July 25, 2012

Restoring an Aloe Garden

Aloe marlothii
 Pinecrest Gardens has a highly diverse arid garden. In the process of renovating it over the last 8 years, I've heard it called many things, some of which I can't print, but one of the old monikers is the Aloe Garden. To make the garden sound a bit more sophisticated, we've renamed it the Desert Garden, since Cactus Garden made many visitors wince when they heard it. I decided that it was time to renovate the Desert Gardens' collections of Aloe plants, many of which are simply stunning when they flower. I set out on a hunt for species that grow well in our wet climate.

Aloe 'Cynthia Giddy'
 I was dismayed when I saw the disparity between the species with grand dimensions or petite patterns and those other species which actually grow well here. Some of the larger Aloe species have fabulous branching flower spikes many feet tall that resemble a candelabra with brilliant orange flowers instead of light bulbs. BUT.....some of these gorgeous species also have fierce armor made of curving spines. There are few nurseries in Florida which have a wide selection of Aloe plants, but I was lucky enough to find Boynton Botanicals in nearby Boynton Beach, which I knew had some excellent plants for our needs. There are other nurseries in the state, but most of them were much further west or north. At the end of my order, I was able to acquire 11 new species and hybrids for Pinecrest Gardens, and I'm hunting for several more species. Some of these plants may come from western states, and I will have to acclimate them to our high humidity and summer rains. 

Aloe hybrid 'Hercules'
this is a small specimen

Aloe arborescens
a great species for a massed planting
There is a wide range of species and hybrids available, from miniatures a few inches across to species that grow into 30 foot trees with a dozen heads on them. I chose a wide variety of Aloe species, with an emphasis on large-growing species, and especially those which formed tall trunks. Our Desert Garden areas have more vertical room than horizontal, and I wanted to keep the armament away from visitors. The smaller types will be planted as a massed planting, and some will act as groundcovers. 

Aloe 'Marco'
a more user-friendly
type suitable as a groundcover.


A thorny reason why many people
shy away from the bigger Aloe species

As with so many aspects of gardening, there is a mind-boggling array of plants available for our use in gardens. Even with a short bit of research, I found 11 Aloe types at just one nursery ( albeit one of the most diverse nurseries in the US). I found nearly 50 more types available via mail-order nurseries, and a cadre of people willing to lend enthusiastic counsel. In a short time, I will be able to acquire the many species of arid-garden plants I need, and will be well on the way to renovating our old Desert garden collections, with new and more user-friendly species. I look forward to introducing our visitors to the idea that many desert garden plants can be user-easy and worth the time to wait for their flashy flowers. In addition, many of these species attract hummingbirds, so what are people waiting for ? 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

July 11, 2012

The Enigmatic Shrimp Plants

Panama Queen
Aphelandra sinclairiana

I have a great liking for the Shrimp Plant family, the Acanthaceae. The family has some of the most exquisite and colorful inflorescences of any family. Some of the species are common in horticulture, some are good landscape plants, and some of the most colorful are neither one at all. At Pinecrest Gardens, we have several species in the family, and I would like to experiment with many more. There are some generalities to be made about growing these plants, and some of the most consistent are their needs for water, bright light and frequent fertilizing with extra iron in their diet.

Red Feather
Aphelandra squarrosa

Many of the species in the family are quite colorful, but most would be considered tender tropicals, sensitive to drying wind, intolerant of frost. The plants can be petite growers of a few inches tall, and some, like the hefty Barleria micans, can grow to small trees several meters tall with arm-thick main stems. Even in the warm subtropical climate of Miami, several of the most colorful species will freeze to death at temperatures below 40F. 

Giant Yellow Shrimp Plant
Barleria micans

Double Orange Shrimp Plant
Justicia spicigera 'Sidicaro'
a durable and rewarding
landscape plant for warm areas
With colorful names such as Flamingo Queen, Zebra Plant, and Red Feather, there are species to fit almost any garden motif. The plants have wildly colored inflorescences and make accent plants easily. In massed plantings the visual effect is hard to beat. The various species root easily from cuttings, and with a few stem-end pinches to induce multiple growths, the plants make small specimens rather fast.    

Pink Flamingo
Jacobinia carnea

Yellow Shrimp Plant
Beloperone guttata
 With a little care and attention to pruning, this family has something for almost every gardener. Take a look at purchasing a few different species for your home garden if your climate permits planting such species in the landscape. As houseplants, they make a great tropical look in a bright window. Be careful to keep humidity levels high, keep the plants moist, and use potting soil made for African Violets. Slow release fertilizer such as Dynamite or Osmocote mixed into the soil will keep the plants well fertilized.
Philippine Violet
Barleria cristata
a sturdy and versatile landscape
plant, with several color forms

As with all my blogs, I say that with so much diversity available, there is no good reason to have a garden which looks like everyone else's garden. A bit of online plant hunting will usually provide some good sources for new plants. Experiment with some new plants, and you might be amazed that with a bit of knowledge, some new plants, and an open mind, growing a great garden is easier than you think. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens