New Year’s Day with winter flowers — a pre-freeze celebration

Thanks to a mild December, my garden is still a colorful palette of fall blooms and winter buds. Since we in Tampa are bracing for our first dip into the 30’s this week, I’m taking time to appreciate my winter garden.

Chinese hat plant (Holmskioldia sanguine, also called cup and saucer), below, is a fall bloomer that will get knocked back in a freeze. This one is a rare bright yellow — most are salmon colored. (The yellow has spoiled me. I love it!) I covered it last winter during freezes and a couple of stems survived, so it came back. Yay!

chinese hat plant, cup and saucer, rare, bright yellow, small cupped blooms look like Chinese hats, fall bloom in Florida

New to the garden (brand new!) is a hosta bred for Florida’s warmth and sunshine. I got it yesterday at Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes ($5.99). Owner Pat Duncheon told me it’s been out only a couple years but was so popular last year, he ordered 1,000 this time around. The trademark name is SunHosta and the label says it’s the only hosta that tolerates full sun in Florida. It’s fragrant, likes slightly sandy soil, and likes to dry out between waterings — all of which bodes well for its success in my garden. The blooms appear on foot-tall scapes (below right) rising from glossy green leaves edged with yellow variegation (beautiful!)

SunHosta bloom, white, six petals, trumpet shaped with long white stamens. Bred for Florida. takes full sun


SunHosta, hostas bred for Florida sun, white flowers, six petals in star formation on a 12-inch scape. variegated leaves










My little cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus, below left, are still hanging in!  They’re not as prolific as they were, but they appear in random spots, winking like new copper pennies. (I’m partial to pennies. Save the pennies!)

These annuals may as well be perennials. They re-sow so frequently, when the more mature ones are on their way out, new little plants are coming up.

Another great old faithful, below right, is Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempevirens), a vine that blooms in winter (I just saw the first flowers and buds today.) It can be a bully to its plant pals, but it’s so drought tolerant and cold-hardy, I forgive it. There have been winters, after a freeze,  that it’s the only color in my garden.

Carolina Jessamine vine with dark green small leaves , yellow trumpet-shaped flower with six petals, deep yellow throat. Blooms in winter in tampa, florida

bright orange cosmos sulphurs. eight petals with three scallops on the edge. Some blooms may be yellow. annual in Florida









Who would have ever dreamed succulents would be such stalwart winter bloomers? Now they’re among my favorites. Christmas cactus, of course, but lots of kalanchoes (you say cal-an-koe-ah, I say cul-lan-choe) burst into bright color when the days grow short and cool. This oyster plant, Kelanchoe fedtschenkoi ‘variegate’, was a cutting friend Janna Begole started for me last year. The leaves are a beautifully marbled blushing cream and jade green, and now I have buds, too!

succulent oyster plant with jade green and cream-colored scalloped leaves with a rose pink tint color. Buds in Florida in winter..

I planted vinca major more than a year ago after getting a cutting from landscaper Johnnie Jones of South Tampa. It took awhile to get revved up, and I was beginning to doubt his description of “aggressive,” but now it’s all up in my penta — and flowering to beat the band.

I love this variegated variety. Once it gets established, it wants nothing but a strangling embrace from the plant next door. I first noticed blooms in the fall.

Central Florida, aggressive ground cover with lavender flowers, five petals with round edges, variegated foliage

Other plants I’ve still got blooming, for those of you looking for winter color, are bleeding heart vine, red firespike, plumbago, black-eyed Susan vine, blue sky vine, some blanketflower, giant milkweed, and my Knock Out, Belinda’s Dream and antique roses. (It will be so hard cutting back those roses later this month. They’re very happy right now.) All but the roses will get knocked back if we freeze, but all should come back — the only one I’m not sure of is giant milkweed, this is our first winter together.

If you know of great winter bloomers for Central Florida,  a lot of us are always on the lookout. I give big props for shares!

Garden voyeurs, step inside the seed queen’s palace

I used to think that once I’d visited someone’s garden, that was it. Nothing new to see and no reason to return. I know better now!

