First Time

“First Time”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

No matter how many years you may have been gardening, there is always something new to learn or try. For me, this spring brought something new to try. Many plants that can be grown in other areas just will not survive our hot summer days and nights. It is not unusual for temperatures to not dip below 85 for days or nights. In fact, it is not uncommon for some nights that it will be almost midnight before we are out of the 90’s, so many plants that will survive in areas with at least cooler nights will not make it through the summer here.

I have always thought that Sedum Autumn Joy was such a lovely plant when it bloomed in the fall. I would see photos in magazines that just made me want to grow this for early autumn color when most of the garden was looking pretty shabby, but you just did not see it available around here. A few years back when Autumn Joy started showing up for sale, I was hesitant to purchase it because I was not sure if it would do well here. After all, I have seen so many plants for sale around here in early spring that will just die when the first big heat wave comes through (I am referring to peonies, lily of the valley, lilacs, etc all which I have seen for sale). Any way, since this sedum has been for sale for a few years around here, and even though I have never seen it grown in any garden around here, I decided to give it a try.

My three small plants have done fairly well and have rewarded my faith with their wonderful autumnal-colored flowers.



When I saw that the flowers were turning pink, I was very excited.



When they turned this lovely rust color, I knew these were keepers. With the garden reaching its peak in spring and early summer, it is nice to have some flowers to look forward to come autumn. Also, since we have so few trees that will turn those gorgeous fall colors, it is nice to have something blooming with colors that say, “Fall’s here.”



I know many of you will not think that growing Autumn Joy is a big deal, but it is a first time for me, and I am thrilled they survived, grew, and bloomed in the Deep South.


Night Time Bloooms

“Night Time Blooms”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

I finally am able to welcome an old favorite plant back into my garden. Years ago, my mother gave me a cutting from her night blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum), and we enjoyed waiting and watching the gorgeous white blooming flowers for many years. Unfortunately, a few years ago, I lost my plant during a winter freeze. I was disappointed not only because I would no longer see these pretty, white flowers, but also because I had lost a plant that had been in my mother’s garden for so long, and there were so many good memories associated with the flower. The family staying up late to see the flowers, trying to freeze one of the flowers to preserve it (doesn’t work), kids excited to see such a strange flower, all these memories were conjured up every time I would look at the flowers.

Two years ago, I happened to mention to my sister that I had lost mom’s cereus in a freeze. She promptly spoke up and said she had mom’s plant and would give me a cutting. That cutting finally bloomed.

Part of the excitement over this flower is the anticipation. It seems as if the bud should open, and then, nothing. You keep checking night after night knowing if you miss the opening one night, the flower will be totally wilted by dawn. Here is the prehistoric looking bud.



The gorgeous white flower shows up very quickly.




It is so good to have this plant back in my garden and blooming.

One other night bloomer in my garden was given to me by a very generous neighbor. It is Epiphyllum hookeri. This flower, too, opens at night but will last until morning if protected from the sun.



While my neighbor gave me a plant, I have made numerous cuttings and have several plants around the garden. Both of these plants are very easy to propagate – just stick a leaf in soil and soon you have a plant. These must be protected in winter as they are tropicals, but these flowers are certainly worth that effort.

Never Say Never

“Never Say Never”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

Conventional wisdom says that after a freeze, if a plant has not returned by mid-spring, it should be considered dead. This has always been my experience, until this year. I have written before about plants not showing up until July which is so unusual for the Gulf South. But this weekend, I just couldn’t believe my eyes.



This is my coral bean tree (Erythrina herbacea). This is a deciduous tree, and because mine was only two years old, it has died down to the ground the past two winters, but coming back this late is just beyond my experience. It was heavily mulched, more so than in years past, and I was so surprised when it did not return by mid-May. In early July, I tried to pull it up out of the ground, and it didn’t budge. I just left it at the time (luckily) and figured it would just eventually rot away.

I am a little concerned with its coming back so late in the summer. Will it be able to survive this winter? I am thinking about digging it up completely, putting it in a container, overwintering it in a warm place, and then planting it out next spring.

When I first saw the blooms on this tree, I was so taken with the unusual shape and color that I just had to have one. This tree was growing outside of a stadium, and I even had thoughts of returning later to see if I could find some seeds to grow. Just by chance, about three weeks later, I found one to buy. Check out this post from Zanthan Gardens which shows the flowers, and you will understand why I wanted one so badly. Mine has not grown big enough to bloom yet, so I have no photos of my own.

It would be a shame to lose this plant after it has tried so hard to return. I know now, I will not be so quick to give up on a plant that appears to be dead after winter’s chilly temperatures. In this case, never say never is so true.

