Tropical Florida Gardens - What's in Bloom at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates?

Tropical Florida Gardens

What's in Bloom at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates?

Grow cut Flowers to Enjoy Indoors

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 3rd

Summer is a great time of year to snip flowers from the garden and bring inside to enjoy all day long! They can add both a lovely fragrance and cheerful colors to your home, and if you’re feeling patriotic, a vase full of red, white and blue blooms will complement your holiday décor!

There are countless plants that can be used for cut flowers. The demonstration gardens in the Garden Shoppe at Edison & Ford Winter Estates includes a wonderful display of annuals in raised beds. Many of these flowers are long-time northern favorites, such as Zinnias, Marigolds, Sunflowers and Snapdragons.

Flowers for cutting can be grown all year long in Southwest Florida, and many provide repeat blooms in a variety of colors. Because our winters are generally mild, seeds can even be sown in prepared soil during the cooler months, so by springtime the garden is full of beautiful blooms.

Cut flowers don’t have to be grown in a garden spot reserved just for them – seeds can be mixed in with vegetables and herbs. For example, Cosmos seeds can be grown between rows of beans and tomatoes to add a splash of color. Gardening from seed is also very economical, as a packet of seeds usually only costs a few dollars and the amount of flowers harvested is well worth it!

To make sure your garden will be successful, it’s important to prepare the site properly before planting seeds. With raised beds, the best soil possible can be used for plants that require a rich, loamy growing medium. Florida’s sandy soil is not conducive to holding the amount of water or nutrients that most cut flowers require. It’s a good idea to fill garden beds with a mixture of compost, planting mixes, worm castings and cow manure to employ nutrient and water-holding capabilities.

Raised beds can be made with 4×4 or 6×6 pressure-treated wood boards (the wood is now treated with copper instead of arsenic) stacked on top of each other to create a place to sit down. If you don’t want to build a flower bed, you can use Smart Pots made of a geo-textile material that’s BPA free. There are many reasons for using this system of diverse containers that are available in many sizes and shapes. Long beds with built in partitions can perform just like a wooden raised bed for half the cost. Fabric-made pots are also breathable, flexible and lightweight.

When choosing what to grow, it is important to select seeds from a reputable seed catalog or garden center. Many seed catalogs offer seeds from flowers that are not readily available as potted plants. For example, Dara (a flower similar to Queen Anne’s Lace) is not sold in pots, but grows easily from seed.

The Edison Ford Garden Shoppe has Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Renee’s Garden Seeds for sale all year long. Native Florida wildflower seeds also are regularly available. A ticket is not required for the Garden Shoppe area, so you can stop by as often as you like to see the cut flower and butterfly demonstration gardens and get ideas for your own little piece of paradise!

Gardening for Butterflies

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 7th

Perhaps you’ve seen some butterflies in your garden and wondered how you could attract more of them. Debbie Hughes, senior horticulturist at Edison & Ford Winter Estates, will talk about butterflies that can be found here in Southwest Florida and which plants you need to attract them to your garden, at the next Garden Talk.

It’s important to know which butterflies already exist in and around your neighborhood. If you live in Southwest Florida, you are not going to be able to attract a butterfly that only resides in California. Once you learn which butterflies are in your area, you can concentrate on the plants that each one needs for survival.  

There are two categories of plants that every butterfly garden must have: host plants and nectar plants. Host plants are the ones that butterflies lay eggs on and the caterpillars (larval stage) eat. Nectar plants are simply plants that butterflies will visit for nectar. Both types of plants are essential for butterflies to exist.

Butterflies have very specific requirements for the host plant; some will only lay their eggs on one type of plant. Keep in mind that these plants will get eaten – sometimes every leaf on the plant will be devoured by very hungry caterpillars. Don’t worry, the plants can handle it and new leaves will form in a short amount of time.

