Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tempting Tropicals

During the hot, humid summers of Hampton Roads, it's not surprising that many gardeners are tempted to bring a little piece of island living to their backyards.  And why wouldn't they?  Many tropical plants are known for interesting and brightly colored foliage, brilliant blooms and quick growth.  With the addition of tropical plants, you can transform your backyard into a temporary paradise.

Growing tropical plants can be challenging but if you are willing to make the commitment, the results will be worth the effort.  Of course, some are easier than others.  Some are likely to return each year and others are only here for the interim.  Before choosing your tropical plants be certain to read up on them and discover just what to expect once they are planted.

As always, we have some favorites that you may want to try.

Croton.  Croton is a colorful shrub with leathery leaves that are most colorful in bright light. In low light conditions new leaves will be smaller and less intensely pigmented. . Allow the soil surface to dry between waterings.

Agave.  Among the most architectural plants, agaves feature bold succulent leaves that set the tone for wherever they're planted. They're incredibly heat- and drought-tolerant and most are long-lived. Many varieties bear sharp spines along leave margins and at the leaf tip, which adds to their dramatic presentation. The bluish-green rosettes naturally spread by producing offsets at the base of the plant. It is an excellent choice for sunny, hot, dry areas, especially desert regions, with good drainage.

Elephant's Ears Colocasia Varieties.  Elephant's ears are lush, tropical accents that look good in any climate. These elephant's ears are hardier than their close relatives (alocasias) and their leaves are heart-shape and larger. When summer's warm weather arrives, they grow fast, achieving a large spread of at least 5 feet. Colocasias languish in drought but thrive in wet soils.

Elephant's Ears Alocasia Varieties.  Elephant's ears are big, dramatic, tropical-looking plants grown for their bold foliage. Aptly named, many bear triangular leaves that are leathery and uniquely textured. These tropical plants enjoy the boggy soils around water gardens and can also be grown indoors as houseplants. The clumping foliage adds lush effects in the landscape and is especially effective in large containers. The plants sprout from large bulbous roots and achieve maximum growth in warm, humid summer temperatures.  

Alpinia Purparata.  A clump forming ginger with red spikes for flowers.  Very showy against the shiny green leaves.  Flowers get bigger with time.  They are famous in tropical flower arrangements.  Like most gingers, the plant must be kept warm.  For shaded and sheltered areas only. 

Cherry Jubilee Allamanda.  This evergreen tropical vine blooms during summer and fall.  Glossy point burgundy-brown buds open into flowers with five overlapped petals of an unusual tint of pink, like a cherry dessert.  During a season, allamanda can grow between 9 to 18 feet.  

Pink Velvet Banana (Musa Velutina).  Rarely exceeding six foot tall, the pink velvet banana is a hardy banana that produces small, pink, velvet bananas which peel themselves when ripe.  Filled with seeds, they aren't grown for their fruit.

Rice Paper Plant or Steroidal Giant. (Tetrapanax Papyriferus).  With enormous, dramatic gray-green leaves (2 to 3 foot wide), this plant thrives in full sun and needs very little water or fertilizer.  

Bougainvillea.  Bougainvillea is one of the showiest vines you can grow. The large plant practically smothers itself in big clusters of papery bracts. These bracts appear in bold shades of pink, lavender, red, gold, or orange and create a display you can see a block away.
While bougainvillea is tropical, it's usually grown as an annual in cold-winter areas.

Hibiscus.  Huge, showy blooms are the hallmark of the hibiscus family, whether the flying saucers on hardy perennial hibiscus, the Hawaiian charmers of the tropical hibiscus, or the frilly-flowered Rose of Sharon that grows into a large shrub or small tree. Not only do hibiscus blooms boast an amazing array of colors, vastly widened through hybridizing, they also draw hummingbirds en masse. The newer, dark-leaf introductions are wonderful architectural fillers in container gardens.
Cold-winter gardeners can grow the more tender types of hibiscus in containers and wheel them into the house when winter approaches.  Prune back heavily to encourage blooms, and watch for aphids and whitefly, which are attracted to all forms of hibiscus.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Day...much more than a cookout.

