October 29, 2015

A Blog About a Blog

Colvillea racemosa
courtesy of Richard Lyons' Nursery, Miami, Florida
flowering near Halloween

Recently, the question arose about how I write a blog about so many different topics ( over 200), and what initiates and sparks the information needed to write such a blog. I choose to write about topics with currency or education. Rather than write of anything that pops into mind, I select the topics primarily based on something tactical or current here at Pinecrest Gardens. The recent flowering cycle of our venerated Talipot Palm is a good example, or the Spring flowering of our Baker's Cassia trees and so on. In some instances, if I visit another garden, inspiration strikes me when I see a great tree or palm or flowering plant, worth promoting to the readers respective to the season. My hope is that a few readers will start to ask for the more unusual plants, learn a few new tactics, reconnect with their plants and gardens, and maybe enjoy their plants once again, not treat them as chores.  

Chorisia speciosa
flowering now in Miami

My overall idea is to promote plant diversity and promulgate some skills needed to make the plants grow well, most are based on personal experiences. In the most general sense, I try to show readers that there is a stunning and nearly endless spectrum of plants from which to choose. Further, there are myriad ways to grow plants. Many techniques are well known, but only to an older generation, lost to the newer generations, other than reading (perhaps on a blog) on the internet how gardening should be done. The tactile connections between gardeners, learned skills, and long term plant growth are definitely on the wane; replaced by cheap "disposable" plants with replacement guarantees from big-box stores.

Lagerstroemia speciosa
Queen's Crepe Myrtle- flowering now in Miami
courtesy of Richard Lyons' Nursery, Miami, Florida

Unquestionably and irrevocably, I am a plant addict. One wise friend summed it up rather starkly, albeit correctly: 'You'd live out of your vehicle, if your plants were well tended.' I try to pass on the skills I acquired over the last 4 decades. Often baffled by how little people know of their gardens and landscapes, I try to show off something new or revisit a heritage technique.  In the monthly workshops at Pinecrest Gardens, I often ask the question "what happened to people who tended to their gardens every weekend ?" The most frequent answer was surprising: "we have a landscape company do that now". The advent of disposable plants, inexpensive landscape services, and the digital age have moved gardening for food and pleasure and aesthetics to a darker section of our pastimes. There are so many wonderful plant and design options, so much good information available from experienced gardeners, and so much to be derived from growing your own plants with your own skills. I lament the war-cry of "Google it....", and prefer the idea of "try it yourself".

One favorite expression among the horticulturists I know is that 'plants are illiterate, and didn't read the book that said that plant was difficult to grow...' I suggest people try 'real' gardening, and perhaps see that even a well-tended container garden on  a balcony or patio deck has real benefits, if you take the time to allow yourself to enjoy it.....

Pinecrest Gardens                 

August 31, 2015

In Defense of Water Gardens

In Defense of Home Water Gardens

Nelumbo nucifera
The Indian Lotus Flower
'Juno' Waterlily
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

I believe more people should have water gardens in their home landscapes. There is a misconception that such gardens are no more than mosquito attractors, an idea especially held in South Florida. With a vast array of water plants available to the home gardener, especially those that are available online, I feel we as home gardeners should revisit water gardens. There is, of course, a caveat: water gardens do indeed require some maintenance, and more than a fair measure of planning. I suggest that water gardens should be started small in scale, and as "natural" as possible, without fancy pumps and excavations. Even a half barrel can make a rewarding water garden, especially if you add an interesting accent plant, a few inexpensive guppies to consume mosquitoes, and some plants to cover the water's surface. The old adage of "just add water" is especially true in this scenario. Watching water lily flowers open at dusk or just after dawn is worth all the effort.
I feel that too many people have often taken a troublesome approach to their first water gardens. People  buy a large preformed pond, excavate an area of the garden in which to sink the pond, add inappropriate plants for the size of the pond, and assume the system will be in equilibrium all by itself. This is rarely the case ! I suggest a far smaller initial approach, and once a gardener is comfortable with the time and details needed to design and maintain aquatic gardens, then increase the size of the water body.
The balance of your available time, sunlight, plants appropriate for the pond, and aquatic life suitable for your climate are all factors to consider before buying anything. In the same fashion that large aquariums look great when well maintained, such is true of aquatic gardens, where a small increase in the pond size means a geometric increase in maintenance and in your knowledge to design it.
The rewards for such gardens are handsome, with a diversity of wildlife attracted to aquatic gardens combined with stunning symmetry and colors from the plants. Large water gardens, with moving water and multiple levels, are a sight to behold when they are well designed and maintained. I suggest that novice "water gardeners" get a good feel for container gardens or "tub" gardens first, then step up to larger facilities. There are small-statured plants in just about every venue of aquatic plants, including lotus, water lilies, emergent and submerged plants. A case in point: the flower in this photo is about 8 inches across, and the plants is almost 7 feet across, hardly a miniature !  
For those who wish high diversity in a small area, or even on a patio deck, consider water gardens in a decorative container. There are fantastic resources available online to help design such gardens, and it may open your mind a bit to see what can be done, as you "leave the ground below" for the water above.....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       

