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 Talk ~ Edible Fall Gardens

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 31st

● September 22 9:00 a.m.

     Edison Ford horticultural staff is planting this fall for a winter harvest in the organic vegetable garden, just as Edison’s staff did nearly one hundred years ago. Learn which vegetables thrive and how to grow your own garden at home. Includes tour of the Edison Ford demonstration garden.

     Cost: Edison Ford Members FREE; non-members $5. Participants will receive 20% off in the Edison Ford Garden Shoppe.

 

Name That Plant IX ANSWER: Dwarf Allamanda

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On August 11th

Dwarf allamanda, Allamanda schottii ‘Compacta’

This cultivar is made to withstand our tough Florida summers and look great doing it!  The dwarf alamanda should produce bright yellow blooms all summer and into the fall.  You may be familiar with the allamanda vine, A. cathartica, which produces similar flowers.  Unlike the vine, this cultivar should grow into a small shrub, about four to five feet in height.  It blooms best in full sun but will take light shade and may require some watering during the summer. 

Like all allamandas, this dwarf variety contains a milky sap called latex, which can be an irritant to some people.  This latex is used to make natural rubber and the allamanda vine was one of hundreds of species Thomas Edison experimented with in his quest for an American source of rubber

Not a single fan took a guess at naming this mystery plant, so no winner this week.  Stop by the Estates Garden Shoppe to pick up a dwarf alamanda and peruse the other flowering plants available.

Name That Plant VI ANSWER: Shell Ginger

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 21st

Congratulations to Patricia Travis for winning this week’s Name That Plant!

Shell ginger, Alpinia zerumbet

A tall landscape plant, shell ginger (or one of the many other gingers available), provide striking background foliage in the landscape.  It may grow up to six feet tall and will continue to spread if given adequate space.  It is rated for zones 8-11 but may not flower if affected by frost.  However, our shell ginger is flowering nicely this year after more than a week of freezing temperatures in January.  Part shade and moist soils are best for this plant.  Although it will tolerate full sun, it is not drought tolerant and may require even more water than a shaded plant.  Shell ginger also makes an attractive house plant.

Like all gingers, shell ginger is native to Southeast Asia.  Although it is in the same family as the ginger we commonly use for cooking, the rhizome (or root) of Alpinia zerumbet is not typically used as a spice: the rhizome of Zingiber officinale is what you typically find in stores.  However, the leaves of Zingiber officinale are not particularly showy, and the plant seems to grow poorly in southwest Florida, so it is not marketed as a landscape plant.  The Estates Garden Shoppe sells shell ginger as well as a variety of other gingers, ranging from variegated forms to gingers with purple leaves and unique flowers unlike anything you’ll see on other plants.  There are several large clumps of shell ginger behind the Henry Ford Statue near the Ford estate and several other examples of ginger on the grounds, mainly by the Edison pool.

Globba Ruby Ginger is currently for sale in the Estates Garden Shoppe.

Name That Plant V ANSWER: Coppperleaf

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 14th

Last week we asked you to identify this plant.  Not a single one guessed correctly.  The answer is Copperleaf.

Copperleaf, Acalypha wilkesiana

The multi-colored leaves of this tall accent plant are quite distinct and add a year-round splash of color to the landscape.  Reaching 15 feet in height and 8 feet or more in width copperleaf generally requires occasional trimming to keep it in check.  Copperleaf plants prefer moist soil but will tolerate short droughts once established.  Native to Fiji and the Pacific Islands, it is rated for zones 10-11 but is sometimes grown in colder climates as an annual.  Smaller plants can do well indoors, especially in bright light.

A cultivar of this plant, A. wilkesiana ‘Miltoniana’ was purchased for the Edison’s property in 1908 and was recorded as late as 1936, so the Edisons probably enjoyed this plant for many years at their winter home.  Today, there are many cultivars of the plant and we sell a few cultivars in the Estates Garden Shoppe.

