Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Gardener's Guide to Cuba (Part 2)

When croton (Codiaeum variegatum) was introduced into the Lowcountry many years ago, I assumed that these outrageously colorful plants would run a short-lived course and then disappear. This is because gardeners seem to suffer from some sort of horticultural attention deficient disorder and, as a result, flit from one botanical fad to the next.

However, a lot of Charleston gardeners continue to replant croton each spring and eventually end up in yet another garden design rut. Please, no more croton commingled with bright orange Chinese hibiscus or—worse yet—snuggled next to a couple of vinca.

Poor croton. Like many other plants (privet and Japanese yew come to mind), it’s easy to turn them horticultural clichés. But just when I was about throw in the trowel over croton, I discovered a delightful ensemble of this tropical plant in a garden on James Island. Instead of mixing it with additional color, this croton was allowed to compliment a swath of established dark green shrubbery. Doing so made green hues, as well as textures, come alive. Plus, it gave croton the chance to become a point of interest instead of a gaudy distraction.

No matter my opinion on the frequent ill treatment of croton, I’ve always wanted to see it in its full glory. My recent trip to Cuba finally afforded me this opportunity.

Grown as an annual in USDA Hardiness Zones lower than 10b in the US—because the first frost promptly turns it to toast—the croton we know never grows much taller than 3 feet, perhaps 5 if you’re lucky. But because this Indian and Malaysian native loves year-round megadoses of heat and humidity, it feels at home in the southern regions of Florida and Cuba where it’s not uncommon to see 12-feet tall specimens. But guess what? Croton is shrub du jour in Havana and is rarely given much design consideration. It looks just as silly as it does at home.

But with that said, there is nothing more spectacular than coming upon mass of yellow, green, orange and burgundy leaved croton growing with seemingly wild abandon on a steep Cuban hillside.

 The above photos were taken at the Soroas Orchid Garden, which is situated in Cuba’s most western province, Pinar del Río.


 Text and photos are copyrighted by PJ Gartin; all rights reserved.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Gardener's Guide to Cuba (Part I)

I recently returned from a ten-day excursion to Cuba. Yep, Cubalike in Ricky Ricardo, cigars, Babalu and mile after mile of tropical flora. Although one still can’t take a spur-of-the-moment flight to Havana's José Martí International Airport just yet—because the US embargo is far from over—I traveled with a group organized by Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

Our purpose was somewhat horticultural, but mostly agricultural because Cuba is still trying to figure out how to feed her city dwellers (seventy-five percent of the island's population is urban) without using industrially manufactured fertilizers or pesticides. However, the politics of hunger will have to wait until later because my photo files are overflowing with an amazing array of ornamentals.

Flamboyant tree (Delonix regia) is ubiquitous in Cuba. This tree's USDA Hardiness Zone rating is 9b–10a, which means that it will cheerfully grow in Miami or the Florida Keys. However, it is not common in South Carolina Lowcountry landscapes because most of us garden in chillier zones 8b or 9a. (By the way, Cuba's USDA Hardiness Zone ratings are 11a and 11b, which means that their coldest winter temperature rarely, if ever, falls below 40º F.)

If you don't live in Florida, yet can't resist wrapping your green thumbs around a Flamboyant tree, you'll probably have to drag a containerized version into your house during cold weather. But with that said, Tom Johnson, Executive Director at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which is located about 12 miles northwest of peninsular Charleston, SC, has one planted on the property. Although a hard freeze always kills Magnolia's Flamboyant tree to the soil-line each winter, it rebounds and becomes a flowering shrub during the summer months.
Flamboyant tree's blossoms are orchid-like.
Cubans use dried Flamboyant tree pods to make maraca-like instruments, and local arts and crafts folk sometimes paint and dress them up to resemble children’s dolls.

This photo was taken from inside a moving bus. We were on our way to Viñales, a small town west of Havana, located in the north-central province of Pinar del Río. The hillsides were dotted with Flamboyant trees.

 Leaves are reminiscent of ferns, especially the Southern shield fern, which is found throughout the southeast.

Don't expect to see exceptionally large pods like these in Carolina gardens. Cuba has a much longer growing season because it never freezes.

