Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Tropical Cottage Garden?

When you think of a cottage garden, you probably envision something with a distinctly English vibe.  (Or at least I do.)  Many of the plants we associate with the classic (English) cottage garden thrive in a climate with summers that simply don't include the same levels of heat (and let's not forget humidity) "enjoyed" in the Deep South.  Some gardeners may be able to baby those plants through the summer, but for most of us, that's simply not practical.  And really, who wants to spend so much time catering to the needs of a plant that just doesn't want to be there-- especially when there are many other plants that can thrive under the same conditions?  Having a few special plants you cherish and coddle is one thing, but a garden filled with "special snowflakes"?  No thanks. 

So-- for that reason-- I'm reconciling myself to a cottage garden with the occasional (more or less) tropical element.  Tropical-looking plants may not be my first love, but they're growing on me.

A number of the plants already in our garden have a tropical feeling.  Sago palms, for instance-- crinum lilies, white spider lilies, white butterfly ginger, and night-blooming jasmine.  Then there are so many of the plants that have "Mexican" in their common names:  Mexican petunia, red Mexican ruellia, and Mexican purple sage.  All of them look like they'd be at home a little closer to the Equator.  This year, I've already added clumping bamboo and elephant ears, both of which amp up that tropical ambiance. 

Tropical Foliage

As of yesterday morning, a few more heat- and steam-loving plants are now stretching out their roots in our garden.  All of them exude an exotic, hot-house atmosphere, and all are supposed to be well-suited to coastal Alabama.

First, we have a relative of the white butterfly ginger-- but this one has raspberry/coral-pink flowers:  Hedychium coronarium 'Elizabeth'.  The scent is described as "honeysuckle-like".  I'll be very interested to see if it's significantly different from the lovely fragrance of the pass-along white butterfly ginger.  Even if not, it will be nice to have some variety in the color of the blooms.

Hedychium 'Elizabeth'

Another Hedychium is also among the newcomers:  Hedychium thyrsiforme 'Pin Cushion'.  I was interested to read that this one comes from the Himalayas.  All the Hedychiums in our garden are fall-bloomers, which is nice.  So many things have stopped blooming by then or are looking completely exhausted at the end of summer.  "Pincushion ginger" is grown more for its looks (broader, darker leaves and unusual flower shape) than for fragrance, which is reportedly very weak compared to that of butterfly ginger.

'Pin Cushion' Butterfly Ginger

This plant was one of the most root-bound I've ever seen.  It had also stretched its pot to the point that it had started to pop open.  I cut off the pot to avoid damaging the plant, and then I hacked it in two-- er, I mean, I delicately separated in into two portions with surgical skill.  ;o)  I placed the second piece on the other side of where the fence will eventually go.

'Pin Cushion' Butterfly Ginger

The other two new arrivals are also members of the ginger family, but instead of Hedychium, they are both Curcuma.

Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever' gets its colorful name from the eye-catching red stems and midrib.  Curcuma gingers are commonly known as "hidden ginger", because the flowers of some species appear close to the ground and are somewhat hidden by the foliage.  'Scarlet Fever' has a reputation as a shy bloomer, but plenty of people grow it more for its interesting foliage than for flowers.

Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever'

The other Curcuma ginger-- Curcuma elata 'Giant Plume'-- is an early bloomer, with flowers appearing in spring.  (Well, actually, I've read conflicting reports.  Some say this is the earliest blooming of the gingers.  Other sources report blooms around Mother's Day.  It's possible that that is early for gingers.  It just doesn't sound especially early to me.)  After blooming, the foliage becomes the focal point for this plant.  It can get pretty tall-- up to 6 or 7 feet or more, potentially.  The leaves have some slight variation in color in the veins and midribs, can be impressively large (up to 2 feet long), and are a little fuzzy on the underside.

Curcuma Elata

All of the gingers above came from the Mobile Botanical Gardens "Ginger Jubilee" sale.  They had quite a few other plants besides gingers, too, but we mostly limited ourselves to gingers, since that's what we'd gone for.  The only other purchase that day was the pink echinacea from the previous post.

The next two plants are also part of the developing shade garden, but they came from the garden section of Old Time Pottery.  (That's also where we got the viburnum we planted last year.)  I'd been thinking about heucheras for a while, but I get the impression they're not common in home center nurseries.  (Or maybe I've looked at the wrong time of year...)  In any case, they had two interesting varieties at Old Time Pottery, so I'm giving them a try.

Heuchera (also called "coral bells") is a flowering perennial, but its real claim to fame is its colorful foliage.  There are many (many many many) cultivars available, though I would guess that most are not readily available at the corner store and have to be ordered from a specialized collection.  They can live in sun or shade, but partial sun is supposed to be ideal (for the ones I'm growing, at least).

I'm hopeful these will do well.  Both are described as being tolerant of heat and humidity, so that's a good start.

First, we have Heuchera 'Carnival Plum Crazy':

Heuchera 'Carnival Plum Crazy'

Heuchera 'Carnival Plum Crazy'

Heuchera 'Carnival Plum Crazy'

And then there's Heuchera 'Georgia Peach':

Heuchera 'Georgia Peach'

Heuchera 'Georgia Peach'

Heuchera 'Georgia Peach'

...And here are a few photos of the (semi)shade garden as it now stands.  There's plenty of room for expansion, here, not to mention room for soil improvement.  Part of it hasn't even been mulched recently, as you can see, and the soil is far too sandy for its own good.  It's the result of building up the grade for the house and septic pad.  At least it drains well... No problem with lingering puddles unless we've been experiencing truly extraordinary rainfall. 

I've been amending the soil directly around plantings, but I know it needs more work.  This autumn/winter, I want to top dress with as many leaves as I can lay hands on.  In the empty spots (not too near anything already planted), I'm going to try "trench composting", too, with kitchen scraps.

New Ginger Lilies

Shade Garden in Progress

Shade Garden in Progress

New Heucheras / Coral Bells

New Ginger Lily

It's funny how much sparser things look in photos than in my mind's eye.  Well, with luck and a little water, they'll fill out with time, and if the coral bells succeed, I wouldn't mind collecting a few more, so a little extra room might come in handy...