Name That Plant III ANSWER: Strawberry Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 28th

by Britta Soderqvist, Plant Curator

Last week we asked you to identify this plant:

Today, we have the answer for you –

Strawberry Tree or Jamaica Cherry, Muntingia calabura

This is a perfect tree for a lazy gardener!  Do you enjoy sweet, home-grown fruit like strawberries but don’t like all that bending and stooping to plant, weed and harvest?  The strawberry tree produces copious amounts of small, sweet fruits at least twice a year, all at knee level or higher.  Don’t like to spend the money and effort fertilizing and watering your garden?  This tree grows well in poor soils and is even used to help revegetate disturbed and eroded soils in some parts of the world.  Once established, the strawberry tree shouldn’t require any extra watering except in prolonged droughts.

The strawberry tree (named for the flower that resembles the strawberry plant) may grow up to 40 feet, but the fruits will easily fall to the ground when the tree is shaken.  Although not native to Florida, it is native to the tropical Americas and will do well in areas that do not freeze often (Zones 10-11).  If you live in a colder climate, plants grown in pots should still produce fruits.  Although it is reported that wildlife will eat the fruits, there are plenty of ripe fruits underneath the Edison & Ford Winter Estates trees, suggesting that our local birds don’t care for them.  The large tree at the Estates (across the paved road from our Banyan Café) was planted in 2006 and is approximately 15 feet tall now.  The Estates Garden Shoppe sells strawberry trees for $10-$15 depending on the size of the plant.

Plant Spotlight: Fringed Hibiscus

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 21st

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

Fringed Hibiscus, Hibiscus schizopetalus

The fringed hibiscus is a fast-growing shrub native to Africa.  Like other hibiscus, it has five petals and a long stigma, but the petals of this plant are divided and the whole flower hangs down, creating a unique, lantern-like effect.

Our records show that Mina and Thomas Edison enjoyed the beauty of the fringed hibiscus, purchasing at least one plant for the Estates in 1908.  Hummingbirds are known to visit the flower and it’s likely that is one of the reasons the Edisons, both avid bird lovers, planted it on their grounds.

Fringed hibiscus will grow in full to part sun although a full day of Florida’s summer sun is probably too much.  During drought, water heavily once a week.  Individual flowers will bloom for just one or two days but the plant should be in bloom during most of the warm months.  The shrub may reach ten feet in height and spread five to six feet on average.  Mature plants should recover from a light freeze.  Fringed hibiscus may also be grown in pots or hanging baskets.

You can see our mature fringed hibiscus behind the large bougainvillea near the Moonlight Garden.  Plants in six inch pots are available for $12 at the Estates Garden Shoppe.

Plant Spotlight: Dwarf Poinciana

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 17th

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

Dwarf Poinciana, Caesalpinia pulcherrima

This is a fast-growing shrub or small tree, growing up to 12 feet in height and sometimes 12 feet in width.  It blooms best in full sun and tolerates drought well.  A variety of flower colors are available, although the yellow and red variety (pictured above) is most common.  Flowers can appear year-round but are more prolific during the warm months.  The Dwarf Poinciana is thought to have originated from the West Indies and the tropical Americas.

Unlike its larger “cousin” the Royal Poinciana, the Dwarf Poinciana can grow in cooler temperatures.  It has been known to survive in temperatures as low as the high teens.  During extreme cold, it may die back to the ground but will likely recover.  Dwarf Poincianas will bloom when potted but they do better when planted in the ground. 

If you love the look of the Royal Poinciana Trees that are blooming all over McGregor Boulevard but don’t have the room for such a large tree, consider purchasing a Dwarf Poinciana from the Estates Garden Shoppe.  Plants in 6 inch pots are $10 and have been selling quickly. You can see our Dwarf Poinciana in full bloom next to the fountain between the Edison Main House and the Moonlight Garden.

Plant Spotlight: "Buttered Popcorn" Tree

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 9th

by Britta Soderqvist, Estates Plant Curator

There is a tree at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates whose small white flowers smell like buttered popcorn!  It just started blooming in late May.  The plant’s name is False Rubberwood (Mascarenhasia arborescens) although the common name is not really used much.  We typically refer to it as the “buttered popcorn tree”.  It grows to about 20 feet high and although the online resources say it prefers full sun, ours is growing in partial shade.  The False Rubberwood is native to tropical regions of Africa and requires a moderate amount of water . 