For more information about growing Flamboyant tree in the southeast US, go to

Text and photos are copyrighted by PJ Gartin; all rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Old Charleston Musuem at Cannon Park

Whenever I walk through Cannon Park with my camera, I invariably stop to take another picture of the four remaining Corinthian columns that once graced the entrance to the old Charleston Museum.  Although this structure caught fire sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s, the city decided to let the columns stand. (In case anyone's wondering, the building was empty when it burned and its contents had already been moved to the "new" museum that's still located at the corner of Mary and Meeting Streets.)

I always wondered what this structure originally looked like.  Finally, thanks to an article written by Post and Courier writer, Robert Behre, on Sunday, August 26th, titled "Preservation Remains Big Business Here," I have a better idea.

It seems that a woman named Frances Benjamin Johnston traveled to Charleston during the mid-1930s to photograph "endangered Southern architecture." Ms. Johnston's pictures are now part of the Library of Congress archives, and the old museum is included in this collection.

My favorite photo is posted below. It's taken facing west from across the street on Rutledge Avenue.

 Frances Benjamin Johnston

I usually shoot from the opposite direction, or from the western edge of the park, looking east.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Historic Charleston Foundation 'Eat and Run' Lecture, March 29, 2012

The Heat Is On: Ovenproof Flora for Southern Gardens. Plants That Thrive In Hot and Humid Weather. . .Even When You Can't

Not all of my slide show pictures are posted below, although every one of the photo numbers and their titles are included.
If you wish to see a particular plant’s complete picture ensemble, please contact me at If you have a gardening question or simply want to make a remark, you’re welcome to use the "Comments” section at the bottom of this page.
Thanks for supporting the Charleston Historic Foundation.
Horticulturally yours,
PJ Gartin

