My Backyard: Crinum, Tabebuia, and Tibouchina

-  "Queen Emma" crinum is sick!
-  False Cardamom ginger is lusher than ever
-  My entada gigas sea bean is growing fast!
-  Tibouchina, heliconia and hidden ginger are blooming
-  Tabebuia branches are drooping
-  Morning Glory vine is taking over!

I Put Googly Eyes on My Plants!

As you can tell by my ever evolving blog design, I can never leave well enough alone.  If you took a look at the front page to my blog, you'll see that I've simplified and cleaned up the layout, and made previews so you can browse posts more easily.
I always have to go and fix things that aren't broken, be it my blog, the garden, or even just plants.  Just like Christopher Walken, my obsession with improvement is so bad, I go so far as to put googly eyes on my plants.

Free Tropical Garden Desktop Wallpapers!

In the last post I talked about sharing plants, and its high time I shared something else with you guys, like some tropical themed wallpapers for your desktop!  These are all high resolution images sized 1800 x 1200, so they should be large enough for most of your screens.  Check out the Rainforest Garden Store for more goodies!

Passalong Plants on my Balcony

For those of you just tuning in, here's how it works:  I live in an apartment, but keep a garden at my parent's place.  All of my intensive gardening has to take place on my balcony, since I only get to garden at my parent's place once every one or two weeks.

"Virtual Tour" My Garden!

Here's a "virtual tour" of my tropical themed backyard.

Click the panoramic images of my garden and zoom in to see them close up!

Butterfly Lovin'

I was watching the butterflies while suffering in the Florida heat, when I saw a Gulf fritillary butterfly that was content to flap its wings out in the open on a ginger leaf, paying no notice to my pentas and heliconias. Of course I took some photos, and when I next looked outside it was sitting in the open lawn flapping its wings slowly.  I thought it might be dying, but it seemed pretty healthy to me.

I Just Planted My Bromeliads

The other day I rushed over to my parent's house to plant my new bromeliads and take some pictures of the garden.  I apologize for the low quality of the photos, as I was using my cell phone camera and it was starting to get dark.  I'll show you some pics of the garden before I go to work!

Bromeliad Shopping!

I just got back from the Seminole bromeliad sale and I have taken home quite a haul!  Of course I wanted everything in the picture to the left, but 6 bromeliads ended up being enough after all.  I also met lots of very helpful members of the bromeliad society, who helped give me input on which plants were the most cold hardy for them, and led me to some really rare cultivars. 

Attracting Native Green Anoles to Your Garden

Here in North Central Florida the most common lizards are called anoles, and commonly referred to as "chameleons".  They are native through most of the southeast United States, and are often seen on screen doors or in the garden.  The baby green anoles have just hatched and
are bright eyed and ready to take on my plague of insects that I was so concerned about. 

Tropical Plants in Jacksonville

Today I thought I'd show you some of the tropical beauties in my 9a garden, with a focus on colorful closeups.  To those of you just joining us, Jacksonville receives lows down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in winter, and the last two winters were among the worst in recent decades.  Have a look at whats possible in a 9a garden with a little thoughtful placement and protection. 

Jungle Journal: The Vines

Just like the alt rock group of the same name, the real superstars of my garden right now are like one hit wonders, making a scene and disappearing at first frost. 

Eucomis Comosa

One of the more unusual bulbs in my garden is the South African "Pineapple Lily" or eucomis comosa.  The leaves emerge from the ground in late spring with form that rivals the flower spike itself, quickly growing into a crinum like rosette of strappy leaves.  The flower spike is said to smell like rotting meat to be pollinated by flies, but to the contrary, its usually odorless and occasionally it even smells rather nice. 

These flowers were from last year, when it was planted in wet soil and a little more shade.

