Friday, July 27, 2012

Firebush



 It is always good to see old friends. The same delight I feel in the company of the people who share part of our history, holds true for plants that have been part of our garden, present and past.
    When we moved from New Orleans to Arizona, oh so many years ago, we were astonished to find old favorites growing there. We natively considered Phoenix so different from New Orleans that we expected to see only new, as-yet unknown, plants. It wasn’t as true as we thought.
    This time around we resettled from Arizona to South Texas where we expected the opposite; here we knew we would find plenty of plants in common between the two gardens. After all, some of the most reliable ornamentals in the desert, Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), Texas rangers (Leucophyllum spp.), and red hesperaloe (Hesperaloe parviflora) just to name a few, are Texas natives. But it was an old favorite, firebush (Hamelia patens), living happily along the long garage wall that thrilled me.
    I have been enamored of this shrub since I first sold it in Phoenix many years ago. It didn’t catch on all that well there. It had the reputation of being cold intolerant which certainly was the case when it was young, in a container, or in a growing yard on the outer reaches of town. But once it grew up and settled in it was spectacular. I had one in our Arizona garden for many years until it finally died from the after effects of the wicked freeze of 2007 and a constricted space for its roots.
    Cold tolerance is a multi-faceted issue in plants. Although my Arizona firebush declined and ultimately died in the devastation of that record freeze, I find large plants all over South Texas, place that often gets much colder than Phoenix.
    The difference may be in the overall growing conditions. Here subtropical species such as firebush, grow quickly in the hot, humid summer. With regular summer rainfall or watering, they grow to be large shrubs quickly. Therefore, when a hard freeze does occur, they have the hefty root system and large stems to withstand it, and rely on their rapid summer growth to restore the plant completely.
    The line of firebush in our new garden looked atrocious when we got here. They had been living more or less on natural rainfall, which was scarce that year, and it showed. There were nine of them; some were stick dead, some were more dead than alive, and a few showed signs of recovery once we watered them thoroughly. Eventually, Gary took out all but three and began to water them regularly.
    Now, two months later, they are in full bloom with sprays of spiky orange flowers. The hummingbirds of the neighborhood are delighted.
    We consider these plants to be the first stab at the creation of a colorful, lush perennial planting in this side yard. The exposure calls for rugged, heat and drought tolerant choices and these firebush satisfy that criteria as well as look inviting from the street.
    Just like those beloved friends who know so much of your past, this delightful reminder of another time and another garden, is right on the spot to help us establish our new garden life.

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