfly in woeful shape – new ones are appearing. The juvenile Red-Masked Parakeets are getting their red markings and the Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are making zpee sounds all around the garden. A Black and White Warbler was in an oak tree in the butterfly garden last week, as was a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. The Zebra Heliconid population has become more noticeable, while the Monarchs are busy defending their territory against Julias.

Tiny Bluegray Gnatcatcher weighs 0.2 
ounce and winters here.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to where I see these birds and butterflies for inclusion on a list of possible new garden plants. The Blue-Gray gnatcatcher was in a flowering small tree or large shrub called “Corcha de Gallo,” Pogonopus speciosus. Because of the bird, I found a new tree that brings red flowers to the fall landscape.

 It’s in the coffee family and, like mussaendas that also claim coffee family ties, it has single enlarged red sepals in red that tend

Pogonopus speciosus is in
the coffee family.

tubular rose-colored flowers. From Central and South America – it is found in Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela – this likes some shade and makes a good understory plant. Its elliptical leaves have a nice drip-tip. Miami-Dade County IFAS/Cooperative Extension recommends it for color. 

It may need water in times of drought, but mulch will help with moisture retention. Mary Collins reminds me that it may suffer slight damage in 40-degree weather and more in 30 degrees. (Recall that the mussaendas all lost leaves and suffered some twig damage last winter.) You’ll find Corcha de Gallo in the arboretum along the north side of the allee.

 Other new finds at the garden are the Les Lalannes sculptures, which seem to be completely at home in a garden. The works of the French designers/sculptors (Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne worked independently for more than 40 years, but rarely did the husband and wife collaborate) are being placed in their new locations. In 2009, some of the sheep and other pieces were displayed on Park Avenue in New York. The serenity of our garden makes a far more suitable setting.

Framing the overlook to allow a new
vision is Poisson Paysage.

The Poisson Paysage, placed at the Overlook, makes an optically exciting way to view the lake and lowlands. The Singe avise (tres grand) is a monkey that is displayed near the vine pergola. Oiseau de Nuit, the owl, is as elegant as the sheep are droll. Mary Collins and the hort team used 5 bales of sphagnum for the dinosaur topiary that will be placed in the Amazonica water lily pool. They planted it with native passion vine, Passiflora suberosa, that will grow around the body of Dimetrodon II, as it’s called, and one day butterflies may be hovering around the beast as well. Winter season is here.




Every year it astounds

Mon, Nov 22, 2010 at 09:17:36 AM

Tacca integrifolia, the white bat flower, is so amazing that I find myself photographing it annually. Its whiskers are bracts, its bracts are elegant, and its flowers are other-worldly. Come by the Conservatory and see for yourself.

Tacca integrifolia, showing large
and narrow bracts around the
dark purple flowers.

The stigma is surrounded by
six anthers, which conceal
the pollen.


Peppers for pizza: just use soap

Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 04:58:56 PM

At the Edible Garden Festival, I demonstrated how to create a pizza garden with tomato, pepper, oregano, basil and parsley plants. I put 1 of each in a terra cotta bowl containing a 50-50 mix of potting soil and aged horse manure. I helped some pint-sized gardeners learn to work with transplants and carefully pat down the root balls, adding more potting mix as we needed it.

Banana peppers.

The little gardens were meant only as inspiration for larger versions, but just for the fun of it, I have kept them on the back steps to see if they will really produce enough produce for a pizza.

Here’s what is happening. The peppers have grown really well. The tomatoes are coming along more slowly. Basil has a few tiny brown spots from the larvae of flies, but they’re not too bad. And the oregano and parsley are going great guns.

Because the plants are crowded in their little bowls, I have had some white flies and scales under the leaves of the bell pepper and the banana pepper. So I’ve used a homemade insecticide.

Cayenne peppers.

Using a vegetable grater, I grated the corner from a bar of Castile Soap, and put the shavings in a glass bowl. I covered them with water and microwaved them until the soap pieces had melted. Then, I added a little olive oil (my soap, Kirk’s Castile, is made with coconut oil, not olive oil, so I added some just because Dr. Bonner's Castile contains olive oil, so why not?). Next, I poured about 1/8th of a cup of this into a quart spray bottle and filled it with water. I carefully sprayed the undersides of all the pepper leaves, as well as the basil in hopes of preventing more fly damage.

The spray works well, but I have to repeat spraying every 7 days or so to kill the scale crawlers. 

Bell pepper.

This is an old-fashioned and non-toxic spray that you can try on your own veggies.

About 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons of liquid Dr. Bonner's Castile soap to a quart of water. This is a standard recommendation. If you use the liquid, you’ll save yourself some trouble.

