Early spring brings a small (small!) bevy of blooms

I almost don’t know what to do this spring! My garden didn’t get Terminatored by freezes, so I don’t have to cut the whole thing back. Instead, I have freeze-nipped plants like this Clerodendrum shooting star. What to do? It still showed signs of life!

Clerodendrum shooting star, after mild freeze, March, 6-foot bush, leaves are green on top, deep purple underneath. Blloms in spring

Pretty sad looking, right? But I’ve been growing this thing for at least 4 years, and cutting it back after freezes every winter. Since it blooms in spring, that means I’ve never seen the first flower. On the upside, every year when it comes back from the roots, it grows even taller and wider. The foliage is unusual and pretty — deep green on top, deep purple on the bottom. I can’t be give-up on this trooper.

I covered shooting star with a duvet for our first freeze. Then we warmed up and, even though it lost a lot of leaves, it had buds in February. I was thrilled! Another mild freeze and I had freeze-dried buds. But one … ONE … sprouted anew and I now have my first shooting star bloom.

shooting star clerodendrum bloom, near white small blossoms with five petals on long deep rose stamens. One bud forms clusters of several small blooms

Another first this year is lavender firespike. It’s supposed to be “easy” plant, at least that’s what Meems of Hoe and Shovel fame told me when she passed it along a few years ago. She lives in Lutz, just a few miles north and east of my home in the northwest Tampa area. You wouldn’t think a few miles difference would mean a lot, but in Tampa’s Zone 9abcdef, there are no givens!

Meems said she has to practically mow down her lavender firespikes, they proliferate so readily. I had to transplant mine three times before I found a spot where it would grow more than a foot tall. (Which just happened to be next to the hose and a Louis Philippe antique rose that gets regular doses of  high-fat fertilizer.)

Meems’ lavender firespikes start blooming in December. Mine had a teeny tiny bud in December. It has taken a long time, but I’ve finally achieved flower.

bright spike of small lavender-to-pink small petals, Small shrub with oval, pointed leaves about 4 inches across at the widest point.

The tweedia below I started from seeds mailed to me by Joan in Riverview a couple years ago. (She wanted Vietnamese hollyhock seeds. We traded. I’d never heard of tweedia!)

This member of the milkweed family has a strange growth habit. Some websites say it’s a vine; others call it a shrub. It has long thin limbs that sprawl out horizontally. Seedlings grow slowly, but once they get several inches tall, they take off. The sky-blue flowers bloom from spring to fall.

This beauty is the one and only plant that started from Joan’s seeds, so I’ve babied it in a container. I’ll be setting it free in the flowerbed, where I’ve spotted a couple of little volunteers. There’s a blue butterfly clerodendrum near the volunteers so I’m having visions of blue.

daisy like bloom with five petals, pale blue with deeper blue center. long stems, triangular leaves, milkweed family

The Vietnamese hollyhocks Joan coveted are also known as fig-leaf hollyhocks. These are not your Yankee Grandma’s variety; those don’t grow here. These beauties do really well, though, especially if you have good soil. (I don’t, so mine live in pots.) You can start them from seed but be patient, they take months (many) to become flowering plants Cut back the dead stalks and you can coax this plant into growing for two or three seasons.

deep pink vietnamese hollyhock blooms, also called fig leaf hollyhocks because of leaf shape. saucer petal on tall spike, up to 5 feet that grows from a base plant.

And finally, one of my favorite new annuals this year, the Phantom petunia. I got these in January and they’ve been beautiful ever since — despite our sometimes super warm days. I know they won’t last forever, but I enjoy looking at them, whether it’s from the kitchen window or while I’m puttering around the garden.

Normally, these have a yellow star pattern within the bloom. Some of the flowers get that yellow, some don’t. I don’t care — I love ’em.

phantom petunia, black, usually has yellow star pattern in the bloom

Last but certainly not least, I can’t say enough about the walking irises, which are blooming in sun-baked medians, along roadsides and in him gardens all over Tampa. These are stalwart plants with lots of different looks. I have the yellow freckled variety, the giant apostles Regina purples, and these “African iris” purple and white types, not to be confused with the non-walking African irises, which have a different flower.

All of mine were ripped out of gardens and handed over by friends in garbage bags, which usually is an iffy proposition for blooming success. They’ve proven incredibly tough. The last batch was blooming in a bucket of water that sat on the patio for a week!

I’m loving the pre-spring irises. Keep your daffodils and tulips, Yankees! We’ve got flowers, too!

iris with white outer petals, three purple petals in interior, yellow stripe across white petals. about 3 inches in diameter. walking iris. not to be confused with non-walking iris


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