With the extra hour delivered back to us in the time change, our annual ritual involves driving out to Corkscrew Swamp, where I spend most of my trip looking at plants, while Suzie looks for birds, and each points out the interesting things to the other. This year’s greatest find? The ghost orchid, in full bloom in November: This same plant also bloomed in March, when normally we expect this orchid to flower in mid-summer.
But first, a sidebar, please: Do have a long, relishing look at the Sabal Palms planted as street trees on the south side of Pine Ridge Road, east of Airport. Savor them! These sabals of course replace the Cassia previously planted there. The poor Cassias blew over, a tendency understood apparently by everyone except the specifying landscape architect. The mirth never ends.
And now, to business:
With this week, we start a series on winter flowers. During the first week or two of each month I’ll do a column on “what’s in bloom” (unless other news gets in the way; your Design Pundit is a very diversified DP, after all).
Flowers? In November?
One of the most frequent questions I am asked is this: How do we get plants that will produce magnificent flowers in the winter? After all, that’s when lots of people are in Naples, and brown is about the last thing they want to see — plenty of that back home. It’s the case that most of our plants flower in the summer, but winter does not leave us high and dry at all.
Where better to start than Senna surrattensis? Cassia is a wonderful patio tree (previously Cassia spp.). There are many examples around of this terrific little tree, but did you know that this is actually a large flowering shrub? That describes, at least partly, why the tree-form tends to be weak and sensitive to high winds.
When this plant is allowed to reach full expression you will find a riot of yellow about 10 feet high and as many feet wide. Consider planting Cassia as a backdrop. Or, if you cannot resist the tree-form, as I can’t, keep it in a sheltered area in defense of heartbreak. Limb-break. Whatever.
Is there a more romantic name in the plant kingdom than ‘Ylang Ylang’? Pronunciation is simple: EE-lang EE-lang. And add to the romance the perfume essence produced by this tree.
Ylang ylang is a quite fast growing tree, able to leap 10 feet or so a year, eventually reaching perhaps 30 feet or more. The tree prefers a slightly acidic soil, although in my own experience it is quite tolerant of our basic soils. Look for a green-yellow flower about 8” long, drooping from the stem. And there is a dwarf variety with hugely scented flowers.
Silk floss tree
A huge tropical tree that never fails to fascinate, Ceiba speciosa is too large for most residential spaces but interesting none the less. Look for the characteristic light-colored bark with sharp spikes. Silk floss is an unusual deciduous tropical tree, putting on a show of pink flowers against a clear blue sky. Recently, varieties have been produced that will stun the market in a year or two.
Look for this tree in several locations: at a residence near the intersection of Ridge Drive and Gordonia Road, and again along 41 at Pelican Bay, across from Covenant Presbyterian Church. Don’t miss them.
Winner of the Insulted Shrub of the Decade Award, Thryallis is lovely when left to pursue a natural form. Regrettably, most of the time we see it badly sheared, looking like the plant came from a giant tube of toothpaste — Stripe, I think.
Approach this plant with respect and it will yield huge benefits. Allow a 6- by 6-foot space and you will be rewarded with billions of small yellow flowers. And, if you must cut it back occasionally, it is quite forgiving.
Oh, do the Native Nazis ever sing paeans to this plant! And rightfully, too, at least in this instance. This fine textured plant we know as firebush will reward both you and the local hummingbirds with flowers nearly all summer and with a flush in November. And like thryallis, this plant is bigger than most apparently realize. I have 6 plants in a 10- by 20-foot space: the same size as a parking island. They fill the entire island and never “weep” over the pavement.
Life is sweet.
If you missed muhly grass blooms, you have been texting while driving Stop it. These long, feathery, pinkish blooms extend perhaps a few foot above the ubiquitous Muhly grass and make fine cuts, too. See them in roadway medians on Goodlette Road and in many other places. This is an amazingly simple plant, highly recommended for monocultural beds.
And now. Go forth and plant.
And don’t forget to visit Michael’s website and blog: www.msadesign.com, where he recounts experiences at Fairchild Garden’s Ramble last weekend.