Escaping to Florida

img_0742.jpgThis past week in Minnesota was bone-chilling, but I missed most of it, thanks to a long-planned trip to visit my parents, who spend the winter in Naples, Florida. The weather in Naples was great, especially compared to the sub-zero temperatures at home. On our first day there, my mom and I visited the Naples Botanic Garden which showcases the flowers and trees of southwestern Florida.

img_0751.jpgLast winter, my mom bought two tiny Crown of Thorns plants in Florida, brought them home to Minnesota, where they grew to about 24 inches tall. (I’m trying to keep them alive through the winter for her with mixed results.) We were shocked to see a Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia splendens) up to my waist when we walked through the gates at the garden. It just shows what a tropical climate will do. Naples is zone 10, compared to zone 4 in Minnesota.

One of the prettiest displays in the garden is the Tropical Mosaic Garden. With a brilliant blue and green mosaic bacimg_0732.jpgkground that reflects the colors of the Gulf of Mexico, the garden is home to date palms, giant bromeliads, and a grotto covered in maidenhair ferns. Some paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceaus) were in bloom along with a fabulous orchid tree. The bloom period for these trees is coming to an end, but even as they faded, the hot pink, orchid-like flowers were impressive.

img_0794.jpgWe happened to be there on the opening day of the garden’s new Wings of Brazil exhibit, which runs through May 2008. Inside the garden’s three-room butterfly house are an array of Brazilian birds. The birds included a Banana Quit named for its yellow back, a marvelous green bird called the honeycreeper, a fascinating red-capped cardinal and several friendly parrots. The garden also features a one-mile walking path through a 30-acre native pine and oak scrub habitat.

The garden is an exchange garden with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, so if you are an arboretum member, you can visit the Naples garden for free. It’s not large, but for a northerner looking for some heat, humidity, and flowers, the Naples Botanic is worth a stop.

The November Garden

November is my least favorite month: dark, wet, and nothing but winter in sight for the next six months. But gardeners can find ways to brighten November–or at least work with its palette. Yesterday and today, I’m on a road trip to the Chicago area. En route to Chicago, I stopped at the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wis. Olbrich is a city garden, nestled in a large park along Lake Monona. Its executive director is Roberta Sladky, formerly of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul.

Like Madison itself, Olbrich is big enough to be interesting, but not so big it overwhelms visitors. I toured Olbrich on a hot, sunny day in the summer of 2006 and loved the garden’s bright colors, especially its rose garden. This time, fall and a persistent drizzle gave the place a pleasant but muted feel.

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Visiting public gardens is a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Public garden designers really know how to frame vistas and outlooks. This view is not far from the entrance to the garden and it clearly tells visitors they are entering a special place. That tower in the distance overlooks the rose garden.

Olbrich uses grasses, fruiting trees, and ground covers to provide interest and color in the fall garden. The gardeners there also leave many of their perennials standing, rather than clearing them out for the winter.

img_0192.jpgI love the rich purple color of this Ajuga ‘Burgandy Glow’ img_0203.jpgwhich is underplanted in a bed of shrubs and perennials. Planted nearby are several crabapple trees with their bright red fruits dangling down. Other highlights of Olbrich are its Thai garden and its use of grasses. More on those in future posts.