Florida garden writer Monica Brandies has hosted an Open Garden at her home in Brandon, Fla., two Saturdays each November for years. Every year she says, “This will probably be my last.” And every year her many children, friends and fans rally round to make her a liar. Monica is a longtime Florida gardener who studied horticulture and landscape design in the Midwest and applied homespun wisdom and trial-and-error lessons to her book learning. Among her 12 books, “Florida Gardening: The Newcomer’s Survival Manual” is considered a bible by many — especially all those newcomers.
The photo at top is an insider’s view of the bloom on her Abulilon flowering maple, Abutilon hybridum ’Marion Stewart.’ Yes, I got a cutting — or two. This big shrub/small tree blooms on and off pretty much all year, according to my old garden-bloggin’ pal Eric “Mangoman” Young, who has spent many an afternoon helping out in Monica’s garden. I’ve never heard of flowering maple. A quick check on-line shows it’s a tender perennial. Below 40 degrees, it might need protection, but it can sometimes tolerate mid 30s. This one was growing in dappled light.
By the way, it was so nice to see Mangoman (clipping dwarf porterweed cuttings for us, below left) all grown up at 16. And look how happy he made Janna Begole, my Citrus Park garden pal.
Eric did a wonderful job showing us around, clippers always at the ready. I lost count of the number of times he said, “Want a cutting?” I especially liked his story about an earlier visitor who flew to the African moth plant like, well, like a moth to a lightbulb.
“She thought it was bee balm and she rubbed it all over her hands,” Eric said. “It smells … really bad. And it’s hard to get the smell off your hands. Trust me, I know. So, beware of plants that look like bee balm!”
(He also noted it’s a great plant to sit unwanted guests near at a party. They’ll leave early!”)
Less aromatic and far prettier is Chinese hat plant — Holmskioldi sanguine. It’s one of my favorites, even though its long canes get all floppy. I love the unusual little Chinese hat blooms, which are commonly pale orange, a color that doesn’t rock my garden. (My Chinese hats have vivid yellow blooms.) I’ve never seen this blood red variety. Like! Salvia madrensis, often called forsythia sage because of its resemblance to that Up North favorite, is one of the few yellow-blooming salvias. It likes part sun to full shade and well-drained soil. Give this baby some room — spreading clumps can get up to 10 feet tall. A perennial, it puts on its show from fall to early winter. I planted a little cutting in my garden a few months ago. I’m still waiting for it to look like these.
If you’ve got some shady spots, pinecone ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) will quickly fill them in. They spread by underground rhizomes, and no, these are not the gingers you eat with sushi. This website says pinecone ginger will do fine in full sun, but while mine survived their sunny spot, they didn’t thrive. I didn’t get gorgeous bracts like these. Another note: They die back in a freeze but will return every spring … unless you pull them out because you planted them in a sunny spot!
Monica’s huge flowering lilac shrub was a big hit with lots of visitors, Eric told us. They (like me) were surprised to learn lilac can grow here in Central Florida. Actually, as with many Northern favorites (see forsythia!) you have to find the southern counterpart. This is tropical lilac, Cornutia grandiflora. It blooms spring to fall and is drought- and cold-tolerant.
Monica’s are stuffed with bright blooms. (The cut ends are wrapped in aluminum foil, which presumably holds water.)
If this year is not the last for Monica’s Open Garden (and how could it be?) mark your calendar to be on the lookout for details next November.She usually opens her garden two Saturdays, from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.Most of her plants are labeled (a detail I love) and if you see Mangoman,you can probably come home with an armful of cuttings. Admission is free.