Bachelor button flower in Tampa, Florida bright pink narrow petals in a star shape and rounded leaves with serrated edges

I’ve been to Janna Begole’s Citrus Park (Tampa) garden countless times since my first visit about three years ago. I always bring my camera, because Janna’s garden — like everyone else’s, including mine — has fun new stuff to see, and maybe a whole different look, every time I visit.

The photo above is a bachelor’s button flower (Centaurea cyan’s). You may know it as coneflower or basket flower. And you might be saying, “What the heck? That’s not bachelor’s button!” There are a lot of varieties with a lot of different looks. Florida’s native “bachelor’s button” really does look like a button, but it’s Polygala rugelli.

Janna’s buttons were grown from seed — the girl’s amazing with seeds. She could grow a stone flower from a pebble, I’m sure. But she drives me nuts because she doesn’t give a hoot about what’s popping up where.

(These bachelor’s buttons were from a seed pack mix that included asters. “So is this bachelor’s button or aster?” I asked. She shrugged and smiled. “Oh, I don’t know!”)

She does, however, save all her packets. A good suggestion fo you random sowers.

This one I recognized. Do you?

Nasturtium with reddish bloom, five rounded petals. rounded leaves with veins radiating from center     I’ve had a hard time growing nasturtium from  seed. And I keep trying. Nasturtium is totally edible, and the flower has a spicy flavor, great for salads. In the Tampa area, it’s a fall-winter annual.

     But, for all it’s supposed to thrive on neglect, it’s darned picky. The seeds need to be  nicked or soaked to encourage germination. They should be planted in the ground, or the pots they’ll live in, because they don’t like to be transplanted.                 And fertilizer will encourage only leaves; it discourages flowers.

      I haven’t had a lot of luck with nasturtiums, although Janna and a lot of other gardeners I know have. It’s one of those “easy” ones that aren’t so easy for me.

 One reason Janna’s garden looks so much better than mine is she gets a lot more help. I’m not complaining (really!) but her husband pulls weeds and lays paver paths. And even her newest dog, the “puppy,” Junior, walks around yanking out weeds with his teeth and debriding beds of dead sticks. Seriously! I saw him in action!

Here’s Junior, scouting for weeds. (I apologize for decapitating Rasta-man.)

dog searching for weeds in a garden box (yes, he really pulls them up!_

 One of the things I love about Janna is she actually does some of the things I write about in my garden columns. In one of my first for the St. Petersburg Times back in August, I asked one of my favorite Florida garden writers, Robert Bowden, director of Leu Gardens in Orlando, for suggestions on winter veggie gardens. (One of his books, which I highly recommend,  is Guide to Florida Fruit and Vegetable Gardening.) He had one word: sugar snap peas. OK, three words.

Danged if Janna didn’t plant peas! We had a delicious time hunting down her many pods. (Tip – Janna didn’t have room for a trellis, so she wrapped a big old tomato cage around her sweet peas, instead. It works!)

sugar snap pea pods with sun shiny through. These are sugar snap snow peas

Of course, I envy Janna. Which means … cuttings!

I got a nice one from this purple and red bleeding heart vine. I have a beautiful bleeding heart with scarlet and white flowers; it’s been blooming in full sun since early summer. I’ve always loved this hardy Clerodendrum, but everyone said it was a shade plant and mine is a sun-filled garden. I didn’t give it a try until a local gardener tipped me off to the truth (thank you Gardendipity!)

Now I’m greedy. and I can’t wait to give these fuchsia look-alikes a try.

small lavender purple and scarlet blooms on a fast-growing vine. sun. tampa floridaCheck out the surprise! Janna thinks it’s a monarch chrysalis on her oyster plant — a succulent!

This “oyster plant,” unfortunately, shares its common name with a Florida invasive. That oyster plant is a bad guy; this one is a good guy, one of our many friends from the kalanchoe family — Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi ‘variegate.’

monarch chrysallis on oyster plant kalanchoe gedtschenkoi. green succulent variegated with lavender veins also called lavender scallop