July 15, 2015

Talipot Palm seed development

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens Continues its Seed Production

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Our venerable Talipot Palm is midway through its seed production cycle. The massive inflorescence has already shed thousands of immature or unfertilized seeds, leaving many thousands of seed to continue to full maturation. The prospect is both exciting and cause for a bit of concern; the thousands of seeds will mature to the size of golf balls. The question to answer is: what are we going to do with hundred of pounds of Talipot Palm seeds ? The answer may be to distribute them to any and every garden which could grow them, as well as any nursery which wants them. The long-range possibility of seeing hundreds more Talipot Palms in South Florida in a decade or more is exciting.
We have a small Corypha umbraculifera donated to us by the benevolent people at the Montgomery Botanical Center nearby. Executive Director Patrick Griffith and outstanding nursery manager Vicki Murphy were kind to give us a robust young Corypha for our efforts to continue the heritage of this magnificent palm in our area. Although it will be 5-8 years before we see the beginning grandeur for this little palm, it is a noble cause worth doing.  

Talipot Palm seeds
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

June 18, 2015

Anthurium hybridizing--a Nearly Lost Art

The Nearly Lost Art of Anthurium Hybridizing

Anthurium 'Wonder Boy'
photo courtesy of Craig Morell
Twenty or thirty years ago, there were more people trying to hybridize anthuriums in South Florida, but many of the great aroid collectors and "plantsmiths" have left us. Further, the fervor for new aroids ( members of the Araceae Family) has also passed, largely in favor of cute, flowering anthuriums for the container plant market, or for the larger birdnest type landscape species.
Long ago when I started working with tropical plants, there were eye-catching foliage-type Anthuriums which I occasionally saw in conservatories or in catalogs, plants with magnificent silver veins set onto rich, jade-colored foliage which often had a microcrystalline look to it. In the right lighting, the foliage looked as if it were made of crystal velvet. The foliage could be larger than a serving platter, and to a novice plantsman, it was the stuff of dreams. Many aroid-ophiles know the hybridizers who made marvelous hybrids, such as John Banta in Alva, Florida; Denis and Bill Rotolante of Homestead, Florida; Enid Offolter of Davie, Florida and Dr. Jake Henny of the University of Florida.          
Moving forward to the local nursery world in the modern day, I recall seeing such plants at local plant shows, and on sales tables. Grown in large baskets of sphagnum moss, the plants grew quite well in our climate if given lots of water. These plants are now fairly rare except in the hands of plant collectors, and the demand has waned. Many years ago I had the good fortune to meet Tim Anderson from Palm Hammock Orchid Estate who started a number of plant breeding programs, notable in one program was a beautiful Anthurium  hybrid with an exceptional reddish hue overlaid onto jade, and also with rich reddish petioles. The foliage grew quite large and the plants grew robustly. Self-pollination of the plants was successful, and the resulting seedlings also grew well and fairly close to type. Tim called this hybrid selection 'Wonder Boy', and a number of plants have been distributed in the last 8-10 years. Just yesterday, I saw and photographed the propagation work of  local grower, horticulturist and hybridizer, Dr. Jeff Block at his garden, Nurturing Nature in South Miami. He has grown out several populations of 'Wonder Boy', and is selecting those with the best leaf color and leaf size. Grown in an epiphytic potting mix in large perforated pots, the plants grow quickly and to great size. Dr. Block is also making new hybrids, and we can look forward to seeing them in the coming years.  

Anthurium seedlings 2-3 months old
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Anthurium seedlings 4-5 months old
photo courtesy of Craig Morell
This is encouraging news, since rather few growers want to spend the time on plant hybridizing anymore. There is more interest in making money in the nursery business than making great new plants, albeit a perfectly understandable point of business. So many of the "new" introductions seen at trade shows are trending to more compact plants, with uniform foliage for the potted plant market. The grand, imposing and inspiring plants of a generation ago are largely sequestered in private collections, plant society shows are growing smaller every year, and the interest in new species and hybrids in on the wane. It is heartening to see these trays of seedlings at Nurturing Nature, and he has been diligent in distributing plants to the local horticulture community. I can hope that soon we will see a resurgence in this group of gorgeous species, and maybe even a swell in demand for such plants which make such a statement in the landscape. With some fairly recent introductions of species with foliage that can reach 5 feet or more in length, there is much promise to the future of pattern-leaf Anthuriums, renewing a trend largely lost from the 1970s and 1980s. 

Anthurium newly transplanted
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

There is plenty of room in the horticulture world for new plants, or re-introductions of plants seen decades ago. We should expand our purchasing horizons and take a new look at the vast variety of plants available to us.

