Written by Amanda Wilkins

 

Camellia grijsii flowering in the Kosaku Sawada WinterGarden, with display label.

I gave a tour to a group of visiting botanists a couple weeks ago. These were people who dealt mainly with the natural world, but can still appreciate gardens. One of the ladies was reading a Camellia label in the WinterGarden and exclaimed, “Hey! That’s where I’m from in Georgia!” She beamed as one of the other scientists took her photo with the beautiful pink flowers.

Visitors take a picture of the display label of Osmanthus heterophylla ‘Kaori Hime’ to remember the name of the plant they saw.

 

 

 

Knowing and understanding the “origin” of a particular plant or cultivar helps put the plant into the wider context of the plant kingdom and of cultivation around the world. Think about it: looking at a tree and thinking ‘it’s just a tree,’ but suddenly you see it is from a specific region in China or was a cultivar developed in a town near where your family was from? That plant has just taken on a whole new meaning to you.

One of the most important things that sets a botanical garden apart from any other garden is the presence of labels telling you what plant you are looking at. To have that, you need knowledgeable staff members who know plants, how to research them, and how to properly communicate that information to a broad audience, from laypeople to scientists.

We are fortunate at the Mobile Botanical Gardens that we have a staff who can! In the past, diligent volunteers did their best to make sure each plant was labeled with a metal tag and a label that could be seen from the path; however, this was not consistent throughout the Gardens. One of my jobs as curator of plant collections is to come back behind them, record the names in our master plant database, and then make sure the name is correct. After all of that, a newly formatted label is made.

Dissecting the flowers of Camellia grijsii to determine whether it was properly identified.

The new labels contain several pieces of information: the scientific name; the cultivar name (if it has one); a common name (if it is not a repeat of the scientific name); the plant family it is in; the accession number, which corresponds to its entry in the database; and then we’ll call it the “origin” information.

What is the “origin” of a plant? We define it many ways at the Gardens. For species that can be found in the wild, it is where they are native to. For the azaleas and Camellias, the origin is the breeder or registrar of the particular cultivar. We do this because these are significant collections at the Gardens. For other plants that are cultivars (we’ll table this term for another time), it will generally say “Garden Origin.”

Camellia sasanqua ‘Sakura’ was collected during a trip to Japan a few years ago. It was in cultivation there, but no one knows the details of its origin.

