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Is that what I think it is?

It’s a foliage plant disguised as a flowering plant disguised as a foliage plant disgui…  Oooo, my head is swimming! It’s like Victor/Victoria with chlorophyll. All these plants that look like one thing but act like another all together, it’s beyond gender-bender and headed straight for anthocyanin-androgeny. But unlike drag queens these plants don’t scare me. Rather instead they are welcome additions to my gardening party – disco globe and all.

The first plants that make me think along these lines are the hostas. Hostas as many of you know are THE perennial foliage plant. Who knows how many amateur breeders are out there, spreading pollen from flower to flower in hopes of creating the next “great one”. The more advanced are using irradiation on seeds. Plus they mutate more than fruit flies living at Chernobyl. There are probably 20 million cultivars. Blue ones. Yellow ones. Green and white ones. Green and yellow ones. Blue and white ones. Blue and yellow ones. Blue, green, and white ones. Blue, green, and yellow ones. Green ones. Giant ones. Miniature ones. Some want more shade. Some want more sun. But very few are grown for their flowers. In fact many look much better if you deadhead them while in bud. But some of them, some of them you grow for the flowers. One of my favorites is the August lily, Hosta plantaginea ‘Grandiflora, with its giant white flowers smelling sweeter than a French whore in Casablanca on Saturday night.

The bright green foliage is reasonably sun tolerant also. This antique favorite is a must have for an evening garden and hard to do without in any garden. This plant has been used in the creation of several hostas with delightfully scented blooms. Another plain green hosta, this time a darker green, that I like for the flowers is Hosta clausa.

The blooms never open but remain in a beautiful urn shape. The flowering stems are also bright magenta/purple. I would love to see someone working in a cross of this one with H. plantaginea. Can you imagine the purple color of clausa with the bloom size and fragrance of plantaginea?  Oooo la la (in keeping with the French whore theme). An added bonus with clausa is it spreads by runners so you could have a very nice groundcover as well. Both plants are great cut flowers too.

My love of tropicals causes me much angst, teeth gnashing, fret, and worry as the forecast temperatures drop closer and closer to that all important point of no return – frost. Frost, the very word can cause expletives to fall out of my mouth faster than the leaves off the trees. I just need one more week to get the house organized to handle the sudden onslaught of tropical immigrants.  One more week-end to wash the bugs off before the plants come inside. One more day to label the dahlias before the frost makes them all look like the same pile of black mush. One more hour of daylight so I can dig the really tender stuff that can’t even take a light frost. It’s hell. And every year I say I will do less but then this one is just too pretty and that one has a really good mature structure and the other one was so hard to find and….. Get the picture?

But there is one tropical I can leave out in the garden, a banana no less. Musa basjoo, the Japanese fiber banana, or more simply stated, the hardy banana. In truth it is not the only banana that is rated as a zone 5 plant but it is the most commonly available. I’ve only attempted one other species to no avail. Musa basjoo has survived in my friend Terry’s garden on the Southside for 5 years. Usually the largest stalk from the previous year rots out over winter but the surrounding smaller growing points come back and create a very nice clump. Ours at the IMA has been in the ground 2 years. It admittedly is planted in a very protected site between the greenhouses.

Mine at home went in the ground in late May this year but is already nearly 10 feet tall with 3 new stalks 4 to 6 feet tall.

I will mulch heavily come freezing weather. I have a second one that went in much later and in more shade with less moisture. It doesn’t look as promising for survival. I may dig it and put it in the basement and try again next year. See what I mean? There’s another one to be dug. The big advantage of course is that it can be overwintered dormant. Oh, and I bought 2 in August on super sale at Lowe’s for $3.50 each. I just moved them to bigger pots instead of putting them in the ground. That’s 2 more to the basement. Oh yea, I’m cutting way back this year.

Filed under: Horticulture

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