Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The orchids are getting new digs, too!!

Volunteers Tony Donzello and Win Turner have been busy readying the new orchid house for our expanding collection. With its new irrigation system, including a water filtration system with a 5-zone capability, this new house will help volunteer Sandy Catron meet the growing requirements for the many species on site. With over 550 square feet of bench space, and much more hanging space, this former swale is becoming a haven for our exotic beauties. .

Vandas have become increasingly popular because they are vigorous, produce a profusion of flowers and are easy to grow in southern Florida. Most grow happily when hung from a tree or a structure; others can be planted in the ground and trained to climb a tree or pole. While many orchid species flower in cooler months, vandas reward their caregiver with blooms 2, 3 or more times per year and the flowers last up to 6 weeks. A well-grown plant will show its appreciation with continuous growth and blooms. Vandas react best to light shade, airy, natural environments with nighttime temperatures ranging from 60-75°F and daytime temperatures of 80-90°F. Temperatures cooler than 50°F will send Vandas into dormancy. Treat them with heavy misting during prolonged periods of temperatures over 90°F.

Sandy feeds every orchid by hand, including this giant Vanda insignis in the old orchid house.

Vandas respond well to repeated watering until saturated. This is best done in the morning giving foliage a chance to dry out before nightfall. You’ll know that you have an adequately watered plant when the roots are a deep green. If roots are white or partially white, continue to water. In hot weather you may need to water everyday, otherwise water when soil is dry on the surface. Drought stress shows as pale green or yellow leaf color. Sandy recommends a weekly application of 15-5-15 fertilizer, mixed at a rate of 1.5-2 Tbs. per gallon of water, during the summer, reduce to once or twice a month in cooler weather.

Vandas don’t like to be disturbed. If divided, offshoots should have three roots on them and be properly secured to a large container.

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Friday, March 27, 2009


Even though in other parts of the country people are still shivering, here in Southwest Florida spring has definitely arrived.

If you have any plumeria in your yard (you may know them as "frangipani"), you may have noticed the tips of the branches glistening, and little "claws" starting to emerge. They are waking up from their winter dormancy and soon people will not be wondering anymore why you have those dead-looking sticks in your yard, but will marvel at the gorgeous blooms.

However, to achieve maximum results, NOW is the time to fertilize your trees! My personal favorite is a timed-release granular 13-13-13 fertilizer, available at garden centers as ‘Dynamite’. And rather than sprinkling it around the base of the plant, poke a few inch-wide holes in the soil around the base and pour a tablespoonful of fertilizer in each. It will prevent the weeds from stealing most of the plant-food! With this method there is no run-off – making it an environmentally responsible method.

This will fertilize your plants for the entire growing season; and I supplement it only with some horse manure when I can get my hands on it.

Enjoy your spring!

Monday, February 9, 2009

WOW is the Word!

Now that the holidays have come and gone, construction has begun again. For a few days, it was eerily quiet on site. However, it is bustling again!

Almost a year ago, the horticulture team secured a number of wonderful collections and one of those where Heliconias from Costa Rica. They arrived in boxes and the root structure resembled a club. We potted them up and drove them down the road to O’Donnell’s nursery where they are growing them for us. We just didn’t have the space for all these pots. This week I had the chance to get over to the nursery and ‘WOW’ about sums it up! Some of the Heliconias are 10 feet tall and some were even blooming! Heliconia inflorescences are either upright or pendent (hanging). We included a few of the pendent species; one of them is Heliconia mariae. Similar to the Heliconia rostrata that is we have at the Garden, this inflorescence is very compact, not to mention that H. marieae can grow 15-23 feet tall! As with some of the interesting upright Heliconia inflorescence, Heliconia wageriana is just stunning. It too has a more compact shape, with red and green coloring.

We also started a wonderful collection of bougainvillea. They were potted up and trellised last spring. Again, ‘WOW’ is the word. The bougainvilleas are climbing up their trellis and flowering like crazy. Some have already been trimmed. They are going to be placed on many of the pergolas that will be built all around the garden. With the different colors, it will be like a living rainbow.

It is important to know the conditions that are the best for growing your plants. Bouganvilleas are arid climate plants and are best when grown in very well drained soil and direct light. Heliconias are most often found growing in damp, rich soil with light shade and thrive when given these conditions in your garden.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Cool Change

The garden is looking wonderful even though few eyes have seen its colors. Volunteers are back in the motions of stepping up plants for future areas, tending the various collections, and awaiting new tasks. The cool weather has nipped a few tropical plants while the vast majority has enjoyed a subtropical slowdown. Staff is enjoying the chilly days and slower weed germination as well.