Anthurium 6-8 months from seed
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

May 5, 2015

Talipot Palm--Up Close

A Talipot Palm Up Close....
VERY Close


Getting Up Close to a Talipot Palm
photo courtesy of Craig Morell


Last week, staff members from Pinecrest Gardens and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden had the rare opportunity to see a Talipot Palm up close. With the generous support of a well-equipped tree company, we got a chance to get into the crown of the palm, yielding photos and data that would otherwise be difficult to get. What we saw was a rare view of the largest plant inflorescence in the world, a giant bloom stem containing hundreds of thousands of flowers. What I saw was both amazing and of concern; most of the flowers had been pollinatedHorticulturists usually celebrate good pollination on a rare plant, but in this case, since the seeds are the size of golf balls, the prospect of having many thousands of large seeds gives me some concern ! The blizzard of small flowers was quite a sight to see, and the complexity of the inflorescence was equally amazing, with a magnitude of size unlike anything in our environment.     

The Talipot Palm crown from 20 feet away
photo courtesy:  Craig Morell
The palm has a huge inflorescence, over 20 feet tall, but it will die off in the next year or two. We would expect the palm to die completely in 2-3 years, but in the short term, we will look to harvest hundreds or thousands of seeds for distribution.    


                                                                                photo courtesy:  Craig Morell
                      Talipot Palm flower stem,
          with thousands of pollinated flowers 

 As we moved closer and closer to the palm crown, we could see the extraordinary activity of pollinators still searching for open flowers. There are still a few flowers open on the flower stem, but most of the flowers were pollinated, ready for the next step in life--maturing into seed. The seeds will take several months to germinate, and up to 3 years to grow enough large enough with sufficient foliage to transplant into the ground. We hope that residents, land owners and landscape companies might take advantage of this bounty of seed..........in about 4 years....
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

April 24, 2015

Talipot Palm Flowering Continues at Pinecrest Garden

Talipot Palm Continues to Flower at Pinecrest Gardens
Talipot Palm
Corypha umbraculifera
at Pinecrest Gardens, Florida
photo courtesy: Craig Morell
The giant Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens is in full flower now, and the inflorescence is larger than the crown of the palm, quite a spectacle indeed. From the close-up photograph, it is easy to see why there is a common belief that the palm might have one million flowers on one inflorescence, which can easily be 25 feet tall and almost as wide. In the next few months we expect to see the early formation of seeds. When the seeds develop, the inflorescence will become a giant Christmas tree, with the seeds in the role of green ornaments the size of golf balls. The palm was planted in 1965, and started flowering in December 2014. It remains one of the few Talipot Palms to flower in the United States, making this rare event bittersweet for the staff of Pinecrest Gardens who have maintained this palm for many years. 
close-up photograph
of Talipot Palm inflorescence
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

We expect the palm will continue to bloom for another 2-6 months, and begin the long process of seed production for another 8-12 months after flowering is finished. The seeds will be distributed to palm growers, plant enthusiasts and gardens in South Florida, so that this palm may carry on its genetic heritage in many gardens for the next 50 years.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens     

February 13, 2015

Progress of Talipot Palm Flowering at Pinecrest Gardens

Progress of Talipot Palm Flowering
at Pinecrest Gardens
Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens;
started to flower December 2014

Our venerable Talipot Palm is proceeding nicely with its flowering cycle, setting out hundreds of small branchlets on its 12 foot tall flower stem. The expansion of the secondary and tertiary branches should continue for another month, perhaps longer if our "winter" weather continues in this period of pleasant days and cool-ish nights. We anticipate a good crop of seeds on this impressive palm, and will begin to clear the area underneath the palm in the next few months, to make way for the slow rain of flowers.
As we get into the warmer months, I expect we will have a great congregation of honeybees, attracted to the myriad flowers. For the bees, this flower stem would represent a Mother Lode of food, with a virtually unlimited supply of pollen available as the flowers open up. We expect a lot of seeds, but since each seed is larger than a golf ball, the expectation comes with a degree of caution, since the entire crop of seed could weigh in at 2000 pounds or more !
I will post more updates on our big palm as it moves through its Swan Song of life. 
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens    

January 16, 2015

Talipot Palm flowering progress

Talipot Palm at Pinecrest Gardens
1 month after flower stem initiation
photo courtesy of Craig Morell

One month after we saw the flower stem of our magnificent Talipot Palm emerge from the crown, the inflorescence has grown to an impressive 12 feet tall, and is growing quickly each week. Just visible in this photograph is the emergence of the first sets of small white flowers. It is likely that within a month most of the flowers will be open, and the real show will begin. Once the flowering stem completes its flower production of thousands of flowers, we will wait for seeds to develop. There is potential for the palm to "set" hundreds and possibly thousands of seeds, each the size of a golf ball.
Seeing a Talipot Palm through the flowering cycle is both exciting and saddening, since this venerable tree has been such a big part of our landscape for over 50 years. The southern part of Florida is the only place in the United States where Talipot Palms can be grown outdoors, and there have only been a small number of Talipot Palms which have flowered in the last century, perhaps as few as 10 incidents. 
One of the other questions that would weigh on the mind of any public garden horticulturist is what to do with several thousand Talipot Palm seeds ????  This may become quite problematic, since South Florida is the only  small area in the USA where the palm can grow, hence there are rather few gardeners in the country who have the land space to grow this enormous palm. I will continue to document the progress of this remarkable event, month by month, until the grand palm has perished, having spent its last energy on seed production.      
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens