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.

How did Edison protect his plants from cold weather?

Posted by Edison Ford Winter Estates On December 9th

Now that cold temperatures have arrived at the Estates, our garden staff has to keep a close eye on the weather and take action to protect some of the plants we have in the gardens.  We use a high-quality frost cloth to cover the tropical and sub-tropical plants whenever freezing temperatures are predicted.

But how did Thomas Edison protect his vast array of plants?  Actually, in much the same way we do today.  Here’s a note Edison wrote to the Estates caretaker in 1886:

The note reads, “I will send you about 1000 yards of common print cloth, which you can place around the more tender shoots when a freeze approaches.  This cloth will prevent radiation if run through boiled linseed oil and hung out until dry…

The “radiation” Edison refers to is the radiating heat of the plants and the ground – the cloth traps that heat and protects the plants overnight.  Linseed oil was probably used to give the cloth a thicker, semi-waterproof coating to trap more heat.  Linseed oil, which is made from flax seeds, is no longer used for that purpose, in part due to its flammable nature.

For tips on how to protect your plants this winter season, check out this website created by the University of Florida Extension Service.

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 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 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.

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.