Nectar requirements are not as specific. Some butterflies have favorite nectar sources, but generally, they will visit many different flowers for the sweet, energy-packed, sugary liquid. Some butterflies have color preferences, some like flying low across the yard and others like to fly high amongst tree tops. To attract a wide range of butterflies, it’s a good idea to offer a variety of flower colors and plants that grow at different heights, including ground covers, shrubs and trees. 

To learn about the butterflies of Southwest Florida and how to create a butterfly garden that they won’t be able to resist, come to the Garden Talk on June 9 at 10 a.m. at Edison & Ford Winter Estates. The cost of the workshop is $15 ($10 for Edison Ford members) and all participants will receive a 20% discount coupon for use toward Garden Shoppe purchases. Many different types of host and nectar plants will be available.

Research Continues with Edison’s Plants

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 14th

Although Thomas Edison’s research of rubber plants ended long ago, the plants on his estate still assist others around the world with their botanical research. Our plants are inventoried regularly by the Plant Curator and then included in the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) PlantSearch database, the only global database of plant species in botanic gardens and formal institutions. The database allows researchers to contact gardens holding specific plants and request material. For example, in November 2016, a PhD student from the University of Campinas in Brazil contacted our Plant Curator via the BGCI database and requested seeds from strawberry guava, Psidium cattleianum ‘littorale’. In July 2017, we mailed approximately 50 seeds from two of our guava trees to the PhD student. She will use the seeds for a genetic study and update us with results when her work is completed. Edison Ford is proud to participate in the BGCI program and will continue to provide plant materials to researchers when possible.

Fort Myers: City of Poincianas?

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On May 31st

Royal poinciana blooming on the Edison Ford property in Ft. Myers.

Have you noticed the bright orange-red flowers adorning many trees in Southwest Florida lately? That’s probably the royal poinciana, Delonix regia, that you’re seeing. Did you know that these trees might have lined our beloved McGregor Boulevard instead of today’s royal palms?

Soon after Thomas Edison purchased his Fort Myers property in 1885, he sketched a landscape plan for the grounds, which was bisected by a dusty cattle trail that is now McGregor Boulevard. As you can read on the sketch above, he wrote, “Royal Poinciana shade trees both sides of street”. However, royal palms were planted at Edison’s expense starting in 1907. Additional royal palms were planted and currently extend about eight miles along McGregor Boulevard. Today, Ft. Myers is known as the “City of Palms” but had Edison been able to carry out his original plan, McGregor Boulevard might be lined with royal poincianas instead. Why the change? We don’t know for sure. But one theory is that while the royal poincianas are beautiful in full bloom, they usually drop their leaves during winter and don’t start blooming until late May. Edison and his family typically visited his Ft. Myers home during the winter, right when the royal poincianas look their worst, and he would have returned to New Jersey before the red blooms put on their show in late spring.

Close-up of the red flower of the royal poinciana, a common bloom in many trees in southwest Florida during May and June.

The royal poinciana is native to Madagascar, where it is endangered. It is a fast-grower and is accustomed to our poor soils and winter droughts. If you’d like one for your landscape, we have several for sale in our Garden Shoppe. For more info on selecting and caring for a royal poinciana, visit this page created by the scientists at UF/IFAS. If you don’t have room for a large tree, consider the dwarf poinciana, which matures to 15ft in height. We carry the dwarf poincianas in our Garden Shoppe as well.

Partners for Plumeria

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On April 24th

‘Pompano Pink’ plumeria

Come meet some of the newest members of our garden: Princess Maria Tia, Maui Beauty, and Nebel’s Rainbow are three of 20 unique cultivars of plumeria, also known as frangipani, to join our landscape. They were planted at Edison Ford in late 2016 and early 2017 and serve as back up specimens in the country’s only National Plumeria Collection, based at the Naples Botanical Garden (NBG).

NBG earned the National Plumeria Collection distinction in 2011 from the Plant Collections Network, a program organized by the American Public Gardens Association and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The NBG’s holdings include more than 580 species and cultivars of frangipani. In order to mitigate potential losses from a catastrophic event at NBG, sites like Edison Ford are hosting duplicate specimens of some cultivars.