Garden construction has really made progress with the dry conditions overriding the past mud bog. Lakes have taken shape, perimeter plantings are going in, and the gardens hard-scapes are already being poured. Raymond Jungles visited the site recently and was thrilled at the advancements. Brazil’s spectacular tree line arbor is quickly taking shape. Below this arbor is where the mosaic wall by Roberto Burle Marx (pictured) will be displayed. “The mosaic will be visible from the Bayshore road entry!” Raymond proclaimed.

The current mosaic garden will receive several renovations, such as a new entry and removal of large and crowded trees. The garden staff is busy root pruning trees and removing understory plantings located in these areas so they can be moved into future bosques and garden perimeters. We are open this month on the 17th, 19th and 24th for a distant peek at the construction and to enjoy the tropical mosaic garden.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bounty of Books and More

The library is increasing in size! By books that is! We’re in the process of receiving a number of horticulture and landscaping books from Steve Trudnak, a landscape architect. They range from general horticulture to design. It has been a welcomed addition and Joyce McBride, our volunteer librarian, is most pleased!

On December 1, we picked up a collection of palm seedlings from Montgomery Botanical Center (Coral Gables, FL). These included the following: Prestoea acuminate: seed collected in Trinidad, Pritchardia aylmer-robinsonii: collected on Maui, near Hana, Pritchardia glabrata: collected on Maui, at Kahanu Gardens, and Pritchardia elliptica: collected on the Island of Lanai.

It’s interesting that with the Pritchardia palms, there are approximately 19 native species in the Hawaiian Islands. Many of these are endangered, rare or vulnerable. Each Island has at least one distinct species or a variety (example: Pritchardia affinis var. gracilis and Pritchardia affinis var. halophila). So you might ask “What’s with the variety?” Pritchardia affinis is only found on the Big Island (the one with the active volcano). However, the geography of an Island can dictate the evolution of a species. Some of these palms may have become isolated in a valley, or on a mountain. They’re all very close (genetically) to the same, but, there are a few subtle differences (again genetically) to warrant a different variety, but not a different species.

Construction is moving rapidly. In fact, along the West edge of the garden, a privacy wall has been put up and the planting of buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) has begun! In addition, the front entrance along Thomasson Drive has been revamped by the NBG team. The following shrubs have been added: Ixora ‘Red Maui’, Ixora ‘Yellow Maui’ and Ixora ‘Dwarf Red’. Other plant additions included Ilex cornuta 'Carissa', flax lily (Phormium spp.), green island fig (Ficus microcarpa) and a small leaf clusia.

In front of the large Garden sign, we’ve removed the caladiums (which had done very well) and replaced them with yellow lantana.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Words of Winter

A change in the temperature sure indicates that winter is amongst us. From the slow down of weed growth to the northern songbirds that have migrated south, it is a warm welcome. Last week the garden celebrated its 5th annual fundraiser, ‘Hats in the Garden’. The grounds were in tip-top condition as 400 people converged onto the grounds. A new 5 ½ minute video showcasing the garden, that had literally just been completed, was unveiled.

This week we had our ‘Thanks-for-Giving’ potluck, with volunteers and staff. We all enjoyed turkey, stuffing, potatoes and the endless supply of homemade dishes! Volunteers had the opportunity to see the new video as well, while enjoying the feast. Three 1st graders from Avalon Elementary school read their paper on “What I’m thankful for”.

The Lifelong Learning Program has begun! There were two programs this week and both were enjoyed by many! The first program was on ‘Growing and Preparing Herbs’, by Pat Johnson. She demonstrated how to make herb flavored vinegars and tea mixtures. Each participant made a bottle of flavored vinegar and also took home a number of dried herbs. And I will say this, I stepped into the room after the class was completed, and it smelled wonderful!

The second program this week was ‘Utilizing Native Plants in Your Yard’ and was taught by NBG Natural Area Manager, Chad Washburn. Chad talked about native plants and how they can be used in the landscape. This class was nearly full to capacity!

The next lecture will be on Tuesday, December 2nd at 10 AM. It will be ‘Tropical Fruits Made Simple’. Have you ever wondered what the secret is to making your fruit trees fruitful? Join local experts David and Jenny Burd as they share their successes in growing tropical fruits in Collier County.

