Over the years, your Design Pundit has focused on form and function in planting design; the mantra of logical and defensible planting schemes has been a central theme.
Now comes an e-mail from a reader, asking “Isn’t there room for whimsy in garden design?”
Answer: Yes! And why not? All the while talking about form and function, the underlying message is creating a design that bears an artistic message. What could be more mischievous than creating a corner of the garden with plants that all create red flowers?
The notion already brings a smile to my face. So, let’s look at some candidates.
Start with Ceiba bombax, the silk floss tree, which produces glorious red flowers and seed pods in December and January. This tree is deciduous for about eight weeks or so, and it’s worth it when you see a triumphant red-covered tree returning as an old friend, exuberant and wanting all to know “I’m back”! There is a lovely example in Pine Ridge Estates near the intersection of Gordonia Drive and Ridge Drive, easily viewable from the street.
And what about our own native Acer rubrum? Hardly a better tree exists in our neck of the woods for fall color than the swamp red maple. There is some variation; some are showier than others, and some have an orangish hue. Recommended for our area is Red Sunset or October Glory. It’s true that this tree prefers a wetter location and doesn’t do well with very alkaline soils, so find the right spot. There’s also the advantage of a deciduous tree allowing the warming sun through in winter but shading in the summer.
And don’t forget our own Coccoloba uvifera! The seagrape can show stunning fall color with very large red leaves.
What else is red? Hibiscus! This isn’t a plant that I often use for a variety of reasons: It’s short-lived and prone to many diseases. But, heck. You only live once, right? What’s wrong with having at least one hibiscus? And do not plant those odious “tree-form” hibiscus plants. We do want to respect our plants, don’t we?
There are so many varieties of hibiscus that choice is largely determined by local availability or by online purchasing. My own preference is for large, single flowers, the ones that we used to eat as a kid growing up in Hawaii. Try Black Dream or the stunning Chariots of Fire from this site:
Another wonderful red hibiscus is grown by this page:
Have a look on it at Hot Fire, for example, for a red-to-purple flower. Do browse both of these sites for state of the art in hibiscus varieties.
Looking for more natives? Have a look around town at the wonderful Jatropha multifida that are in full bloom on the North Trail at Pelican Bay. These are mature coral plants, about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Perhaps too delicate for a street tree, these wonderful plants are detailed in every particularity, perfect in containers or around a patio, where a closer view provides endless interest and where they attract wildlife. Commonly called coral plant, these patio trees show a small, deep red flower in uncountable numbers. Culturally, coral plant will require a bit of very straightforward training as it grows to achieve the patio tree look. Be sure that this plant receives plenty of sun.
Vines? Crave vines, do you? From the ever-generous Clerodendrum genus comes C. thompsoniae, the bleeding heart vine that keeps on giving. Be sure to acquire an individual with predominantly red flowers: You will be rewarded with this plant even in light shade. My own is grown in an espalier protected by oak trees and blooms profusely. The leaves are too large, though, for the espalier: Even your Design Pundit occasionally misses a call! Leaves are interesting, though, about
2.5 inches long.
Certainly we want bougainvillea in this collection. There’s no better red bougainvillea than James Walker. Is that red too loud, you say? Do look at Imperial Delight, with bracts shading from near white to a lovely transparent pinkish-red.
For a little variety, there’s Elizabeth Angus, a robust vine with very deep purple bracts.
Of course, remember the dependable ground cover form of bougainvillea: Helen Johnson is a deep red, nearly purple, a very heavy bloomer and easy to maintain at 24 inches or so, as I have done in my own gardens.
Now, Garden Lieutenants! Are you whimsically seeing red?
Don’t forget! Michael’s classes start in the first week of November. Go to the website www.msadesign.com for more information. E-mail Michael Spencer: firstname.lastname@example.org.