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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Clerodendrum Speciossisimum: the Frugal Gardener’s Pal

A double gift for me from Mr. FS: a post and something floral. Thanks so much. Just what I wanted.

By Mr. FS

I grew up in Pasadena California, which, as you can imagine, has a very different climate than Louisiana. For one thing, here we get about 60 inches of rain a year; Pasadena got about 20 in a good year. But when we moved to Louisiana I hadn’t done much gardening, and for the first few years I’d order plants from catalogs, choosing whatever looked best or sounded most interesting. Zones? I ignored them. I don’t think any of these plants survived for more than one season.

Now I have a different and much simpler philosophy: if it doesn’t both grow and reproduce with minimal care it doesn’t belong in my garden. Zones can be a rough guideline to survival, but there are so many “microclimates” that even this isn’t sure fire. The easiest way to decide what thrives is to look around at local gardens, especially ones that are a bit “wild.”

Let me introduce you to my favorite plant. I’ve never seen it offered in a nursery around here, but it’s spectacularly prolific and over the years has brought at least a score (an underestimate) of questions and comments from passers-by. This plant grew in one neglected spot near the fence of a neighbor’s yard, and I’d always much admired its large tropical heart-shaped leaves and huge panicles of red flowers that lasted literally for months. One day I snipped some cuttings overhanging the sidewalk and got them to root without too much difficulty.

And that was the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with clerodendrum speciossimum (or clerodendrum paniculatum), AKA: giant salvia, pagoda flower, java shrub, Javanese glorybower. It was actually a year or so before I found a description of it in Charlotte Seidenberg’s The New Orleans Garden and could finally give my new best friend a name. (Seidenberg mentions she first saw the plant in an old garden in my home town of Covington.) This plant is nearly impervious to pests (and we have plenty down here), reproduces from seed and root (and even fragments of roots), and grows in sun and shade. If I’m working in the garden and some passerby begins “I just wanted to know what that plant . . . .” I don’t have to wait for the end of the sentence. It’s the clerodendrum. Over the years I’ve given away dozens of plants and roots.

So a frugal person’s garden is inexpensive to start, inexpensive to expand, and inexpensive to maintain, although this is a lesson I had to learn by wasting money on plants that didn’t grow. And the best way to meet these requirements is to let your garden be itself and to say goodbye to exotic flora. You and your garden will be much happier. What is your favorite plant?

By the way (Dear Readers, as Ms FS would say), does anyone know how far north the clerodendrum speciossimum thrives? I haven’t seen it in many other gardens, even around here. That’s a real mystery to me, especially since the plant evokes such passionate interest from everyone who sees it. The websites I’ve looked at say it doesn’t do well above zone 9, but we’re zone 8, and it does fabulously well (and apparently flourishes as a house plant as well--I’ll have to try that.) It’s true that it dies back in the winter, but always comes back from the root, and is indeed a bit invasive, though easy to keep under control. The photo (taken May 1st)is of the first plant to flower; it grows right against the south side of the house and so gets lots of sun and heat.


Funny about Money said...

Hmmm.... Dave's Garden shows it growing in North Carolina. That seems to be as far north as DG readers are reporting it, unless Deer Park or Los Fresnos, Texas, are further north than Raleigh.

That's an amazing-looking thing!

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Now I want to try some of that........but geez, is there a shorter name, lol. That's a real tongue twister :)
You always have the best posts over here Frugal Scholar.
I hope you had a fantastic Mother's Day my friend.

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Suzy said...

Sound familiar! I work with a gardener and she kept telling me not to order all the pretty stuff I'd fall in love with because it can't handle the heat in Houston. Since my gardening phase tends to appear around February of each year and end with June I've learned to really like aloe vera. It's hard to kill that plant! Every February I start looking through all the containers and see what made it through the summer and winter! But I think I'm destined to enjoy pics of others' gardens!

Frugal Scholar said...

@All--So good to hear from all the gardeners. "All gardening is local"!