Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The year of abundance, so much fruit that the trees are still full!A hot summer with regular rains must be citrus heaven. I`ve given bags away and still some of the trees are full, especially bad with the cold we been having.

The Kimbrough Satsuma has been picked, packaged for friends and eaten! The fruits were much bigger this year and extremely juicy but didn`t have the exceptional flavor of other years. I planted the the tree eight years ago and it has lived up to all the satsumas billing of a cold hardy delicious tree. She is grafted on a trifoliate root stock which adds to the cold tolerance and dwarfs the tree but she is no beauty. Satsuma have a lanky growth habit and send out long branches in any direction making them a sprawling plant.

The beauty of the dwarf citrus is the Nippon Orangequat! It grows as a tight mound spotted this time of year with hundreds of 2" bright orange fruit. I personally do not like the taste but many do. The fruit is eaten skin and all just like its kumquat ancestor. It will keep its fruit all winter dropping a few at a time until it blooms again in the spring. Early cold like this dries them but some will stay good all winter.

My poor Meiwa Kumquat would have needed another week to ripen, the cold has frozen them solid and they will dry out quickly now. It' like the orangequat and the satsuma is on a trifoliate root stock dwarfing the plant to a tiny 4'.

This year had a couple of firsts; my Changsha mandarin and Taiwanese lemon both fruited this year! The Changsha is a seedy Mandarin that bears small fruit five years after planting the seed.
The lemon is a year older and has so many fruits the branches are hanging at right angles to the main stem. It`s a sour seedy fruit but easy to grow and not likely ever to be hurt by my cold.

There is another citrus, the mystery tree that was supposed to be a sunquat(a type of lemonquat) but is gigantic. I purchased the seeds year ago from the now defunct Indoor Citrus Society from a reputable grower who must have also had a grapefruit in the yard. The tree and fruit are huge, the leaves look like grapefruit leaves but the plant is more cold tolerant. As to the fruit, they are as large as a grapefruit, yellow as a lemon and shaped like a pear. Delightfully smelling and tasting of both lemon and grapefruit but bland to the taste. The wind causes a little damage each year at the top but it always leafs back with almost no die back. A happy accident.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Green-Fly Orchid

This basket of green fly orchid and fern has hung under this live oak at work for eight years, prior to that it lived in a former garden of mine. The picture was taken a couple of weeks ago and quite often it has a late season bloom even at this latitude.

The basket is composed of pieces of bark containing orchid and fern, rescued after a storm and placed inside a wire basket with a coco-fiber liner behind the bark. I do not remember what the basket is filled with but I think it was regular potting mix. The fiber has long decomposed and other types of fern have moved in on their own but the orchids continue to grow pretty much uncared for.

The peak bloom is early summer with an occasional spike anytime while the weather is warm. The basket hangs out all year long and the only protection is the canopy of the live oak. It would be hard to find a simpler plant to grow, but it is a hard plant to find or purchase!

While hunting for fallen snags with orchids on them I quickly learned that deer are also fond of collecting it after storms and if I want to find it uneaten I better be willing to go wading in the swamps the day after the storm. It is worth the trials because it rewards you with blooms for very little care.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Fall Vignette

Just a quick flash of fall for us Southerners, since the trees won`t provide the color we let the herbaceous and tropicals do it. This grouping of Mexican cigar flowers, Acalypha Jungle Dragon and a variegated hibiscus in a pot provide the warm rich colors that give us that fall feeling . That is if we are transplanted Northerners.
The potted hibiscus was just brought in the house for the winter and cut back. I also took cuttings of the acalypha because it doesn`t always return from the roots. The cigar flower is just a good doer and will be back with the spring. So far there has not been a frost or freeze, but this far inland it will happen soon and I want to be prepared.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Favorite Ficus

All gardeners lust for plants we can not possibly grow in our yards due to some local factor, mine is the climate of N. Charleston. FROST! Tropicals are not fond of it and yet we gardeners try to grow them and ocasionally succeed.

Ficus auriculata is one of the triumphs! I first learned of this plant from a fellow palm society member who was growing it in Augusta,Ga.
If it could survive there it would do just fine on the coast.

The plant is fast growing and recovers rapidly in spring and reaches 15' by fall. In my yard it alway freezes to the ground but in milder situations it can survive because it is a cold/drought deciduous plant and thus has a dormant period that increases hardiness.

It`s a beauty, large dark green leaves that are large enough to give a garden that tropical look. My 8 year old plant produces ten stems all reaching heights between 10' and 15'.

I have tested many other figs for cold tolerance, some such as F. petiolaris and F. aurea survived the winter as root hardy but return too slowly to be garden worthy. These plants are the nothern most species in North America.

