Fall is Full of Flowers

While much of the country is closely checking their forecasts for the next helpings of snow and frost, fall in Florida is a gardener's dream. We don't get to enjoy the blazing colors of fall leaves, but we Florida gardeners are also too entranced by the still burgeoning blooms to really complain. It's bittersweet knowing that a frost will blot out the color within months, but now is the time to be thankful; to celebrate a second spring of garden color.

'Ice Cream' banana peeks out from an informal privacy screen. This planting is almost maintenance free.
My tropical corner of zone 9a, planted with cold hardy bromeliads and palms.

Passionflowers bloom behind red spires of firespike.

Since 'my' garden is thirty minutes away at my mother's house, I don't get to enjoy it as a typical gardener would. I usually visit my sanctuary after work, checking on my plants with the aid of a flashlight while my family patiently waits for me to show up to the dinner table. Weeds proliferate and bromeliads disappear in my absence, and I'll often end up trying to tame the unruly passionflower vines in the last moments of daylight. Yesterday I was able to wander around the garden in (more or less) daylight, the way it was meant to be experienced.

A few weeds never hurt anyone.
I spend more time keeping these beautiful morning glories in check than anything else!

It's important for you guys to know that I only tend to this garden every few weeks, because a lot of people seem to have this crazy idea that gardens require constant attention to look halfway decent. Wrong! Sure, there is a 'living mulch' of dandelions in a few places where there should be groundcovers or wood chips, but the beds are so densely planted with prolific tropicals that the weeds aren't given much territory to conquer. While I walk around the garden, errant passionflower tendrils are ripped out and the yellowing leaves of my deciduous gingers are cut to the ground. I remove a few branches from the bottlebrush trees and weeping yaupon hollies to maintain their shapes, but never much more than that.

These figs weren't as tasty as the breva crop earlier in the year. I wonder why.

I can't grow vegetables without finding them dead on the next visit, so everything in this garden was planted to thrive on weeks of neglect and survive under extreme circumstances. The backyard suffered from drought this summer, while other summers drowned it in flooding rain. We suffer from hard freezes almost every winter, and temperatures never fail to reach a hundred degrees in summer. Traditional edibles are out of the question with my busy schedule, but unusual plants like lemongrass, arrowroot, galangal, turmeric and fig trees never complain about my absence. To tell you the truth, I have suspicions that they don't even notice me when I'm there.

These bottlebrush trees are finally beginning to look like trees and the firespike is blooming like crazy.

The clump of Alocasia 'California' is miniscule this year, thanks to the drought.

Black Tropicanna is a star performer this year.

The clerodendrum in the background is from my friend Penny!

Colocasia 'Elena' reverting back to its mottled 'Mojito' roots.

Even in drought, this established Alpinia nutans (cinnamon ginger) is taking over the philodendron.

Better late than never! Billbergia pyramidalis provides some intense color to the courtyard.

Tibouchina urvilleana (princess flower) contrasts brightly with the firespike.

Fall is a wonderful time in my garden, because the flowers are in full force and the foliage of tropical plants like gingers and alocasias are lushest before the freezes of winter. I was treated to rare treats such as a late bloom on my Billbergia pyramidalis bromeliad, and consistently loud flowers like those of the black Tropicanna, firespikes, tibouchina, glorybower and passionflowers.

Even without the fall foliage, there are still other cues to the changing season that northerners would appreciate. Bright red berries are beginning to obscure the foliage of my holly trees, providing convenient 'cut flowers' for the table as well as food for the birds. My mom's potted hydrangea's faded flowers are coloring up to a papery rose, and big sycamore leaves are making their way to our yard from around the block. I happily rake them up and create a natural blanket of mulch for my tropical plants to prepare for the coming winter.


  1. it's too bad the morning glories are a nuisance because they sure are pretty. black tropicanna is so striking! hadn't seen that before. the foliage is great with that flower color.

  2. I marvel at your wet rained garden, especially your red berries - wished I could have them "blazing" my garden.


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!