It seems every time I walk through the Gardens with visitors, the question arises: “what does ‘Garden Origin’ mean?” The long and short of it is that it comes from a garden. It is just that simple, yet here is a lot of meaning packed into that little term. Really, it means that at one point in the history of horticulture, man came along and selected it from the wild or selectively bred it for the purpose of growing it in a garden. Which garden? How long ago? Where did it come from? Who selected it? Sometimes it is easy to know if there is a lot of literature about that particular group of plants or if it is a relatively recent development; but sometimes time has shrouded the origins in mystery and we may never know. For the sake of consistency and sanity, we choose to roll all of this simply into “Garden Origin”.

~~~

Come visit us at the Gardens from Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last entry is at 3 p.m., so come early! The Gardens are a private non-profit and rely on donations and entrance fees to survive. It is $5 for non-members, and free members and for children under 12. Join me for the monthly Walk with the Curator every second Thursday. The next walk is Thursday, January 11 at 10 a.m.

On Saturday, April 9th, 2016 we officially opened our new Aromi Hybrid Azalea Garden. An extension to our existing Millie McConnell Rhododendron Garden, this new garden is filled with Dr Gene Aromi’s native azalea hybrids along with companion planting.

Members and donors were invited. Over 250 people attended the event – which featured beautiful weather, and a glorious display of plants.

Dr Aromi’s daughters, Jeannette and Marilyn, and his grandchildren were present in person AND in the beautiful azaleas named for them. They cut the ribbon and escorted attendees on the first walks through the Garden. Jeanette and Marilyn shared their memories of growing up with their father’s azaleas. Read Jeanette’s Speech Here

Gina Gregory, President of the City of Mobile Council, and representative of District 7, emphasised the benefits of the Mobile Botanical Gardens for the City of Mobile. We are honored to have her support in becoming a world-class garden.

Tom Johnson, Director of Magnolia Gardens & Plantation in Charleston,SC, was pivotal in spearheading the fund raising for the new Gardens, and is a great cheer-leader for us in the world of horticulture.

Terry Plauche, Landscape Architect, and Jeremy Carter of Total Quality Landscape, are to be commended on their thorough and accurate overseeing of the path-laying and plant-placing and installation of the new Garden.

Maarten van der Giessen, our azalea guru, and owner of van der Giessen Nursery in Semmes, AL was THE person with the vision and was the driving force behind the new Garden. He gave a very powerful and thought-provoking speech – something that all friends of the Gardens should read! Maarten’s Remarks at the Aromi Garden Opening (opens in new tab)

For more about Dr Aromi’s work and about his Native Azalea hybrids follow these links:

Video talk – Aromi Azaleas by Maarten van der Giessen (opens in new tab)

Aromi Garden Handout (PDF) -opens in new tab

Aromi Azalea Collection at MBG (opens in new tab)

Catering by Georgia Roussos Catering (opens in new tab)
Photography by Elizabeth Gelineau of Fleeting Moments Photography LLC (will open in new tab)
Also read Elizabeth’s blog about the Opening at www.fleetingmoments-photography.com/blog (opens in a new tab)

Just a few of the photos from the Aromi Azalea Garden Opening Day! These are photos that have been posted to our instagram account. Our thanks to Elizabeth Gelineau of Fleeting Moments Photography LLC (will open in new tab) for the sneak peek photos. – more will be posted soon!

You can click on any photo to see them in a slide show with the instagram captions. Follow us on instagram at mobilebotanicalgardens.

Just a few of the photos showing the Aromi Garden building progress. Posted from our instagram account.

You can click on any photo to see them in a slide show with the instagram captions. Follow us on instagram at mobilebotanicalgardens.

Tomato Reviews by John Olive

By John Olive, Auburn University, Ornamental Horticulture Research Center, Mobile, AL

There is an assortment of cherry and salad type tomatoes available at Tomatopalooza 2016. Mexico Midget, Black Cherry, Super Sweet 100, and Juliet are available. In addition Sungold, a very popular yellow/orange variety last year will be for sale. For shear yield, Mexico Midget and Super Sweet 100 can’t be beat and both have been dependable producers throughout the summer here on the gulf coast. Super Sweet 100 is, as the name implies, super sweet and even children who normally turn their noses up at tomatoes often enjoy gobbling these up.

To help you decide which ones to try, here are some descriptions and comments on each:

Super Sweet 100: Produces well over an extended season through the summer and into the fall in some plantings. As the name implies, very sweet and I know children who refuse to eat tomatoes, that gobble these up.

