Make it green: September not necessarily a quiet month

What’s blooming in September? That kind of talk sure gets the Design Pundit’s engine running. Do you know what else gets him going? Flowering vines, that’s what.

Five delicious flowering plants are in bloom this week, none of them particularly difficult even for the beginning gardener. Let’s start with three terrific vines.

Costa Rica Nightshade (Solanum wendlandii): You say you like purple? And huge bunches of flowers? Have I got the vine for you. This is a woody vine — thorny, fast growing, with huge heads of deep lilac flowers becoming a round yellow fruit — which I’ve never seen, except in the literature. This vine likes to scramble, and be prepared to prune periodically, which not only shapes it but encourages flowers.

Costa Rican nightshade is part of the notoriously misunderstood Solanaceae or nightshade family. Related plants include tomatoes, and eggplant, as well as paprika, chili pepper, petunia, and tobacco, and many others. Wikipedia calls this large family of more than 1,500 plants “characteristically ethnobotanical,” meaning it is highly used by people. Inevitably, there are a few bad actors, but none of the aforementioned vegetables need be avoided for any perceived endemic issue with nightshade. Don’t eat this vine, though.

Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum thompsoniae) has become one of my go-to vines because it will thrive in sun or light shade. It is also amenable to trellis or espalier work; one growing in my garden in an interesting pattern will be ready to photograph in the spring. This is a mostly herbaceous and fast-growing vine.

Flowering is less profuse in shade, true, but on the other hand very often a site has both conditions and I want a vine. This genus contains many plants, both vines and shrubs — all of the species that I know show flowers. There is some inter-generic crossing, and there are several developed varieties, resulting in several interesting variations of leaf and flower color. This vine can present itself as mostly white with purple, or the opposite, so be sure you get what you want.

Rangoon creeper (Quisqualis indica) is a rare woody vine from Southeast Asia with groups of drooping red flowers — sometimes with a quite large number. The flowers have a very appealing fragrance. Along with a few related species, Rangoon creeper is used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhea and to expel parasites; roots are said to be effective against rheumatism. Whatever the health benefits, this is a reliable vine with lighter green leaves. One word of warning: This is a true tropical, not to be planted north of Zone 10A.

Add these shrubs

A couple of large shrubs flowering in September come to mind as well. You have likely seen both of these and perhaps not thought of them as ornamental plants. They are really terrific for use in very large background spaces where you want a big billowing plant to screen or serve as a backdrop.

Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida) is a coarse-textured plant often planted in a variegated red-and-green form. Long red panicles, perhaps

6 inches long, droop in groups, looking something like the tail of a small cat. But this beauty is much more valuable than enjoying flowers: It is about as maintenance-free as shrubs ever get and is superb for large-scale plantings or screenings. In my garden, I have a fence beyond the fruit trees, covered with this plant, which is now about 8 feet tall and about as deep. It is perfect. I’ve never touched them since planting a few years ago.

Necklace pod (Sophora tomentosa) is a wonderful and under-utilized native showing bright yellow flowers. The issue with this plant is indecisiveness: The plant wants to be either a small tree or a large shrub and will not decide, resulting in a brambly-looking mass. This is fine for screening in areas not normally inspected closely in the garden. And this is a large plant, easily reaching 15 feet or so and 10 feet deep, so don’t plant too many of them.

Meet the pundit

About three years ago, I started learning Spanish in Collier Adult Education program (www.collieradulted.com). The program is run by the animated and ebullient Taylor Baker, a man with infectious enthusiasm for the program.

I caught the “bug,” and will offer two courses this fall, each running six weeks and held at Barron Collier High School. It is something I love to do. My sequential design approach to residential design will help you either plan your own home or understand how to upgrade. The class will be offered on Thursday evenings, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

I am also offering a course called “What IS That Plant?” So many of our residents are excellent gardeners “up north” but lost down here, and this course will help them and complete novices as well learn the plants in our environment. And, of course, a few not-so-common plants. The class will be Monday evenings, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. I hope to see all of my readers there!

Michael Spencer, ASLA, has been practicing landscape architecture for 27 years and is president of MSA Design, Inc. Website: www.msadesign.com

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