Thursday, August 14, 2014

In Praise of Gingers

When people ask for something tropical in their garden, I often think to mention gingers straight off. Whether it's one of the popular Alpinia species such as A. Zerumbet or A. galanga or the many species in the Hedychium genus, gingers are a wonderful way to add tropical foliage and flowers to one's garden. I have four in my garden, the aforementioned Alpinia Zerumbet (see photo below) and three Hedychiums -- gardnerianum (Kahili ginger), greenei (Red ginger) and coronarium (Butterfly ginger). The latter three are in a tropical mini-garden I've created and the Zerumbet has carved out a home in a median strip. One little known fact, except to plant geeks, is that gingers and bananas belong to the same Order (Zingiberales). This order also contains Cannas and Birds of Paradise.
Here are more photos from my garden, now well into its summer garments. Summer vines such as Mandevillas and Passifloras are beginning to flower and lower to the ground summer color is being provided by Mimulus, Agastache, Dahlias, Arctotis and some colorful annuals.

Here's a new Coleus I just brought home called Wizard Pineapple (of course it is). A good way to brighten up a shady area and in our mild Oakland zone, it will do its thing well into December.

Speaking of shade, Browallia is a great way to add little heads of vivid purple. Sweet. They're pretty easy too, just plant 'em, give 'em a little water and they're happy as clams.

Okay, I resisted for the longest time but I've now become a 'fern fanatic.' This guy is commonly called Squirrel Foot fern but it's white, furry rhizomes look a great deal more like tarantulas to me. Well behaved tarantulas.

Add Leycesteria formosa to the list of plants that are mysteriously absent from most people's gardens. Called Himalayan honeysuckle because of where it hails from and the fact its flowers exude a subtle fragrance, this vigorous shrub will get 6-8' tall and wide. I have it contained so it doesn't get carried away. Mine is the Golden Lanterns variety, offering chartreuse foliage. I think the dangling panicles of flowers look like little pagodas.

Ruellia elegans. This little part shade charmer has the most vivid red flowers. If you look closely you can see fine white hairs covering the buds. A good way to add a splash of color.

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm a big Plectranthus fan. They're tough, shade-tolerant and interesting so what's not to like? Here's a little variegated P. caninus called Mike's Fuzzy Wuzzy. Hey, I had to add it to my garden just for the name alone. It's one of the stinky ones but that just adds to its oddball charm.

This Justicia nearly gave up the ghost but miraculously bounced back. 

The flower may not be familiar but look at the foliage. Yes, it's a Mallow member. Okay open the envelope and the answer is ... Pavonia missionum. Don't be hard on yourself. This plant is rarely cultivated (thanks to Susan Ashley) and hard to find. It hails from Argentina  and can get to five feet tall. Sometimes known as Red Mallow or Orange Hibiscus.

'Snaps' may be common but that doesn't mean they aren't beautiful. I love the orange and apricot tones on this guy.

Okay, I'll admit that I go gaga over Tweedia caerulea. It's baffling to me why this milkweed member isn't on everyone's XMas list. Again, very few people growing it (thanks for this specimen go to Barb Siegel). True blue flowers, long blooming, tough. I rest my case.

Another rare plant that many will not have heard of, Cunonia capensis is a tree native to South Africa. It comes across its common name, Butterknife tree, due to spoon-like stipules that open to new, coppery leaves. Odd but oh so beautiful.

Back to the common, here's a shot of my Penstemon 'Apple Blossom.' I have lots of hummers in my garden and I swear they fly in my house at night and whisper to me while I'm asleep "Plant more penstemons!"

Here's one of the flowers on the aforementioned Alpinia 'Zerumbet.' It gets its common name, Shell ginger, from these shell-shaped flowers. They're alabaster white on the outside, are ringed with yellow on the inside then feature patterned red nectaries. 

Filipendula ulmaria aurea. Another tough deciduous shrub that is curiously absent from most people's gardens. Known as Meadowsweet, this is a great choice where you want a compact shrub. And the 'Aurea' adds that fab chartreuse color to the simple white flowers.

Haworthia species. There are many haworthias, taking a multitude of forms, but the so called "stained glass" haworthias, featuring translucent leaves, are one of the prettiest.

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