Slide 1. Title (sunflower)
Slide 2. 1990 USDA Hardiness Zone Map
Slide 3. 2005 USDA Hardiness Zone Map              Both Hardiness Zone maps are available at
Slide 4. How to add interest to hot summertime gardens? Start with trees and shrubs.
Slides 5. White loropetalum (L. chinense). USDA Hardiness Zones 7–9.
Slide 6–7. Pink fringe-flower (L. chinense var. rubrum). USDA Hardiness Zones 7–9.
Dr. Michael Dirr suggests that 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia' might be the hardiest—perhaps as far north as Cincinnati (6a-6b). 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia' is usually rated 7–9.
            "Changed the market for purpleleaf shrubs in Zones 7 to 9." (Dirr) Has replaced purple-leaved barberries. Comes in all sizes from 1 to 2' up to 25'.
Slide 8. Purple-leaved barberry (Berberis spp.) particularly Japanese barberry (B. thunbergii) has become invasive is some areas. USDA Hardiness Zones 4–8.
Slides 9–11. Nandina or heavenly bamboo (N. domestica) USDA Hardiness Zones 6–9.
Slide 12. Abelia x grandiflora USDA Hardiness Zones 6–9.
Grandiflora is perhaps the most popular abelia. It is cold hardy in Chicago (6a).
Slide 13. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) (Picture used with permission. © F. Brian Smith, 2004). USDA Hardiness Zones 7–11.
Slide 14. According to Dr. Michael Dirr, C. dichotoma or Korean beautyberry might be the most cold hardy (Picture used with permission. © F. Brian Smith, 2004). USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9a.
Also, "treat as [a] cut-back shrub to stimulate vigorous shoot growth." Dirr
Slides 15–16 Mahonia japonica ‘Bealei’. USDA Hardiness Zones 5–8.
Slides 17–18 Viburnum tinus. USDA Hardiness Zones 6–12. Two varieties: ‘Compactum, which grows 4–6 ft. tall and ‘Robustum’, which grows to 6–12 feet tall. It is difficult to tell them apart. Based on its height, the one in the photo below is probably ‘Robustum’.
Slides 19–20. Doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum). USDA Hardiness Zones 5–8.
Slide 21. Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.) USDA Hardiness Zones (6)7–9.
Flowering shrub or small tree
Slide 22. Crape myrtle ‘Natchez’
All crape myrtles bloom on new growth from about June into September. However, the white 'Natchez' (to 35 ft. tall) sometimes flowers in Charleston as early as late May or early June.
The Early Bird(™) series (5–8 ft. tall) might blossom as early as mid-May, depending on location. Early Bird comes in white, lavender, and purple. (Zones 7–10) Available from
Slides 23–24. Crape myrtle
Interesting bark
Interesting shape
Crape myrtle can survive winter in parts of St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Long Island.
Slide 25. Crape “murder"
Slide 26. Correctly grown crape myrtle
Slides 27–29. Pomegranate (Punica granatum). USDA Hardiness Zones 7–11. Double flowered pomegranates produce less fruit than single varieties (pictured).
Perhaps hardy to Washington, DC (7a). Growers usually rate it between Zones 7–11.
Use as a container plant in cooler areas and haul it indoors during winter. Drought tolerant. Full sun, well-drained soil.
The standard variety grows to about 10 ft. tall. The dwarf variety, called ‘Nana, is only 3 ft. tall.
Slides 30–32. Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) USDA Hardiness Zones 5–11.
50–90 ft. tall; 15–25 wide. Fast grower. Full sun. To read my article about dawn redwood, go to 
            Too cold for dawn redwood? Grow its cousin, Larix spp. (L. occidentalis or Western larch grows to 150 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide.)
Slide 33. Dawn redwood ‘Ogdon’ is bright lime green.
Slide 34. Accessories: Annuals and perennials
Slides 35–37. Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.) Sometimes called blanket flower. USDA Hardiness Zones 2–5. 
Slides 38–41. Garden phlox (P. paniculata). USDA Hardiness Zones 2-8.
Summer-blooming tall phlox needs moist, well-drained soil. Full sun to part shade.
Three native species: P. caroliniana, P. maculata, and P. paniculata
Slide 42. "House"Plants. Indoor Flora For Outdoor Southern Gardens.
Slides 43–46. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila). USDA Hardiness Zones 8–11. 
Slides 47–48. Asparagus fern (A. densiflorus). USDA Hardiness Zones 8–12 (est.) From South Africa. Not a fern, but a member of the lily family. Invasive is some parts of the US. 
Slides 49–52. ‘Grand Duke of Tuscany’ jasmine (Jasminum sambac). USDA Hardiness Zone 10.  To read my story on 'Grand Duke of Tuscany', go to
Slides 53–59. Musical note plant (Clerodendrum incisum). USDA Hardiness Zone 10. Treat as an annual or grow it in a container and haul it indoors during cooler months.
Slide 60. Gartin on Gardening

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

City Garden Club

By PJ Gartin
Slide List Note: To see numbered pictures with captions, go to
Title page
My Favorite Plants
Dawn redwood
Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Read my "Carolina Gardener" story about dawn redwood  at
Dawn redwood
M. glyptostroboides
Ginkgo biloba
G. biloba
Dawn redwood
M. glyptostroboides
G. biloba
Bald cypress
Taxodium distichum
Arizona Cypress
Cupressus arizonica 'Carolina Sapphire'  
This link offers excellent information about this stunning tree:
Arizona Cypress
C. arizonica 'Carolina Sapphire'
Cherokee rose
Rosa laevigata
Cherokee rose
R. laevigata
Cherokee rose
R. laevigata
Musical note plant
Clerodendrum incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Musical note plant
C. incisum
Stiff bottlebrush
Callistemon rigidus
Stiff bottlebrush
C. rigidus
Stiff bottlebrush
C. rigidus
Stiff bottlebrush
C. rigidus
Lemon bottlebrush ‘Little John’
Callistemon citrinus ‘Little John’
Cardboard palm
Zamia furfuracea
Cardboard palm
Z. furfuracea
Cardboard palm
Z. furfuracea
Cardboard palm
Z. furfuracea
Leather leaf mahonia
M. bealei
Leather leaf mahonia
M. bealei
Leather leaf mahonia
M. bealei
Shrimp plant
Justica brandegeana
Shrimp plant
J. brandegeana
Shrimp plant
J. brandegeana
Suggested Web Sites and References
Clemson’s Home and Garden Information Center
North Carolina State’s “Horticulture on the Internet”
The Gardeners’ Guide for Charleston and the Lowcountry. The Garden Club of Charleston.
Garden Guide to the Lower South. Trustees’ Garden Club, Savannah, Georgia. •