Night Bloomer

“Night Bloomer”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

After missing two bloom periods, I finally got to see my night blooming cereus, but to do so, I had to move the plant to the entry garden. Usually, this night bloomer is situated on the north side of the house. This way, because the sun does not hit the flowers until after 9 AM, I can enjoy their beauty without having to stay up until after 11 PM when they first open. With the longer days, the flowers don’t open until very late when I am usually asleep. Since I am up and out in the garden early, I can see the flowers before they fade. Unfortunately, I missed two bloom cycles by not checking on this plant early enough. Hence, the moving of the plant to where I couldn’t miss it.



I don’t know what is happening to me, but I am starting to miss a lot of flowers when they first show up. Yesterday, I missed the first of the Texas Star flowers, and I have missed a few daylilies’ first flowers, too. I don’t know if I am just not as observant as I used to be, too busy, or if there is now too many plants in the garden for me to keep track of.

Either way, I am certainly glad I didn’t miss seeing this unusual night blooming flower.

One Tough Plant

“One Tough Plant”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

Silver or gray colored leaf plants are always a great addition to the garden. Plants like lamb’s ears, dusty miller, artemisia, etc. are wonderful plants, but, unfortunately, here in the hot, humid South, they often do not do well and can die pretty quickly if we have a lot of rain and heat. In the summer of 2008, I found a silver-leafed plant that did very well in the garden. It was curry plant (helichrysum italicum). I only bought one to see how it would do, and, if it survived, I would try more. It did survive the summer and winter of 2008-09. It did so well, that in the spring of 2009 I bought six more to plant in the same garden bed with the original one. Only five were needed in the bed with the original, and so the extra one went in another area that was not quite as sunny.

Unfortunately, the June of 2009 was one of the hottest and driest Junes we have ever had, and the curry plants planted in the sunny bed ended up being toast. The lone survivor ended up being the extra plant that was in a less sunny area.

Fast forward to this winter, one of the coldest and wettest we have had in almost twenty years. How did the little curry plant do? Just fine. When other plants that have never frozen back before got nipped back badly, this plant which wasn’t even mulched very much came through just fine.



Now, it is a little worse the wear for having had a tough winter, but going on past experience, it should be putting out new growth as soon as the temps warm up a bit more and look even better in a short while. The next photo shows this same plant last summer, and I would expect it to do even better this summer.



I think I have found the secret to this plant. Here, in the Deep South, it probably cannot take full sun but needs a little shade. I will be buying more of this plant to add some of this lovely, silver color in the garden. Just goes to show that gardening consists of a lot of trial and error.

Finally Showing Up

“Finally Showing Up”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana


It is so strange how you often do not realize something is missing until it shows up.  For me, it is the red canna, Mr. President.  It wasn’t until it started blooming yesterday, that I realized it has not shown a flower in almost two years.  This is the first flower this year, and I am pretty sure it did not bloom last year.  How could I have not noticed that it hasn’t been blooming?  This is one of my favorite cannas.


Mr President Canna (redu)


This particular canna is planted in an area that I recently used a garden fork to aerate the soil.  I think that plus all the rain we have been having lately is what spurred this plant into bloom.  Whatever the reason, I am grateful that the flowers have started showing up.


“Decisions”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana

My pine cone ginger has finally turned red!  I was so excited when I saw this since I was waiting and waiting to have one mature to this color.

Red Pine Cone Ginger (redu)

I have only seen pictures of these so having a few in my own garden is a treat.  In case you don’t remember, I bought these in late October of 2007 and didn’t get a “pinecone” in the summer of 2008.  Earlier this year when this ginger put out two cones, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to see them turn red.  Finally, I get to have the full pinecone ginger experience.

I haven’t decided if I should pick them for an arrangement or not.  They are supposed to last a long time as a cut “flower.”  Since these are also known as shampoo ginger because of a substance that can be squeezed from the cones that will suds up and wash hair, I don’t know if I should try that too.  For now, I am just enjoying the red cones and planning for next year when I will, hopefully, have even more.

All Ears

“All Ears”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 


Saturday through Monday, we had some very unusual weather.  A cool front made it to the Gulf Coast, and while the temperatures were still in the high 80’s, the air was very dry.  Dew points were much lower than normal which made being outside pleasant, and I was able to work in the garden for a change.  Usually the middle of summer means just running out of the air conditioning long enough to water a few thing, but this weekend I was able to cut back shrubs and vines and plant others that have been in containers too long.  With the lower dew points, it was warm outside but not the sweat drenching atmosphere that is so common. 

Another thing that occupied my time was my daughter’s minor surgery on Monday.  Everything went fine, but it sure is tiring just sitting around a hospital.

But to get back to the garden.  One of the plants that is doing very well this summer is one of my alocasias, Metallica.  I have this growing in a large container with chartruese-colored hostas at its base.  Even though it does die back every winter, it is a wonderful plant to have.  In the large container, it is a focal point for a section of the back garden.