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Dan's would like to remember those who have lost their lives to give us freedom.

Traditional observance of Memorial day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

Memorial Day Trivia:
  • Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who have died serving our country.
  • General John Alexander Logan ordered the Memorial Day holiday to be observed by decorating the war dead.
  • On Memorial Day, the flag should be at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.
  • Red Poppies are recognized as the Memorial Day flower.
  • “Taps” is often played at ceremonies on Memorial Day.
  • Memorial Day was first called “Decoration Day” because of the practice of decorating soldier’s graves with flowers.
  • New York was the 1st state to officially recognize Memorial Day.
  • Flowers and flags are the two most popular items people use to remember soldiers.
  • The south refused to honor the dead on Memorial Day until after World War I when the meaning of Memorial Day changed from honoring civil war dead to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.
  • Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday in 1971.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Range of Hydrangea

Hydrangea have been a favorite of American gardeners since colonial times.  While the shrubs and their foliage can create a cottage feel for any garden, let's admit it...we grow them for the blooms.  Modern hydrangea have evolved quite efficiently, and there are hydrangeas available for every spot in every landscape.  They can be at home just as easily in a container or a small courtyard, as they can in a sprawling landscape.

There are several types of hydrangea.  Arborescens are native to the Eastern US.  Macrophylla, are the well known varieties that allow gardeners to choose bloom color depending on the soil pH.  If you have pink and want blue, add aluminum sulfate.  If your blooms are blue, but you want pink, then add lime.  A new Macrophylla is the Endless Summer which blooms repeatedly on same year growth.  Cityyline Macrophyllas have large blooms and strong stems that keep them from flopping over. Lacecap Macrophyllas have very distinctive blooms Paniculata are more tolerant of sun and are more cold hardy.  Petiolaris is a vine-like climber and Quercifolia has an oak leaf look.

Some of our favorite classics and modern varieties include:

Annabelle.  Its small snowball flowers gradually turn from green to pure white.

Incrediball.  Huge white blooms.

Invincibelle Spirit.  The first pink Annabelle.

Endless Summer.  Blooms repeatedly on same year growth.

Big Daddy.  Very large flowers.

Pia Dwarf.  Smaller plant, with pink color.

Berlin Cityline has the larges flowers of the Cityline varieties.

Vienna Cityline is the smallest growing of the Cityline group.

Twist and Shout Lacecap is a repeat bloomer and an Endless Summer Macrophylla.

Limelight is a sun tolerant variety with a lime-green hue.

Little Lime is the dwarf variety of the Limelight.

Petiolaris is a climber and blooms in the late summer. 

Pee Wee.  A Quercifolia with great fall foliage.

Snow Queen.  A Quercifolia wiht cone shaped flowers.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nothing Says Mom Like A Flower

Flowers have been a traditional Mother's Day Gift since...well, since forever!  But does anyone know how the tradition began?  Or for that matter, how the holiday itself began?  Why yes!  Yes, we do!

In 1908, Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia native began a campaign to establish Mother's Day as a national day of recognition for mothers.  But the idea of giving flowers for Mother's Day started a year earlier when Anna Jarvis brought 500 white carnations to her church one Sunday on the anniversary of her mother's passing.  Why white carnations?  Because they just happened to be her mother's favorite flower.  A fitting tribute, indeed.  She passed all the carnations out to the mothers in her church's congregation and the memorial to her mother was so well received that the very next year, the women joined her in her campaign for the establishment of Mother's Day.

Since that time, the traditional Mother's Day flower remains the carnation, and pink and white carnations each have their own special meaning.  Many girls and women will wear a pink carnation on Mother's Day to show their love for their mothers, while white is worn in respect for mothers no longer living.