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Heat Is On: Ovenproof Plants For Herbaceous Borders

The following list of slides is from my presentation on annuals and perennials for the Charleston Horticultural Society's "Garden Docent Training Course." I have posted most of these slides on my Picasa account and you can access it here:

If you are interested in learning more about the vine sky flower (Thunbergia grandiflora), go to

The Heat Is On:
Ovenproof Plants for Hot Herbaceous Borders
By PJ Gartin
1. Slide title: Introduction
2. Slide title: Site selection            How much sun?
3. Slide title: Charleston's humidity
4. Slide title: Two plants that hate sprinklers
5. Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
6. Vinca (C. roseus)            Self-seeding annual
7. Pentas or Egyptian Star Flower (Pentas lanceolata)            Annual
8. Pentas or Egyptian Star Flower (P. lanceolata)
9. Slide title: Same name, different look
10. Slide title: Plumbago
11. Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata and P. auriculata 'Alba')            Perennial
12. Chinese plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum)            Perennial
13. Chinese plumbago (C. willmottianum)
14. Slide title: Shrimp plant
15. Shrimp plant (Justica brandegeana)            Perennial/annual
16. Shrimp plant (J. brandegeana)
17. Shrimp plant (J. brandegeana)
18. Yellow shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea)            Annual/perennial
19. Yellow shrimp plant             (P. lutea)
20. Slide title: Succulents
21. Aloe (Aloe spp.)            Annual or perennial depending on the species
22. Aloe (Aloe spp.)            Annual or perennial depending on the species
23. Hens and Chicks (Echeveria spp.)            Perennial
24. Hens and Chicks (E. spp.)           
25. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)            Perennial weed
26. Portulaca ‘Yubi’ (P. oleracea ‘Yubi’) Annual/perennial
(Pop-up slide is a close-up of ‘Yubi’)
27. Moss rose, portulaca (P. grandiflora)            Annual/perennial
28. Moss rose, portulaca (P. grandiflora)
29. Slide title: Vines
30. Sky flower (Thunbergia grandiflora)            Annual/perennial
31. Sky flower (T. grandiflora) Go to
32. Mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.)            Annual
33. Mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.)
34. Tall and thin accessory plants
35. Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)            Perennial/self-seeding annual
36. Texas star hibiscus (H. coccineus)
37. Slide title: Do you like okra blossoms? (Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus))
38. Abelmoschus (A. manihot)            Annual
39. Slide title: Tall plants that need lots of space
40. Salvia madrensis (Salvia madrensis)            Perennial
41. Salvia madrensis            (S. madrensis)
42. Candlestick plant (Senna alata)            Annual
43. Candlestick plant (S. alata)
Pop-up slide is a close-up of cassia or flowery senna (S. crymbosa), a woody ornamental
44. Brugmansia, angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia x candida)            Perennial
45. Brugmansia, angel’s trumpet
46. Brugmansia, angel’s trumpet
47. Brugmansia, angel’s trumpet
48. Slide title: Gaining popularity (again)
49. Zinnia Zinnia elegans            Annual
50. Zinnia (Z. elegans)
51. Marigold (Tagets spp.)            Annual
52. Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata)            Perennial
53. Garden phlox (P. paniculata)
54 Garden phlox (P. paniculata)
55. Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)            Annual or perennial depending on species
56. Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)
57. Slide title: The best kept secret in Charleston
58. Mexicali rose (Clerodendrum bungei)            Perennial
59. Musical note plant (C. incisum)            Annual
60. Musical note plant (C. incisum)
61. Musical note plant (C. incisum)
62. Musical note plant (C. incisum)
63. Musical note plant (C. incisum)
64. Musical note plant (C. incisum)
Suggested Web Sites and References

Clemson’s Home and Garden Information Center

North Carolina State’s “Horticulture on the Internet”

The Gardeners’ Guide for Charleston and the Lowcountry. The Garden Club of Charleston.

Garden Guide to the Lower South. Trustees’ Garden Club, Savannah, Georgia. •