Visitors can smell the flowers on the tree that is next to the kapok tree behind the Banyan Café.  It’s fairly difficult to find these in Florida but the Estates Garden Shoppe has a few of these trees for sale in pots.

Protecting Your Plants from the Cold

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On February 23rd

by Debbie Hughes, Estates Horticulturist

The recent frost and continued cold weather in Southwest Florida  gave some insight into what the rest of the country has been experiencing all winter.  Some of the foliage at the Estates, such as the soursop tree, didn’t fare too well in this weather.  

The best way to see if there is still life in your frost-affected plants, is to cut a cross section and analyze the center of the stem; the pith should be yellowish-white.  When examining the Estates’ soursop tree, the stem was blackish-brown.  Cutting into the stems further down the stems was necessary because it may just be the tips that are dead. 

Though it may be tempting to get rid of the dead growth once it has been damaged by the cold, you must resist!  Pick the dead leaves off the stems and wait!  The danger in trimming it off now is that there may be another cold spell to come.  Trimming plants, shrubs and trees encourages tender new growth and susceptibility to more cold damage.  Once spring-like weather is imminent, trim and fertilize to your heart’s delight.  The warmer and longer days will bring most of your plants back to life. 

A good rule of thumb for protecting plants that reside on the edge if their appropriate growing zone, is to stop trimming and fertilizing in October.  Every plant has an optimum growing zone where it flourishes.  For example, the soursop is a tropical fruit tree growing best in Zone 10 and 11.  The Edison & Ford Winter Estates is located on the edge of Zone 9b and 10. 

The only exception to this rule is made when fertilizing winter vegetables.  Most of the vegetables at the Estates made it through the cold with the exception of basil and some tomatoes.  Staff covered the tomatoes, and only a few had to be replanted.  Now, our tomatoes are showing great promise with a few yellow flowers ready to burst into red ripe tomato fruit.  Several varieties of our tomato plants are for sale in the Estates Garden Shoppe for only $4.

You Say Tomato, Part II

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On November 21st

In the September Estates blog post, You Say Tomato, I Say…, I discussed how to start tomato plants.  Already, the tomatoes are sprouting and are big enough to leave the greenhouse flats.  They are now in 4” pots and available for purchase.

Many people don’t realize, but the tomato is actually a fruit.  They are low in fat and packed with fiber, Lycopene, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, and Folate. 

When you plant the varieties of tomatoes I have chosen for our Florida climate (Bella Rosa, Floralina, Homestead, Florida Basket, Snow White, and Cherokee Purple) there are some techniques you should employ to increase your chance of success:

  • Plant in raised beds, mounds, containers, or buckets with holes drilled for drainage
  • Use the best good draining soil possible
  • Place in full sun
  • Water when the soil is dry
  • Incorporate organic fertilizers
  • Insert a tomato cage

Tomatoes are what you call “heavy feeders,” needing a balanced fertilizer throughout the growing season (September through April). The Estates uses worm castings, sea kelp, fish emulsion, bone meal, and Espoma brand fertilizer on ours.  We spray a soap solution once a week to keep insects at bay, and hand- pick the caterpillars off the leaves. Tom’s Plant Soap is available in the Estates Museum Store.  Other insecticides include neem oil, hot pepper spray, and pyrethroids.  As always read the label directions.  Beware of blossom end rot (caused by a calcium deficiency) and fungal diseases, such as early blight and light blight (soil borne fungi). Copper fungicide is labeled for tomatoes and can help control fungal diseases.

Cultural practices highly affect the outcome of tomatoes.  Hand watering at the root zone or using drip irrigation in the morning hours can help prevent withering.  Wetting the soil roots rather than the foliage decreases the chances of fungal diseases. Put dead leaves and rotting fruit in your regular garbage (you don’t want to risk contaminating your compost). High nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided as well. 

You can purchase Estates sprouted tomato plants, fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides at the Estates Garden Shoppe, open daily from 9AM-5PM, or at the Downtown Farmers Market on Thursdays from 7AM-2PM.  We will keep you posted on the progress of our tomato plants.