Tomato Super Tasty web 500_opt

Mexico Midget: Like Super Sweet 100, Mexico Midget is a heavy yielding variety that often yields fruit all summer with slightly smaller fruit than Super Sweet 100 (in our plantings). Very good tomato flavor.

Tomato Mexico Midget

Black Cherry: People tend to love this one or hate it. Most people love it. Larger than Super Sweet 100, it is very juicy and is delicious. Lasted well into the summer but not as heavy yields as Mexico Midget or Super Sweet 100 but worth growing for the unique look and flavor. (Some people like vanilla and some chocolate!)

Tomato Black Cherry 500_opt

Sungold: This variety sold out last year and has been very popular with Gulf Coast gardeners. It is yellow to tangerine orange and very sweet. We have never grown this one but from the reports I have gotten from many folks at MBG, this is their favorite and I am looking forward to trying it.

Sungold Tomato

Sungold Tomato

Juliet: This is a larger salad type tomato that looks like a sauce plum tomato. It is a very dependable heavy yield tomato for us in Mobile and is a versatile fruit. Can be eaten fresh, used in cooking, canning, and I even dried.

Juliet Tomato

Juliet Tomato

My first message to begin our Garden’s year in October, 2014 was done “By the Numbers”. Members seemed to like the format; many said it was a good start. So, I’ll try it again for this September 2015 message to close our year. Here we go:

5
The number of proposed new Directors for the Board who will be introduced and voted on by you.

4
The number of long-serving Directors now leaving the Board who have served two 3-year terms and will be recognized for their contributions.

2
The number of recently established staff-leadership positions that are now ably filled.
Come meet: Clint Burdette, Assistant Director & Horticultural Manager
Brad Chambers, Manager of Facilities & Construction

150,000
The number of dollars allocated to Mobile Botanical Gardens for infrastructure improvements through the efforts of our champion, City Council President Gina Gregory. These funds are part of the 3-year, city-wide infrastructure investment program initiated by Mayor Stimpson. Come hear our plans for making this investment count at MBG.

FOUR
The number of monthly Focused Plant Sales which will take place between now and the end of 2015. Come hear how these sales (including the October Fall Plant Sale) are designed to better fulfill our mission at MBG(and how the new program increases revenue).

200%+
The percentage in increased Facilities Rental revenues we are realizing since remodeling our Botanical Center this year(and since adopting new management regimes).

100%
The total amount of matching funds raised for the completion of our Butterfly / Pollinator Garden. Ultimately the challenge benefactor contributed $8,000 this year and our members and friends contributed a like amount. The construction will be completed this Fall.

Almost 19,000
The number of dollars allocated this year by the Gulf Coast Herb Society to complete renovations and enhancements to one of the most beautiful and visible gardens in our collection. Work included new lattice and fencing, drainage improvements, irrigation, lighting, paths, and signage.

22,500
The number of dollars raised this year mainly through the efforts of local nurseryman, MBG leader, and Azalea guru, Maarten van der Giessen for the expansion of our Rhododendron Garden. The expansion will house the unique Aromi Collection of cultivars. Some work is accomplished, but much remains to be done. (And additional funds will be needed).

NUMEROUS
The occasions of property damage and general set-backs that an institution such as ours experiences during the year from fire, flood, windstorm, lightening, the indifference of some, and the petty vandalism of others. Not whining nor complaining, just saying for the sake of balanced reporting.

DOZENS & DOZENS
The numbers of volunteers who come back year after year to support the Gardens by contributing their time and treasure. Without your contributions, the Mobile Botanical Gardens could not exist. Come to the Annual Meeting to celebrate what you accomplish for the community.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Gardens soon,
Andrew Saunders

Notes by Bill Finch

You’ve got to feed the young’uns if you want the adults (and they often need very different plants)

The young eat the leaves, the adults sip from flowers. Often, these are different plants. But adults spend much of their time looking for a place to lay their eggs, so providing a place for caterpillars to forage is sure to attract adults butterflies in good numbers.

What good does it do to have a “butterfly flowers” if no butterflies are around to partake?

Time your flowers to take advantage of the butterfly outbreak: Flowers in spring are nice, but the big butterfly season begins in late summer and in autumn.