Ficus elastica is written to be a good candidate for colder areas but it also returns to slowly. Older books recommend this one often so the problem may be that todays cultivars have all been selected for slow or compact growth.

There is one other that is proving to be a good candidate and that if F. religiosa. This again is a plant that has a dormant period and also returns at a good rate in the spring. I have not had it long enough to give its ultimate heights but it has impressed me so far.

Since the Genus Ficus is so large there are probably many other candidates so let`s keep trying.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red, Green and Gold

Some combinations are happy accidents that if you had planned them would never have looked as good.

Abutilon megapotamicum and an old Aucuba are just such a combo. Both are common in Southern gardens but I have never scene them together before and even here they met serruptiously and surprised me with a red blooming Aucuba this spring.

The Abutilon is a viney sort that disappears into the Aucuba`s foliage and weaves around the plant. The gangliness of the Abutilon is hidden by the stiffness of its companion. The result is beautiful.

The Abutilon slow down its blooming during the heat of summer but starts up again as the nights cool. The heat tolerance of the flowering maple(Abutilon) is amazing for a plant from southern South America. It shows its heritage by blooming off and on durying my zone 8b winters.

I heartly recommend trying this combo out in your own yard.

Monday, July 12, 2010


As a plant nut I usually worry about if the plant will grow here ,not what it will look like and because of that I`ve spent a lot of time moving things around. There are happy accidents where everything turns out right and not because I tried.

The pond is a small 20+ gallons that a friend found in a trash pile. I placed it near another small pond at the edge of my woodland garden so it would get some sun part of the day. It`s an ugly plastic thing that I used resurrection fern to hide the edge. The only plant in the pond is a veriegated Acorus.

The bright colored Acorus shines against the dark water and at the same time contrasts with low clustering ferns. Along side the pond the golden Sedum picks up the color of the Acorus and the texture of the ferns. On the backside of the pond the fern Phlebodium aureum 'Blue Crisp' adds a new color while continueing the fern texture on a bigger scale.

Oh the happy mistakes!

The other plants in the photo are some radiclis palms, Aspidistra and Agapathus. The Blue Crisp has proven to be not only winter hardy but with an overhead canopy is evergreen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Something Special

Yellow is the color of spring for me, it jumps out and says winter is over! This shrub is my spring herald along with the daffodils. I have never heard a common name for it though there may be one in Mexico its home. In fact all I know it is a Senecio I bought from Yucca Do Nursery many years ago.

It will grow to 6' if you let it but looks better cut back to the ground every couple of years. In full summer sun it tends to wilt like a Hydrangea so be nice and plant it in the shade and hose it off on a hot day.

The Senecio is a coarse looking plant that fits well in a woodland setting but should be tried in a typical suburban landscape. It is an evergreen but not a dark dense plant. The branches are limber and the flowers sit at the ends. If I ever find the name I`ll pass it on!

A Male Medusa

He is always ahead of the rest, anxious to be the first to leaf out and often he is burned by the frost. This year he is late and the leaves will be undamaged but he is still the first.

This fabulous plant is a Cycas taitungensis! A huge fast growing plant that regularly put out three spurts of growth a year. The first growth has always been a set of leaves the second is always a cone and it is definitely a male cone.

The leaves are up to 5' long and a deep green in color. As you can see from the picture they brown in the winter some, more from wind damage than cold. It has a growth rate that puts Cycas revoluta the common sago to shame.

In the garden give this plant plenty of room it is huge and quick growing if fertilized regularly. A common mistake is to plant it in a spot that will cause it to looked cramped in the future because people think that it will grow just like the common sago.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Winters End

The sun is back out and actually feels warm! Too much cold ,too much wind and finally the snow have made a mess of my garden. My Chamaedorea are a mess; the radicalis foliage was broken by the weight of 4" of snow and the microspadix by the incessant wind. All the tall Aspirdistra are wind burned which I will cure with a quick clip of the foliage this weekend to make room for the new growth. The horizontal leaved species are fine.

There have been surprises, the Australians have survived the vagaries of Charleston weather better then I would have thought. The Telopea speciosissima shows only a little leaf burn and the Grevillea victoria 'Murray Valley Red' is undamaged. Both plants have been through two winters with lows of 22 degrees. More surprising is that the summers have not done them in.

If this winter has taught me is that the wind does as much damage as cold can. An example of this are the bamboos. My Bambusa textilis is just fine while the B. textilis 'Scanton', B. eutuloides 'viridi-vittata and B. tuldoides 'ventricosa all suffered defoliation from the wind and cold which had not happened before at comparable temperatures.

Soon everything will leaf out and the winter ravages will just be lessons learned.

Good Gardening