Now, in closing, there was a spectacular site just outside the back doors this morning. A juvenile bald eagle perched itself up in the pine tree and was just calling away. It looked so majestic sitting there against the deep blue sky, just resting. It still amazes me how big these birds are!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gifts Galore and More

Christmas came early with a surprise gift in the form of a GEM (Global Electric Motorcar). The little red buggy looks like a toy (see picture, attached) but it’s completely street legal, reaches a maximum speed of 25 mph, and is cute as a button. The unexpected gift came from Jeannie and Christopher Smith, the brother of David Smith, who, with his wife Vicky, is underwriting the Children’s Garden. Jeannie and Christopher have been involved with the Garden for several years and are campaign supporters. A test drive demonstrated GEM’s street worthiness and had us whooping and hollering like kids. Hort has been told it’s not a utility cart in no uncertain terms --- no dirt on this sweet baby.

Another surprise came after this past weekend’s Southwest Florida’s Yard and Garden Show. The Croton Society, which had a booth at the sale staffed by Terry Seeley of Croton Connection, donated its unsold plants to the Garden. Terry stopped by Monday with a truckload of some 40 crotons of all types — strap leaf, petra leaf, interrupted leaf --- in every color combination imaginable. If you haven’t looked at crotons lately, take another look. They are enjoying a renaissance of form and color and bear no resemblance to the Buicks of yesteryear. We are thrilled to add them to the Garden’s growing collection of crotons.

Ever wonder what it would have been like to exist in the Everglades in the 1800s? The Bucket Flower by Donald Robert Wilson takes you there through the life of 23-year-old Elizabeth Sprague. This young woman heads for the Everglades to study the plant life — a radical idea for a young woman back then. Considered a "bucket flower", a term for someone pampered and soft, she must get tough fast or perish. She faces enough terrifying animals, savage men, and the rigors of the swamp to make us modern Floridians count our blessings.

The Thomasson Drive approach to the Garden never looked so good. That area has been plagued by torpedo grass (Panicum repens) and nutsedge (Cyperus). The final planting went in the ground last week just before the rain, completing the renovation of that landscape. Nursery foreman Kurt Van de Wouw and Carlos Lopez planted dwarf pitch-apple (Clusia major ' Nana), natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa ‘Emerald Blanket’), red ixora (Ixora ‘Taiwan Dwarf’), yellow ixora (Ixora ‘Maui’), Ficus microcarpa 'Green Island’, flax lily (Dianella ensifolia), and Philodendron x ‘Xanadu’.

Another dramatic change is the visitor parking lot. In preparation for Hats in the Garden, the Garden’s fundraiser on November 12th, a hedge had to be removed. Vanquished are the golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta) and three satin leaf trees (Chrysophyllum oliviforme), one of Florida’s loveliest native trees. This makes way for the giant tent that goes up for the occasion.

Not to be missed is Colville's Glory (Colvillea racemosa), just inside the wall along Thomasson Drive. This ferny tree comes from Madagascar and is closely related to the royal poinciana (Delonix regia). The tree gets its name from the British Governor of Mauritius, Sir Charles Colville. Racemes of flower buds start out looking like clusters of bright red grapes, which is where we’re at right now. Each tight flower bud unfolds gradually, darkening to red and revealing a yellow stamen. Eventually it forms woody flat capsules of seeds.

Drum roll please. The Lifelong Learning Program is back! David Webb, manager of education, has come up with a list of exciting lectures and hands-on workshops that are sure to get you back here. Be forewarned: Continuing education is addictive. I speak from firsthand experience --- that’s how I got hooked on the Garden many years ago.

Topics in this series range from orchid how-to and fruit-tree growing to landscaping with native plants and a talk by award-winning landscape architect and designer Raymond Jungles on his plans for the Garden’s Brazilian Garden as well as 20 other design projects. Peruse the whole list (attached). For registration information please visit or call 239.643.7275.

The November topics are:
Growing and preparing herbs
Monday, November 17, 10am
Join herbalist Pat Johnson as she demonstrates the mixing of herbs to make teas, vinegars, and oils. You will leave this hands-on workshop with a few samples of your own herbal creations and ready to make new blends at home.
$20 member/ $30 non-member; maximum 30

Using native plants in your yard
Wednesday, November 19, 10am
Discover the benefits of using native plants in your yard, which species are ideal and some simple tips for success as Chad Washburn discusses why native plants are low-maintenance, inexpensive, and attract birds and other wildlife.
$15 member/ $20 non-member; limited seating

See you around the campus!