Some trees in the collection are now blooming for the first time since being transplanted to Edison Ford. You can see them near our succulent garden, across the driveway from the Banyan Cafe.

Plumeria ‘Cerise’

Plumeria ‘Tillie Hughes’

Plumeria ‘Black Tiger’

Plumeria “Nebel’s Rainbow’

Holiday Craft Using Items Found in Nature

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On December 20th
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Reindeer craft made from sticks, acorns and seeds.

Need to entertain the kids for a bit during the holidays? Send them outside on a treasure hunt to make this simple but cute reindeer craft from sticks, seeds, acorn caps or other items from nature. All you’ll need is some glue, markers and a bit of imagination.

For the reindeer pictured here, I found everything I needed on the ground of the Edison Ford gardens. Seeing as we are five days from Christmas and it’s 81° F right now, this won’t be hard for those of you in south Florida. If you live in one of those cold places that we Floridians hear about on the news, you might have to wait for the snow to melt.

I collected a few sticks of similar diameter, the tops from two acorns that had fallen from a laurel oak tree and a bright red seed found in some leaf litter. I selected two branches that were bare at one end and had several smaller branches at the other end. I placed the two bare ends together to form a “V” and then placed a small bare branch a few inches above that. Once I had those in a position that looked good, I glued the sticks in place with Mod Podge®. I glued the seed at the end of the V to form a red nose. Using a black marker, I colored the acorn caps for the eyes. You may have to prop up the acorn caps or use some string to keep the V together while the glue dries.

If you can’t find a red seed, you could always color an acorn cap with black or red marker or paint. Warning: bright red seeds are usually a sign that they are poisonous. Don’t encourage kids to pick up any seed if you’re not certain that they can keep from eating it!

Share photos of your completed craft! What other Christmas characters or holiday symbols can you create using items from nature?

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Stick, acorns and seeds before they were crafted into the reindeer.

 

 

How to Care for the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Plant, Brunfelsia grandiflora

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On December 8th
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The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant with Thomas Edison’s home in the background in Ft. Myers, Florida.

One of the most beautiful flowering shrubs you can plant in Southwest Florida is also pretty easy to please. The Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Brunfelsia grandiflora, starts its show with a purple bloom that fades to lavender and then white over the course of a few days. And as long as you can provide some dappled sunlight and regular water, the YTT (as we sometimes call it) will provide years of enjoyment and create a conversation piece in your landscape.

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The purple, lavender and white flowers of the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers, Florida.

If you’re lucky enough to find one of these shrubs (hint: check our Garden Shoppe), select a location that is bright but not in the full sun all day. We have two YTT bushes in the gardens off the Edison and Guest Home porches and they receive quite a bit of full sun but do get some relief in the early and late parts of the day. For the most blooms, select a site that gets morning sun but is shaded later in the day. Water yours regularly until it is established and then check the soil above the roots on occasion, keeping the soil moist when possible. The YTT can tolerate some drought, but if it’s forming buds, you’ll get better blooms if you water during the dry season. Depending on the size of your plant when you install it, it might take two years or so before it produces copious blooms. You can try to encourage earlier blooming with fertilizer, like a 6-8-10 to help with roots and blooming, but it’s not necessary.

Our Garden Shoppe is full of native and tropical plants for sale, including the Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Open seven days a week, it’s your one-stop-shop for your Southwest Florida gardening needs.

 

 

A Vine by Many Names is a Sweet Addition to a Southern Garden

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On November 9th
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Costa Rican butterfly vine, Dalechampia dioscoreifolia, for sale in our Garden Shoppe at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.

What plant is related to poinsettia but vines and has colorful bracts like a bougainvillea but no spines? Its botanical name is Dalechampia dioscoreifolia, but it’s commonly known as winged beauty, Costa Rican butterfly vine, bow tie vine, and purple wings vine. If you’re looking for an interesting vine for your South Florida garden, consider this vine of many names.