The inflorescence consists of rubbery flowers, perfect and long lasting for use in arrangements and bouquets.  If you leave the flowers alone you'll probably encounter the purple berry like fruits that make for an attractive show in their own right!  After blooming, the leaves will start to slowly flop over and retreat into dormancy leaving the flower spike to develop its seeds.
Mr. Brown Thumb has a great guide to collecting the seeds of pineapple lily, and even a guide to propagating by leaf cuttings

It prefers a moist soil, but I can personally attest to its tolerance of both overly wet soil and drier soil as well.  However, it performed exceptionally well in the soggy soil of my backyard the last two years, back when the rear of the garden was flooded.  The foliage was much lusher and lengthier, and you can probably tell by the above photo that the flowers were much larger as well.  They were so big that they really rambled over the ground like snakes rather than stand up like they do normally.

It seems to do well in part shade and in full sun, but the plant behaves differently in each situation, much like many other rosette forming plants.  In shade the foliage is longer and lusher, and the flower stalks are more lax and floppy.  In sun, the rosette is more compact, and the inflorescence is shorter and less likely to require staking.  This might be a preferable situation for most, though I really did like my flower arrangement last year with its warped and spiraling stems evocative of a Dr. Suess concoction.

Now my pineapple lily is planted in a very dry and sunny spot, and the sun and lack of rain this year has stunted it a bit.  Normally I get three to five blooms, but now I only have one... and a half.  The second inflorescence seems to have been stunted early in its development. 

Hardiness and Storage
I've seen many reports of this doing well in the ground through zone 7, and I even left half of the bulb itself exposed to 20 degrees of freezing this winter when I left it only half buried.  Even if you live where the ground freezes, this is a really easy bulb to store over winter in a dry medium like sawdust or sand. 
Mr. Brown Thumb also tells us that its perfectly acceptable to leave it in a pot with dry soil, but reminds us to remove the leaves as the smell of them rotting is "something horrible".  (Check out his informative blog!  Its based in Chicago, but that doesn't stop him from growing tender exotics and giving us excellent tips.)

Landscape Uses
Because they're dormant for about half of the year, I recommend planting them alongside bulbs that are known to bloom in the dormant season.  In warm climates like Florida, hurricane lilies and surprise lilies could pick up where eucomis left off in fall, and winter annuals like "Johnny jump up" and pansies could continue the show.  You can even plant among dramatic purple heart or "Red Star" cordyline
In colder climates you can plant them in a bulb garden, planting eucomis alongside daffodils, crocus and so forth.
Be sure you don't overlook the purple leaved eucomis comosa "sparkling burgundy" either, which looks excellent among chartreuse sweet potato vine and any silver or light colored foliage.
For any garden, Pineapple Lily makes for an interesting conversation piece whether in the ground or in a vase.


Neoregelia Bromeliads in Full Sun? Growing Tips.

Dew covered lemongrass leaves arch over neoregelia "tequila".

The short answer is "not always".  Neoregelias are known among gardeners to be "full sun" bromeliads and are often marketed as some of the few bromeliads that can truly take the scalding light of a Florida summer. 

Which is true... but not in all situations.  Research and anecdotal evidence from forums and experienced bloggers is giving me a different view, along with some exceptions.  

Neoregelias can thrive in full sun unless:

They're in Strong Mixed Light
Mixed light is the type that you get against buildings or walls, where there is deep shade for much of the day, and full direct sunlight for the rest of the day.  This is likely to cause scorching since they get used to the acute angle of the sun in cooler months and its abundant shading, only to be shocked by burning sun in summer when the sun beats down from overhead.  

The Nights aren't Cool Enough
Specifically, when nighttime temperatures stay hot, the color bleaching is more pronounced.  
According to the publication: Bromeliads: A Cultural Manual by Bromeliad Society International, 
"The lower range of nighttime temperatures may help bring out leaf colors and markings, especially with neoregelias."
I recently sent some pups of a bilbergia hybrid, neoregelia mottles, dyckia frigida and a quesnelia to Danger Garden, based in Portland Oregon.  Here in Florida the coloration was faded or nonexistent in full sun and bright light, but judging by her photos they are coloring up brighter than I have ever seen, no doubt thanks to Oregon's cooler nights.