Many butterfly plants you read about in books don’t live very well in our climate — buddleia, for example — but even if they do, they often aren’t blooming during the peak butterfly season.

Spring butterflies (before April 15) tend to be a little specialized (Falcate orangetips) and may focus on one type of plant that isn’t necessarily all that showy, like mustards. So your vegetable garden may attract more butterflies than a conventional butterfly garden.

American Summer butterflies (April 15 through June 15) become more widespread and diverse, and the common “butterfly plants” are often in full bloom, but I see fewer butterflies in gardens, maybe because the butterflies that are around are dispersing and have plenty to chew on elsewhere

Gulf Summer butterflies (June 14 through August 15) – this is when the big butterflies becomes really noticeable, particularly swallowtails. This is a great time to have butterfly attractants in the garden, but sadly, few of us do (the butterfly plants from Boston have long since quit blooming!)

Hurricane Summer and Fall butterflies (Aug 15 through Nov. 1) – this is the really big season for butterflies, and the time when you want to have plenty of flowers and foliage for them to feed on.

Fiery Skipper caterpillars are hosted by various grasses, such as Bermuda Grass, Crab grass and St Augustine grass

Fiery Skipper caterpillars are hosted by various grasses, such as Bermuda Grass, Crab grass and St Augustine grass

Some of the best butterfly plants are NOT “flowers.”

They’re often trees and shrubs and vines, some of which don’t produce conspicuous flowers at all.
Oaks, hickories, hackberries, red bay trees, sassafras, spicebush, black cberries, sweetbay magnolia, tulip poplar, white cedars, red cedars, paw paws, passionflowers,: These are among the very best butterfly host plants, but all of them are shrubs, trees or big-climbing vines that butterflies choose to lay their eggs and caterpillars will eat.

Butterflies have a dirty secret: They love mud almost as much as they love cow patties and rotten fruit.

Many people worry about providing water to butterflies. But truthfully, butterflies seem to like to drink from mudholes. Wouldn’t hurt to have a little wallow in your yard. Butterflies are attracted to rotting vegetables and fruits almost as much as flies are.

Plants with clusters of small flowers are often the most attractive to mature butterflies

With only a few exceptions, butterflies have short tongues, and that means they don’t like “deep” flowers (the kind of flowers that moths love). Butterfly flowers: Tend to be small and in clusters. Doesn’t mean they aren’t showy: they often are. Composites like wild sunflowers, black-eyed susans, eupatoriums, and others make good butterfly flowers, because each “flower” is actually dozens or hundreds of flowers packed together

Other good nectar plants for adult butterflies include:
Sarracenias
Mints
Composite flowers including tickseeds, sunflowers, aster, eupatorium, mistflower, goldenrods, and many others.
Many legumes
Milkweeds

Feeding Butterflies post

Gulf Fritillary feasting on Lantana. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Some Host Plants for Butterfly Larva

Plants in the citrus/rue family (Rutaceae): Giant Swallowtail and Schaus Swallowtail

Carrot family (including parsley, dill, Queen Anne’ Lace etc) Eastern Black Swallowtail

Laurel family (including Spicebush – Lindera benzoin, Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera, Sweet Bay – Magnolia viriniana, etc): Spicebush and Palamedea Swallowtails

Pawpaws (Asimina species): Zebra Swallowtail

Pipevines ( Aristolochia species): Pipevine Swallowtail

Passionflowers (Passiflora species): Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing

Blueberries: Hairstreak butterflies

Pea family : Many Sulfur butterflies (Cloudless sulfurs need partridge pea, Southern Dogfacemay prefer swamp lead plant –Amorpha)

Mistletoe: Giant Purple Hairstreak

Sorrels and docks: Copper butterflies

False nettle, American ramie (Boehmeria) :Red Admirals, Commas, Question Marks

Willows: Viceroy

Asclepias (milkweed species):Monarch Butterfly

Hackberries (Celtis species): Emperor Butterfly

Thistles: Painted Lady

Figwort (false foxglove) and acanthaceae (ruellia, justicia, thunbergia, acanthus): Buckeye and Checkerspot butterflies

Asters (New England aster): Pearl Crescent

Crotons: Goatwing butterflies

Bamboo cane: Southern Pearly Eye and Creole Pearly Eye

White cedars (Junipers): Hessel’s Hairstreak

Red cedars: Juniper Hairstreak

Spring mustards: Falcate Orangetip


Resource Pages for more details

The Butterfly Site LIst of Butterflies in Alabama

University of Florida Search on Butterfly

Butterfly food post

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Butterfly food post

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Patricia Pierce


Butterfly food post

Fiery Skipper on Buddleia. Photo by Patricia Pierce


Butterfly food Post

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by Patricia Pierce