It’s thin stems stretch up to twenty feet and will twine around most anything in it’s path. Each flower is surrounded by two purple pink bracts about five inches in length, which gives each bud a butterfly appearance. It thrives in full sun or light shade but needs a moderate amount of water to bloom regularly. It can tolerate some cold temperatures and might even bounce back from 20ºF temperatures with good care. Flowers might appear year-round but should at least bloom in summer and fall.

If you’re looking for other vines for your garden, check out this recent post. Visit our Garden Shoppe in Ft. Myers for winged beauty vine and a large selection of flowering plants, trees, vegetables and herbs.

 

Golden Rain Tree: Pretty But a Potential Pain

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On October 28th

Many visitors of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates have noticed our trees with what appear to be salmon-colored flowers. In fact, these are the seed pods that followed yellow flowers of the golden rain tree, Koelreuteria paniculata, which started blooming in early October. While quite attractive in the fall, the seeds are plentiful and determined, with hundreds of new seedlings sprouting up wherever they fall.

In southern Florida, the tree is considered a Category II invasive plant, which means it has the potential to crowd out native species if not planted wisely. For example, planting a golden rain tree in a heavily landscaped suburban lawn is probably not going to lead to nuisance trees as the seedlings will be destroyed during lawn maintenance. However, planting one near wooded areas is not recommended as the tree is likely to spread into the natural landscape.

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Seed pods of the golden rain tree, Koelreuteria paniculata.

Stop by our Garden Shoppe and find flowering trees and other great garden plants for your yard. We will be starting some golden rain tree trees from seed, so check back in 2017 if you want one for your home.

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The salmon-colored seed pods of the golden rain tree.

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Golden rain tree with peach-colored seed pods over our Garden Shoppe in Fort Myers, Florida.

Florida Fall Color: Pink

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On October 19th
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Close-up of pink silk floss petal from the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

Who says Florida doesn’t enjoy fall colors? Our colors are just a bit different than those in the northern latitudes. If you’ve traveled through Southwest Florida lately, you’ve probably noticed a few trees covered with pink blooms. This is the display of the pink silk floss, Ceiba speciosa. In Fort Myers, there are three pink silk floss trees in bloom just south of Cortez Blvd on the west side of Cleveland Ave. Their petals are a deep pink. A silk floss tree at Alcazar Ave and McGregor Blvd in Ft. Myers has pale pink petals but hasn’t bloomed just yet. At the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, our pink silk floss and a newly-planted yellow silk floss are just starting to bloom. Both are between the Edison Guest Home and the Caloosahatchee River. We also have a “mystery” silk floss that was supposed to be pink but has an almost all white bloom with tiny pink streaks.

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Pink silk floss tree blooming near the Downtown River District in Ft. Myers, Florida.

Like the related kapok, silk floss has numerous, sharp prickles on its trunk and branches. Silk floss typically drop their leaves in September to prepare for blooming in October. After blooming, the tree may produce seed pods that are full of a silky material that is similar to cotton in appearance. It tends to be leafless all winter until the temperatures warm a bit in the spring, when new leaves appear. If you see younger trees with green trunks, that is chlorophyll in the trunk, which allows the trees to produce energy even when leafless.

Native to South America, silk floss do very well in southern Florida but can tolerate temperatures down to 20°F. They are tolerant of south Florida’s winter droughts and one of the few flowering trees that put on a show this time of year, giving us fall color.

Stop by our Garden Shoppe, where we stock many varieties of flowering and fruiting trees (including the pink silk floss), plants, gingers, orchids, vegetables and herbs for your home.

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Pink silk floss, Ceiba speciosa, with flowers and characteristic branch and trunk prickles.

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Yellow silk floss bloom between the Edison Guest Home and Caloosahatchee River at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

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Our “mystery” pink silk floss with faint bright pink streaks on white petals.