They're in a Heat Trap
Planting near concrete and rocks can make it hotter or brighter as well, just as they help to keep the microclimate warmer in winter by absorbing the sun's energy and releasing heat slowly throughout the day and night.  Dark hardscaping absorbs more light, but subsequently releases more heat.  Lighter hardscaping such as concrete reflects the light, releasing less energy at night but stressing the plant with even brighter light than usual.  Of course, the heat releasing properties of stones and concrete is worthwhile when winter rears its ugly head, so don't rule it out.

There isn't Enough Shade
I know, 'full sun' means no shade, right?  Not necessarily.  Remember that direct light in the afternoon is stronger and hotter than morning sun.  The ideal location for any bromeliad is in the "orchid light" under the canopy of a live oak or jacaranda, where they get direct sunlight but in dappled and shifting form, with the line between shadows and light blurred by the distance between the canopy and the ground.  Even commercial growers such as Tropiflora of Sarasota and Tropical World of Boynton Beach (two of my favorites) still use shade cloth over their stock of "full sun" bromeliads.  The color's and forms are still superb, I assure you. 

Its the Wrong Plant
Not all neoregelias are equally suited to full sun.  If they are stressed, relocate to a shadier spot and consider replacing them with spikier types like dyckia, aechmea distichantha, puya or hechtias.  Neoregelia marmorata and concentrica hybrids are among the best neoregelias, but you can make some pretty good guesses based on the leaves.  Here are some tips from Bromeliads for the Contemorary Garden by Andrew Steens.  

For Full Sun:  Try to choose plants that have "... leaves very spiky and succulent in appearance, either green or colored..."

For Nearly Full Sun:  "... leaves heavily colored in red, maroon, yellow, purple aor black and quite leathery..."

Part Shade:  "... leaves mainly green, but quite leathery and tough..." or "leaves highly colored or variegated, but quite glossy, soft and pliable..."

You'll notice that even the neoregelias that most folks (myself included) plant in direct sun are classified in the "nearly full sun" or "part shade"  categories.  Specifically, he says to "Plant where they can get morning or late afternoon sun."

See how bleached the neoregelias are?  They get scorching sun in the afternoon, during the hottest part of the day.

Since this one was under a lady palm, the coloration is much better.  A little shade goes a very long way.

Planting among rocks and concrete also adds heat, so be sure to provide more shade.

To summarize,

-  Mixed light is harsher than part sun.  
-  Leaves are paler when the nights are hot.
-  Planting against concrete and rocks makes it hotter.
-  Light colored concrete and rocks make it brighter.
-  Full sun is relative... provide a little shade.
-  Pick bromeliads with leathery and spiky foliage for full sun.

So what are your experiences?

Heliconia Hirsuta "Costa Flores"

I'm so lucky that these survived my north Florida winter!  These opening inflorescences are only the tip of the iceberg, and about 5 to 6 more bracts will open up on each cane and stay in color for months.  When I purchased the plant early January, there were still attractive bracts on the ragged plants to give me an idea as to how they'd look.

"Costa Flores" has really taken off in the moist soil of my garden after winter, and a little protection has gone a long way.  I ended up having to cut back all of the stems, but regrowth started in no time at all, even as the days were still somewhat cold!  As I've stated in previous posts, this year I'll divide and replant half of the heliconia in a container and protect the other half with heavy mulching and a blanket.

If you grow heliconias yourself, don't forget to use the long lasting spikes for flower arrangements!  These can be pretty pricey at the florist, but by growing your own stock you have the opportunity to harvest as needed!

Here's another one of the blooms, with one of the orange flowers poking out of the first bract!

Here's a shot of the whole plant,  Many more blooms to come!

Even though retailers like Home Depot stock heliconias like this in summer here in Jacksonville, I hear a lot of complaints that they're misrepresented as "Cold Hardy" simply by selling them outside their zone.  It would be a shame if they didn't, since then we wouldn't have the opportunity to try growing them at all!  

Even if you're sure they won't last in your winter, forgo the usual purchase of annuals and get one of these dramatic showstoppers instead.  Plant it by the pool, site it by the front door, or even pot it up so you can move it indoors in freezes!  There is no excuse not to try a heliconia.  They're much easier than you think!