Tag Archives: Hibiscus

Mid-Summer Review of my Virginia Garden

Now that it is August and my Virginia garden has suffered extreme weather, pests, diseases, and deer, I can definitely identify my survivors, or rather, my summer successes.

First, my pink and purple garden. This spring I was gifted four different annuals that bloom in the pink to purple range. In this full sun patch near the front door, I have Valiant Orchid vinca from Pan American Seed with extra-large flowers. Vinca is an impressive annual, it flowers all summer long and does not have to be deadheaded. It does not mind the heat, humidity, and periods of dryness. I also like the way the plant gets bushy, it fills its space. Next to them are Proven Winners Angelface Steel Blue angelonias. Often called summer snapdragons, angelonias provide vertical structure. This particular cultivar grows to 2 feet and has large purple flowers that do not need to be deadheaded. They are drought tolerant and deer resistant. I know because they are next to a volunteer dahlia that gets nipped by the deer every so often. Within this space are several shorter angelonias from Pan American Seed called Serena Blue. These perform just as well, just a bit shorter with smaller blue flowers to add a horizontal layer to the garden. At the ground level, to cascade through the plants, is Proven Winners Supertunia Vista Bubblegum. This petunia cultivar has bloomed all summer long, no pests, no diseases. I love the pink and purple combination plus the varying heights.

If I could duplicate this palette next year I might add the purple foliage oxalis. Mine are in a container along with other bulbs from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The oxalis pips were planted in April and I put the container outside in May after the last frost. All of the bulbs have performed well but I am amazed at the longevity of the oxalis as well as the versatility. They have been blooming small pink flowers from May to August and the purple foliage does not seem fazed by our heat and humidity. Because they are low growing, the foliage can “hide” the “feet” of plants in containers.

Speaking of containers, I could have planted either the purple oxalis or the pink Bubblegum under the Black Diamond Best Red crape myrtle.  J. Berry Nursery sent the crape myrtle in the spring as a small plant and it has grown so fast I replanted it into a larger container. The Black Diamond series has very dark foliage and can withstand being a summer container plant. I have always liked the use of trees as container plants on patios and decks. However, because this crape myrtle is hardy to zone 6, it will not overwinter in a container so in the fall I will plant it in the ground. Eventually this tree will grow to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide and I am sure it will be a stunner with the dark foliage and red flowers!

J. Berry Nursery also introduced me to their tropical hibiscus series called Hollywood Hibiscus. The Hollywood Hibiscus plants have many long lasting flowers in a wide range of flower colors. Of my five plants, I have kept my two favorite flower colors, Chatty Cathy (yellow) and Social Butterfly (yellow/orange), in containers on the deck. In the fall I plan to bring them indoors to overwinter them and “save” them for next year. I planted the other three in with the irises in the front of the house. After I trimmed the foliage on my bearded irises, I discovered that First to Flirt (pink), Jolly Polly (pink), and Bombshell Red (red) were perfect for filling up the space and providing color among the truncated iris foliage.

Chatty Cathy

 

 

Landscape Edible: Growing Hibiscus for Tea

Hibiscus sabdariffa in August in container

Hibiscus sabdariffa (or roselle) in August

Fall is beginning to show its face: the nights are cool, the days are short, and stores are stocked with Halloween candy. Two of my tomato plants, Abraham Lincoln and Rutgers, are downright ugly. The leaves are brown and yellow and the large, green tomatoes sit there, defiantly, not bothering to ripen for me. I wait for them to change color, I even offer to take one that has a hint of red, but no, they never seem to change.  I am torn between pulling the plants out in anger and disgust (but I raised them from seed!) or keeping them there in hopes I will get just a few more tomatoes before frost takes over. Stupice, however, is much nicer. The plant is green, the small tomatoes keep appearing, and the older ones turn red every day.

Fall also marks the end of the vigorous lemon cucumber plant; we laid it to rest about two weeks ago. The eggplants never really took off so that was not as heart wrenching. The peppers are finally coming into their full glory with yellow and red pendulous fruit. The pole beans just keep producing beans. Nothing seems to deter them, not even when a critter munched on some leaves.

My real stressor now is a plant new to my garden: Hibiscus sabdariffa, commonly known as roselle or Florida cranberry. For a month now, I have been anxiously watching my plants, waiting for a hint of a flower bud. Because they are tropical plants, they grow like annuals in my Zone 7 Virginia garden. In other words, they are “terminal,” their days are numbered.

The flowers are supposed to be yellow, about 3 inches across, and more like okra or cotton in shape, not like those large tropical hibiscus flowers you see in Florida. Lasting one day, the flowers withdraw into the calyx to form a seed pod.  As the seed matures, the red calyx, which was originally at the base of the flower, grows to cover the seed pod. It is this red covering, the calyx that is harvested for tea, jams, and jellies. Rich in anthocyanin, the red calyxes serve as a natural food color and are responsible for the “zing” in Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger tea. I grew them because I had read that I could make my own herbal tea so I had started my plants from seed in the beginning of the year.  Later I learned that it is a true landscape edible – the leaves can be cooked, maybe with a chicken stir fry, to add a citrus/tangy flavor.

The plant itself is pretty, about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, with maple like leaves. I grew mine in large plastic containers and if I had known, I would have added flowering annuals at the base to complement the red and green colors in the stems and leaves. Because mine were in containers in full sun, I had to make sure they received enough water all summer long. I had grown ornamental hibiscus plants before and knew they had “healthy appetites” so I had mixed fertilizer in the soil before I planted the seedlings.

By August, I had not seen any flowers and I was anxiously watching the calendar. I did some research and discovered that the flowering is initiated by short days, i.e., autumn. Sure enough, in the beginning of September I saw small buds, almost too small to capture by the camera. I read that I need to harvest the pods while the calyxes are still tender and juicy, about 10 days after the flowers appear. The seed pods have to be harvested, cut off the plant, and the calyxes have to be taken apart and dried.

Hibiscus flower buds in September, note red on stems and buds

Hibiscus flower buds in September

I also learned that Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, only a few hours south, has a variety called Thai Red Roselle that will start blooming earlier in the summer to ensure plenty of calyxes before frost. Needless to say, that went on my 2015 wish list! I will continue to keep vigilance. In November, surely after our first frost has occurred, I will let you know how these plants perform plus I will list a quick summary of successes/lessons learned from my 2014 season.