Butterfly food post

Long Tailed Skipper. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Phase 1 of replanting the area damaged by fire caused by fireworks on July 3rd, started on August 8th! We have more to do, but we have PROGRESS!

Unfortunately a large Loquat tree was too damaged to save.

For previous information about the fire and damage in the Fragrance & Texture Garden see HERE!

Moonscape replanting

‘Moonscape’ Replanting Phase 1 August 7th 2015

Moonscape replanting post

Variegated Aspidistra gives good evergreen contrast in a shady area

Moonscape replanting post

Gingers, ferns, Saxifraga, azaleas… a lot more to plant, but a good start to our shady area.

Moonscape replanting post

Unfortunately this large Loquat tree had to be taken down by Roy. It was too damaged by the fire to save.

Tim Chapman of Gingerwood Nursery near Baton Rouge, LA gave a very entertaining and instructive talk on many varieties of gingers that do well in our area. (July 18th 2015)

From the low growing Kaempferias to the tall Hedychiums there is a ginger that will fit into a shday area of your back yard.

Plain Gardening by Bill Finch – July 2012

What’s the use of summer without gingers?

I hear that some folks have to do without them. They don’t have much to do with gingers in Connecticut, I’m told. I guess there’s not enough summer there to even bother.

But when summer is as long and tropical as it is here on the Gulf Coast, the garden begs for gingers.

Not just the gingers that you eat — though there are many edible gingers, from the common grocery store ginger to turmeric to exotic treats like galangal ginger — that are worth growing in the South.

But we’re here today to talk about the gingers that we along the Gulf Coast know as ginger lilies. And a ginger lily is simply a ginger that is pretty enough to be an ornamental.

There are hundreds of species of gingers, and by now there must be thousands of cultivars, each with a flower of a different color or fragrance or shape, some only inches high, some 10 feet tall. The most famous ginger lily of the South is the one commonly called “butterfly lily” or sometimes, “butterfly ginger.” This is the famously fragrant, white flowering ginger that grows, oh, about shoulder height, and will spread from one end of your yard to the other, if you give it too much time alone.

But there are many other ginger “types” that every Gulf Coast gardener should be familiar with by now:

Bill's Ginger post

Curcuma ‘Khymer Orange’

Bill's Ginger post

Zingiber zerumbet – early cone

Bill's Ginger Post

Hedychium ‘Elizabeth’

Bill's Ginger Post

Curcuma elata

Butterfly and bottlebrush gingers (Kahili gingers and their hybrids in the genus Hedychium)

— These gingers resemble the butterfly ginger, and are closely related, but the flowers are often very colorful, in shades of orange, red, pink, or mauve. Spectacular, tough, fragrant, colorful, and all are about head high when mature. All of these are quite hardy in all of South Alabama. Includes the varieties Elizabeth, Dr. Moy, Ayo, coccineum, red butterfly and yellowheart.

Hidden gingers (Curcuma gingers)

— This group of gingers is an old-fashioned favorite, and it includes the curcuma gingers, which have unusual flower stalks that look like jeweled pagodas, in various shades of pink, lavender, red and yellow. These are big-leafed gingers, but they have short or non-existent stalks, and the tips of the leaves and flowers are rarely more than 4 feet high. Almost all hidden gingers are hardy in South Alabama, but a few of the most recently introduced varieties may not return after a cold winter. Includes the varieties ‘Khymer Orange’, ‘Purple Prince’ and Curcuma elata.

Spiral gingers (Costus gingers)
— The cool thing about the spiral gingers is that they do just that — the plants grow on stems that resemble a leafy corkscrew. But the flowers are often quite distinctive and showy, as well. Many are hardy along the Gulf Coast, but some may be lost in cold wet winters. Includes Costus pictus, Costus speciosus “Crepe ginger,” Costus maletorianus, the velvet stepladder ginger and Costus arabicus.

Shampoo gingers (also known as pinecone gingers, in the genus Zingiber)
— Imagine a large unopened pinecone that has just been dipped in glossy red, yellow or white wax, and you’ll have a good notion of what the flower of this ginger looks like. It has been around Gulf Coast gardens for the better part of a century. Most of these are hardy along the Gulf Coast.

Bill's Ginger Post

Costus speciosus

Bill's Ginger Post

Zingiber zerumbet ‘Darceyii’

Bill's Ginger Post

Kaempferia ‘Grande’

Curcuma longa (Turmeric)

Curcuma longa (Turmeric)

Dwarf peacock gingers (Kaempferia and Cornukaempferia)
— Think of these gingers as tropical hostas. Some are not 12 inches high, most don’t grow much taller than your knees. But the leaves are often bodaciously large and incredibly showy, with colorful patterns and markings that make hostas look dull in comparison. Many have spectacular flowers as well. We’ll list several of these in our catalog in coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Edible gingers