Meanwhile, the peppers are handsome enough to show you their pictures.

Castile soap, by the way, is a lovely bath soap.


Col. Montgomery's conifers

Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 12:33:32 PM

Col. Robert Montgomery, who founded Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and named it for his friend David Fairchild, collected palms for his South Florida estate, but he also collected conifers at his home in Cos Cob, CT. He donated 200 conifers from his collection to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, and recently I visited that garden and the Colonel’s trees, including spruce, hemlock, cedar and yew.

This sign identifies the spruce
name for Col. Robert Montgomery.

The conifer collection now is called the Beneson Ornamental Conifer Collection for the benefactors who funded the four-year upgrading of the garden. Large blue conifers encircle an open area in an arrangement designed by Marian Coffin in 1949. Coffin, a 1904 graduate of MIT also designed Winterthur, Longwood Gardens and the University of Delaware campus. A lovely pavilion atop a hill provides a beautiful stopping point.

Among the conifers are a blue Chinese fir, which the interpretive sign boasts

Dragon's-eye pine.

is a great rarity; blue Arizona cypress; many dwarf conifers including a variegated dragon's-eye pine, Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis.’

In addition, there is a dwarf blue spruce that is named for the Colonel: Pinus pungens ‘R.H. Montgomery’ and a photo of the Colonel standing next to it all those years ago.

This is the dwarf spruce named
for Col. Montgomery.

Montgomery, a tax authority and lawyer, served on the New York garden’s board of managers from 1935 until his death in 1953. He willed his Connecticut estate to the town of Greenwich for use as a public park. Today it’s called the Montgomery Pinetum, and is run by the Greenwich Garden Center. His home in South Florida is the Montgomery Botanical Center. His legacy to the tropical world is our botanical garden.



A croton by another name

Mon, Nov 08, 2010 at 03:10:59 PM

Red undersides of the leaves of this
Chinese croton are quite beautiful,
once you see them.

If it had not been a windy day, I wouldn’t have stopped abruptly at the sight of the shrub, Excoecaria cochinchinensis, or Chinese croton. I’ve walked past it all the time and never noticed it. But the wind picked up some branches and revealed the beautiful red underside of the leaves. From Southeast Asia and China, this lovely plant has inconspicuous flowers in the axils of its elliptical leaves. And that’s OK to be shy about your flowers when you have such glamorous foliage. Marilyn Griffiths, in charge of plant records for the garden, said Excoecaria cochinchinensis had been given to Fairchild by Ree Gardens, which is the nursery belonging to Marie and Steve Nock.

Marie, who is a croton aficionado, received a small plant from friends in Jamaica and initially thought, from the common name, she had a really unusual addition to her croton collection. Then she unwrapped it. This plant is in the Euphorbiaceae, as is the ornamental croton Codiaeum variegatum, but it is another genus. Nonetheless, she says, “It’s a real survivor” and can take sun or shade. It’s often grown in a hanging basket to show off those beautiful undersides of the leaves. As a shrub, it can reach four feet or so.

As you walk the path toward the Café and pass the Standing Gorilla, the Chinese croton will be perhaps six or ten feet farther along on your right. With luck, it will be a windy day.


Hats off to this butterfly plant

Thu, Nov 04, 2010 at 12:11:41 PM

Here’s a winter bloomer that should be added to your list of bird and butterfly attracting plants.

Holmskioldia sanguinea's intriguing
flowers provide color in winter.

The round and fused calyx encircles the tubular corolla of the unusual flowers on Holmskioldia sanguinea, creating a shape that gives the plant its common name, Chinese hat plant.  The calyx of a flower ordinarily is green and often leaf-like, consisting of the sepals that surround the developing bud. This calyx adds to the flower’s color and appeal. And while the corollas are quite small, they hold enough nectar to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Now flowering in Fairchild’s Plot 3a, the Chinese hat plant is a sprawling shrub from subtropical India and Pakistan that likes to send out quite long, whippy branches, and can reach some 6 to 8 feet in height and width.  You can prune it at the end of winter or early spring to keep it under control.

In a 1996 issue of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, writer Sandy Atkins said the plant was named for Theodore Holmskiold, a Danish nobleman and scientist who died at the end of the 18th Century. Once classified as belonging to the verbena family, this plant now is part of the Lamiacae or mint family.

The red form of Holmskioldia.

A Chinese hat plant likes some shade in summer, but not too much or it will not bloom. At home, I grow two Chinese hat plants against a fence, where they receive an occasional runoff of water released when cleaning the pond filters. One shrub bears orange flowers, the other dark red flowers. There is still another form that produces chartreuse flowers. 

The plant has been available through plant sales at Fairchild, most recently at the spring sale.