Metallica Elephant Ears (redu)


The shiny leaves gives rise to the “metallica” name.  Its botanical name is Alocasia plumbea “metallica”.  This plant, like all elephant ears, does best in moist soil.  The leaves have a quilted texture and can get quite large.  My plant does not get as large because it is in a container, and I don’t think my garden has enough room for a full sized plant anyway.  While these can get to be almost five feet tall in optimum conditions, mine is only about three feet tall, but with it being in a container, the whole thing stands about five feet.  Besides the shiny or reflective leaves, the color, too, is striking.  The back sides of the leaves are a darker olive-purple and when the wind blows, the under side of the leaves make a nice contrast with the top sides.


Metallica Opening Leaf (redu)


Another nice quality of this plant is the colored stems they have.  The stems are a red-purple color, and because mine is in a large pot and the plant is therefore elevated, you can really see these stems with the reflective leaves on top. 


Metallica Red Stems (redu)


Elephant ears really lend a tropical feel to a garden and look good with the cannas and gingers.  I have mine nestled in among holly ferns, pinecone ginger and hidden ginger.  That area of the garden reminds me of a tropical jungle which with our normal summer temperatures seems so appropriate.

Non-Flower Color

“Non-Flower Color”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 


To continue yesterday’s topic about having color in the garden that is not flower related, here are a few more plants that I planned to take the place of colorful flowering annuals this year.  The first one is Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus).  The first time people see this plant, they do not believe it is real.  It is such a vibrant metallic purple.  This does well in partial shade and grows to about three feet tall.  This really adds a pop of color to the garden without any flowers.


Persian Shield (Redu)


Another colorful plant for the front of the border is the variegated Oyster Plant (Tradescantia spathacea).  This is the first year I have them in the garden and am hoping that they will spread out.  This too does well in partial shade where color is often lacking.


Oyster Plant (redu)


Another plant I am using this year instead of flowering annuals for color is the polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya).  I have had White Splash in the entry garden for about five years now, and have just planted Pink Splash in other areas.  Both of these plants are giving consistent color ever since I put them in.


Wh Splash (redu)


Pk Splash (redu)


Last is a plant that will take full shade that I keep in a container on the front porch.  Its variegated foliage brings color to an otherwise all green plant grouping.  This is Tricolor (Stromanthe sanguinea) a tropical plant that has become popular in recent years.  This plant does not like sun and will bring white, red and green color to a shady spot.  Too much sun and the leaves will scorch.


Tristar (redu)


So, once again, here are some plants that are helping me get through this hot summer with a little color for the garden that is not dependent on flowers.



Substitutes for Annuals

“Substitutes for Annuals”, a copyrighted post, was written for my WordPress blog called Always Growing by Jan in Covington, Louisiana 


I am starting to see some results of my planting perennials instead of annuals.  I have gradually moved away from annuals, and this spring, I put in only a few spreading torenia.  But, I still wanted flowers and color especially at the front of borders.  Last year I planted some of the dwarf Katie ruellia, and even with the unusually hot temperatures they have been blooming well.  I have planted a few additional ones this year, and now have white, pink and purple flowering ones.  The Katie varieties stay small ( 8 – 10 inches tall) and clumping, not like the regular Ruellia brittoniana which can spread very rapidly.  Here in my zone 8 garden they are perennial which makes them a great substitution for annuals.


Ruella Katie Pk (redu)


Ruella Katie Wh (redu)


I also have some of the tall Mexican Petunias in both purple and pink in the garden.  They are mostly in the back of the borders, though I have been pulling them up lately.  This is a great plant when you are first starting a bed and want some almost instant plantings.  The tall ruellia will spread which can be a problem, but they are easy to pull out.  I have found that the tall ruellia in my garden is not blooming as profusely as they should, and I have started removing them.  I have both the pink, which I prefer, and the purple.  I really like the pink variety and wished that they would bloom better, but I am only going to leave a small clump because they are taking up too valuable a garden space for the few blooms they are giving.


Ruella Pur (redu)


I also have what is know as creeping ruellia (Ruellia squarrosa) which I use as a ground cover around a bird bath.  I have also used this successfully in a hanging basket.  I believe this one only comes in purple.  This does spread very well, too, but I have no problem controlling it.  One warning though, this plant evidently sends out a ton of seeds.  I find that small plants are starting to show up all over, especially in containers.  I don’t know if the wind or birds are spreading the seeds, but there are a lot of little plants around.  Again, I have not found this to be uncontrollable, but some people don’t have the time or inclination to be bothered with plants that spread so well. I have just noticed this happening this year, so I don’t know if this is normal or not.  I don’t ever see seeds so they must be very small.  I really like this plant because it blooms even more than the other ruellias, but I feel it is only fair to warn others that this may be a problem.


Ruella Creeping (redu)


All three of these ruellia attract butterflies and hummingbirds. That, plus the fact that they survive the winter here, makes them a good alternative to planting annuals every year.

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