If you're looking for a flower with special meaning, try some of these:

Pink Carnation. I'll Never Forget You.

White Carnation.  Sweet and Lovely; Innocence; Pure Love; Woman's Good Luck Gift.

Crocus.  Cheerfulness

Daffodil.  Regard; Unrequited Love; You're the Only One; The Sun is Always Shining When I'm with You.

Daisy.  Innocence; Loyal Love; I'll Never Tell; Purity.

Calla Lily. Beauty.

Orchid.  Love; Beauty; Refinement; Beautiful Lady; Chinese Symbol for Many Children.

Dark Pink Rose.  Thankfulness

Pale Pink Rose.  Grace, Joy.

Red Rose.  Love, Respect.

Yellow Rose.  Joy, Friendship.

Red Tulip.  Believe Me; Declaration of Love.

Variegated Tulip.  Beautiful Eyes.

Yellow Tulip.  There's Sunshine in Your Smile.

Violet.  Modesty.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Virginia Is For Garden Lovers

Virginia has some of the oldest gardens in the country, and they are all an easy drive from South Hampton Roads.  Visiting the gardens of Virginia makes for a lovely weekend trip, and if you truly want to experience it all, you can extend the experience over several days.

Some of the most famous gardens Virginia has to offer are found on the Virginia Is For Lovers website:  

Borrowing from this website, we'll list them and also post some photos to assist you in making your garden travel plans.

Charlottesville - Ash Lawn-Highland was the home of James Monroe and features boxwood gardens overlooking a working farm. Many events throughout the year take place here, such as Plantation Days and the Virginia Wine Festival.

Charlottesville - Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, is an architectural masterpiece with winding paths bordered by flowers and beautiful oval-shaped flowerbeds. Documentary evidence suggests that Jefferson grew approximately 105 species of herbaceous flowers!

Chase City - MacCallum More Museum and Gardens features an arboretum, herb, wildflower, rose and themed gardens as well as nine fountains and eclectic imported works of art.

Lynchburg - The Anne Spencer House and Garden was home to the internationally acclaimed poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The garden served as an inspiration for much of her poetry and may be toured by appointment only.

Lynchburg - Old City Cemetery features a butterfly garden, lotus pond and a garden of 19th-century shrubs and roses. The gates are open daily, dawn to dusk.

Montpelier Station - Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison features a 200-year-old-growth forest as well as a landscape arboretum, beautiful restored formal gardens all overlooking the breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Madison described his home as "a squirrel's jump from Heaven."

Richmond - Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden features more than 25 acres of gardens, including a children's garden with colorful plants and shrubs to attract butterflies, birds and other nectar.

Richmond - Maymont is a 100-acre Victorian country estate. Visitors can wander the geometrically shaped beds in the Italian Garden and enjoy the relaxing noise from the cascade fountain, designed from a similar feature in the Villa Torlonia near Rome.

Richmond - Not far from Maymont, visitors experience a step further back in time when they visit Agecroft Hall, the Tudor estate that originally stood in Lancashire, England, and re-constructed on the rolling banks of the James River. Agecroft's grounds include the fragrance garden a sunken garden that's modeled after the pond garden at Hampton Court Palace in England.

Richmond - Next door to Agecroft Hall is Virginia House, a reconstructed 12th-century priory also dismantled and brought to Richmond from England in 1925. Terraced gardens overlook the James River. This property was awarded a medallion commendation by the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2000, one of few properties in Virginia to receive this award.

Richmond - Less than ten miles west of Virginia House is Tuckahoe Plantation, the boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson. The rambling gardens are beautiful from March through October and visitors are welcome to peruse them from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year 'round. The mansion, however, is only available for tours by appointment and during special events.

These are just a few of Virginia's beautiful historic gardens.  There are so many more plantations, historic homes and amazing museums that open up their gardens to visitors.  We'll highlight more on another post.