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?

Garden Puzzler Answer: Mango and pickle

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On January 21st

We finally have a winner to our garden puzzler:

This fruit’s name was once used as a verb describing a specific way to preserve food.

In the 1700’s, the word mango was used as a verb meaning to pickle.  For a time, anything pickled was called a mango, including peppers. Read an interesting account of the history of the word in America here.

As any visitor to the Estates knows, both the Edisons and the Fords loved mangoes.  It’s likely that mangoes were planted soon after Edison purchased his Fort Myers property in 1885 because by 1892, the caretaker of the Estate was already shipping mangoes to Edison at his New Jersey home.  By 1917, thirty mango trees were recorded on Edison’s property.  Most of the trees bordered the fence line along what is now McGregor Boulevard.  Henry Ford’s property, which was nicknamed The Mangoes because of the line of mango trees in front of the house, together with the Edisons’ mangoes, formed “Mango Lane”, a shady walkway that remains today.

Not just for looks: Edison's interest in poinsettias

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On December 14th

In his search for a source of latex rubber, Thomas Edison experimented with hundreds of species of plants at his Fort Myers estate, including the poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima.  Our records indicate that 150 poinsettias were planted in the research gardens in April and May, 1927.  However, like many plants Edison tried, poinsettias were quickly ruled out as a reliable source in favor of other plants like goldenrod.  Our records also show that poinsettias were purchased for the home in 1908, long before Edison and his crew began their rubber research.  It’s likely that the Edisons just wanted to admire the plant’s brilliant red leaves against its dark green foliage, as we do today.

Poinsettias, native to Mexico and Central America, are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett who was the U.S. Minister to Mexico when he introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1828.  In southern Florida, we can grow poinsettias in the yard although they can quickly grow to ten feet or more.  We have a unique variety of poinsettia – the leaves are red and white – for sale in our Garden Shoppe.  Each pot is just $6 – they make excellent hostess gifts for all those holiday parties!  Or keep one for yourself to enjoy in your home and then plant it outside in 2011.

Britta Hanson Soderqvist, Plant Curator

Botanical Tours on Tuesdays & Fridays at 10 AM

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 17th

Beginning October 1, 2010, the botanical tour at The Edison & Ford Winter Estates will be on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 AM.  This tour includes a walk through the historical gardens of the Edison and Ford Estates with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Estates Propagating Nursery.  The tour is never the same twice as it changes frequently to highlight plants currently blooming or fruiting.  With the change in flowers and fruits comes a variety of aromas for tour goers to experience, from Chanel No. 5 to buttered popcorn to bubblegum.  Participants will learn about the historical and cultural significance of the plants, including the world famous banyan tree, the 90-foot kapok tree, and the sausage trees. 

During the botanical tour, visitors will learn why Thomas Edison purchased his Fort Myers property in 1885 and how he and his family developed the landscape over the years.  Edison’s original design for his winter estate included areas for a research laboratory, family gardens, and work areas.  Each of these areas is visited on the tour and the relevant history is detailed.  Several trees that were planted during Edison’s time still stand and garden features, as well as Mina’s Moonlight Garden, which have been carefully restored to reflect the look, feel and scent of the historic landscape, are visited.

The Estates gardens contain more than 1,700 plants representing more than 400 species from six continents.  The collection includes tropical fruit trees such as mango, citrus, papaya and sapote, as well as orchids, bamboo, bromeliads, cycads, and more than 50 species of palms.

“Whether you are an avid gardener, are just starting your own garden, or simply have an interest in botanicals, the Estates tour is a must-see for Southwest Florida gardeners,” says Britta Soderqvist, the Estates Plant Curator.  “On the tour, you will get an up-close look at thriving fruits, flowering plants and palms that can be easily grown in our area, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about Florida gardening.”

The Estates Garden Shoppe is open daily from 9 AM – 5:30 and offers a variety of heritage plants, herbs and other tropicals for purchase. The cost of the botanical tour is $24 for adults, $10 for children 6-12, and FREE for Estates Members.  Visitors may upgrade their ticket for $6 to include a self-guided audio wand tour of the historic buildings and museum. Group botanical tours are available at a discounted price and may be scheduled throughout the week based on availability.    To schedule a group botanical tour call the Estates at 239-334-7419.

Name That Plant, Win That Plant XII Answer: Tamarind

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 15th

Tamarind, Tamarindus indica


Did you know you can grow one of the ingredients in Worcestershire sauce right in your backyard?  The fruits of the tamarind tree are used throughout the world in chutneys, drinks, candy and sauces.  In the US, tamarind is sometimes used in barbeque sauces and can be found in sweetened drinks available at ethnic restaurants and stores.

Although native to tropical Africa, this tree is now grown worldwide.  In Florida, it is rated for zones 10-11, may grow up to 90 feet, and will be evergreen except during long droughts.  Our horticulturist, Debbie, loves the weeping form of this tree and says the tamarind makes an excellent shade tree.  Flowers are produced in the summer and the fruits that follow may hang on the tree for several months.   Our tamarind tree is next to the friendship walk on the Edison property.  It is flowering now and produced more than 50 fruits last year, even though it was planted just six years ago.

Our friends at the University of Florida extension service compiled a few recipes for tamarind, including “Tamarind Chicken with Mangoes”.   Lucky for you, our Garden Shoppe sells tamarind and mango trees.  Sorry, no chickens.

Britta Soderqvist, Plant Curator

Name That Plant XII Answer: Cherries Jubilee Allamanda

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On September 8th

Congratulations to Deborah Aldridge for correctly guessing this week’s Name That Plant!

Cherries Jubilee Allamanda, Allamanda cathartica ‘Cherries Jubilee’

Need a summertime bloomer for your garden?  The allamandas are always a good choice and the ‘Cherries Jubilee’ variety provides a rosy pink flower against dark evergreen foliage.  This is a fast growing vine that does best in full sun, is drought tolerant and is rated for zones 9B-11.  It may grow to 8 feet or more and will need a trellis or other support to maintain some form, so consider its location before planting.  Some gardeners have been able to train this plant into a shrub and Cherries Jubilee should do well in a hanging basket.

If you know any Latin, you probably recognized that this plant has medicinal properties.  The species name “cathartica” should give you a hint.  The leaves, roots and flowers of this plant are used in some countries to make a cathartic and all parts of the plant are considered toxic if eaten.  The milky white sap may irritate the skin of some gardeners but this shouldn’t stop you from considering this easy, prolific bloomer for your yard.  The Estates has a Cherries Jubilee on the trellis next to the Shaving Brush tree between the Edison and Ford homes and our Garden Shoppe has several Cherries Jubilee plants for sale.

Britta Soderqvist, Plant Curator