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?

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 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.

Unexpected Blooms – Azalea & Cereus

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 15th

Strange things are afoot at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates this week!  Our azalea is blooming! Normally azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) bloom a few weeks after temperatures drop below 50°F and then warm up.  The Estates’ azalea has a of couple blooms that apparently didn’t read the book!

In addition, a few of our night-blooming cereus (Hylocereus undatus) had blooms that were still open at 10 a.m on Tuesday.  This is the first and only time this year we’ve noticed them open during the day. 

If you would like to view them, the azalea is under an oak in the picnic area near the Banyan Café and the cereus plants are growing on various cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) within the Ford Estate. We can’t promise that the cereus will be blooming, but you may get lucky if you visit early in the day.

Name That Plant IV ANSWER: Coral Plant

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On July 6th

Last week, we asked our readers to identify the plant below.  The person who correctly identified it first would win the mystery plant.  This week, Sally Skabar came the closest by identifying the genus as Jatropha.  Congratulations, Sally!

Coral Plant, Jatropha Multifida

With unique leaves, a bright red flower, drought tolerance and an ability to grow in pots or in the ground, this plant is a great choice for south Florida.   In the ground, this shrub usually grows to 10 feet but may sometimes grow to 20 feet.  Native to Mexico, it is commonly grown as a specimen plant due to its tropical look.  It will drop its leaves below 40°F and it will recover from a light freeze.  If the weather is not too cold, the coral plant will flower year-round but it blooms more profusely in the summer months.   

This species, like all Jatrophas, have a milky white sap that can be an irritant to some people.  It’s this sap that led Thomas Edison to experiment with other species of Jatrophas as a potential source of latex for his rubber research.  There’s no known evidence that Edison experimented with the coral plant, but it was planted here as early as 1908 and was still on the grounds in 1931.  The Edisons likely enjoyed the plant for the same reasons we do today, including its ability to attract birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Coral plants are available for purchase in the Estates Garden Shoppe:  $8 for 1 gallon, $12 for 3 gallon.

Name That Plant III

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 23rd

Test your plant knowledge.  Can you identify this 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.

What's Blooming in June?

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On June 16th

There is always something blooming at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.  Take a look at what’s in bloom right now:

What's Blooming at the Estates

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On May 5th