— In theory, all gingers are edible, and some may like to experiment. But some gingers are so sharp and pungent as to be unpleasant. The most refined ginger flavors come from the classic grocery store ginger (Zingiber officinale), the galangal gingers (Alpinia galanga or Kaempferia galangal), and the famous curry spice, turmeric (Curcuma longa).

How to grow gingers

Butterfly gingers can grow almost anywhere, under almost any condition. But the blooms last longer and look their best with some protection from midday sun; conversely, plants in too much shade may produce abundant foliage and few flowers. Dwarf peacock gingers require highly organic soil that is moist but well drained, and they will need some shade at midday and in the afternoon.

The other gingers fall in between those two in their preferences. But provide some midday shade, an abundance of organic matter, water during drought and well drained soil in winter, and they’ll all do well.

This article by Bill Finch was first published in july 2012. Reprinted with permission. Some outdated references to the ReBloom catalog were omitted or deleted.

A Beautiful Controlled Burn at MBG on Tuesday, June 16th!

  • The western-most eight-acre sector we targeted for the burn was thoroughly covered by a good hot fire. The result will be visible and excellent in the coming year and beyond.
  • For the first time ever we invited the public to observe the fire event. This was a successful and interesting public/educational outreach.
  • Over the last dozen years since we began introducing fire into our Longleaf Forest, we have had 14 burns and we are making great progress in our techniques.

Local 15 News WPMI covered the event in their morning broadcast. Some of their coverage can be seen HERE (will open in new tab)

(Featured photo by Amanda Wilkins)

by Amanda Wilkins, June 2015

With the collection of Aromi azaleas coming in in the fall, we have a moment at the Gardens to reflect on our purpose and role as a botanical garden.

The role of botanical gardens is a multifaceted one. Gardens serve as islands of beauty for the soul, natural pharmacies for humans and other animals, havens for local and rare plants, and teachers of children and adults alike. They help give us a sense of time and passing of seasons.

At a time like this, we are reminded of how lucky Mobile is to have the Mobile Botanical Gardens right in its backyard to provide these resources to the community.

We are very excited to be able to conserve and display the life’s work of the late Dr. Eugene Aromi, a native Mobilian who worked on breeding evergreen and deciduous azaleas for more than 40 years. The Garden features many of Aromi’s hybrids in the collection already, but about 90 percent of his hybrids have only been seen by a handful of people. Of the about 108 cultivars of deciduous azaleas Aromi named, 25 have already been lost to the world of horticulture. So, the importance of housing this collection is critical.

Maarten van der Giessen, of van der Giessen Nursery in Semmes, AL, inherited most of Dr. Eugene Aromi’s plants when he passed away and has been looking after them for more than 10 years. He has generously agreed to donate them in the Mobile Botanical Gardens so that they could be shared with Mobile and the world in perpetuity. So, when we started our lecture series, what better way to show off this beautiful collection to the public than to have Maarten make the introductions.

When Maarten sent me the title of his Aromi lecture I laughed out loud: Pretty, Pretty Pictures. His humor wasn’t surprising, or necessarily inaccurate.

I was invited at the beginning of April by Maarten to come out to Aromi World, what he calls the section of the nursery’s property where he’s outplanted Aromi’s hybrids that were rescued from Aromi’s own backyard or Dr. Giordano’s property. It was just to get a taste of what the Mobile Botanical Gardens will be getting later in the year.

Now, I’d seen native deciduous azaleas (taxonomically in the genus Rhododendron) in bloom in the wild before and they are stunning in their own right; however, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see. The morning sun slanting through the live oaks made the flowers of Aromi’s azaleas shimmer so brightly I could see them through the woods. I was out of my seatbelt before the car even stopped. Every plant I looked at made me fall in love with plants again.

On May 28, Maarten gave an Aromi azaleas primer at the Mobile Botanical Gardens, complete with pretty pictures, for members, visitors and Aromi’s daughters and grandchildren. We are so proud to present the video of this lecture on our YouTube channel, which also serves as the inaugural video of our new monthly lecture series. I hope you enjoy the presentation and I look forward to seeing you around the garden!

– Amanda Wilkins. Collections Curator (June 2015)