Make it green: Heartfelt thanks — and a look toward summer

There is but one way for your Design Pundit to learn reader reaction to columns, and that’s the quantity of e-mail — always welcome — or phone calls. Of more than 150 columns, two were especially appreciated by my readers. The first was my Thanksgiving piece last year on gratitude.

No column engendered more response, though, than last week’s piece about our beloved Ying Yang’s tragic passing. Dozens of e-mails, cards, flowers and phone calls by readers brought both Suzie and me to tears. These condolences are appreciated more than I can ever say. We have only this inadequate, heartfelt response to all: Thank you.

Remember this, too, please: This Sunday is the 27th annual National Meat Out Day. Give it some thought: for your health, and also to stop beastly treatment of animals. In the New York Times last Wednesday, Food Editor Mark Bittman wondered provocatively why we protect our companions but torture and abuse “factory” animals. Why, indeed?

Yankee, go home!

Recent columns about winter flowers got me thinking. Finding dependable, low-maintenance, flowering plants for my snowbird clients is an important part of my work.

Now, though, the Yankees are going home! And guess what? We have six months of glorious warm weather, empty beaches and very warm water. Our winter friends are never exposed to the very best that Florida has to offer because these plants need the very warm and humid weather. So, this week, and before they go, let’s just rub it in and show them what they are missing, shall we?

Like peeling a banana, winter gently slips into spring here in southern Florida. Fragrances are among the early signs; the citrus trees and night blooming jessamine come immediately to mind.

Flowers have been creeping up on us: Many of the vines begin flowering in winter, carrying flowers for months into spring. The Clerodendrum genus is generous, with C. thomsoniae being mentioned here before. Several other vines flower throughout spring and into summer: royal climber (Oxera pulchella), queen’s wreath (Petrea), and the stunning golden chalice (Stigmaphyllon sagraeanum).

The candy corn vine (Wagatea spicata) is new to me. I have never grown this delicate vine that reminds me of those tooth-shaped candies with orange at the top, fading to yellow and then white. Mentioning this plant breaks one of my cardinal rules: Never mention a plant unless I have had direct experience with the critter. However, in this case there are several beautiful specimens over at Fairchild Tropic Botanical Gardens in Coral Gables. I am not sure if our own Naples Botanical Garden has an individual, though.

A few more: powderpuff, aloe, flame of Jamaica, peregrina, shaving brush tree, desert senna and the native necklace pod. Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii), too, belongs on this list, but be careful to use the right variety. And the tropicals! heliconia, ginger… summer will be busy for your Design Pundit.

The old standards

When I really need to work free of distractions, some of my favorite music comes from an album called “Aternus,” the best jazz vocals of timeless music from the torch singers. Yes, each new vocalist brings unique interpretation, but the underlying solidity of the music and lyrics do indeed carry the day. Diana Krall’s heart-wrenching “Cry Me A River,” for example, becomes a brand new song, a completely updated version of the much older renditions of Frank Sinatra or Dinah Washington. They have in common this: Both vocalists freely express the full range of nuanced material.

And lest you think this music was popular when I was young, it was not. It is simply the quality that attracts me, like many of the plants that we see around. And what better examples than three commonly used, and abused, plants?

Thryallis is appreciated for a huge show of golden flowers that continues all summer, beginning in spring. Alas, this shrub is rarely allowed full measure; it wants to be a 6-foot-by-6 foot shrub and is glorious in maturity but is so often sheared that the essential character is missing. One merely need look around in the medians for examples of abuse.

And so, too, plumbago, a sometimes problematic plant of similar size but with the added benefit of lovely arching branches. Both of these popular shrubs should never planted unless allowed full size. Hamelia, too, is in this category. The sausage tree is a reliable object of fascination. Seagrape flowers and fruits heavily in early summer. Fancy butterflies? My colleague Mike Malloy is an expert on this. I offer these examples: lantana, pentas, ruellia, giant milkweed and many more. Last week, I discussed many of the deciduous trees now coming into leaf and bloom: Tabebuia and queen’s crape myrtle are among the strongest. Let these harbingers exemplify the glorious and colorful summer to come.

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

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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