Christmas installation is just a few days away at Longwood Gardens and the poinsettias are coloring up very nicely. This year we will display white poinsettias baskets over the lawn of the Orangery (they have been red since I've been able to drive!) These are the largest individual baskets we display in the Conservatory on an annual basis. Part of the secret is that the huge baskets you see from the walkway are actually two separate half-baskets that we grow behind-the-scenes in our production facility and then bolt together once they get to the Conservatory.
Speaking of behind-the-scenes, you might catch a glimpse of Longwood Gardens' production staff toiling away to complete the planting of the spring crop of fuchsia baskets before Christmas installation is upon us. In 2011, we will display 52 Fuchsia 'Lord Beaconsfield' in the historic Orangery & Exhibition Hall. Over the years our experience has shown us that the cultivar 'Lord Beaconsfield' is one of the earliest flowering and most heat-tolerant cultivars we have grown. Each 18" stainless steel basket (which looks like a cage) is lined with sphagnum peat moss to keep the potting media from falling through the sides. We plant two rows of rooted cuttings in each basket with a total of 16 individual plants--growing together into one huge 4' wide specimen! In cooler years we've had some fuchsias reach 6' in length by the end of the season.
We grow more than 25 different types of plant in baskets in the Conservatory throughout the year.Some of my favorites include Acalypha hispida which looks (and feels) like a cat's tail. This native of Mexico has long red catkins, loves heat and humidity, but isn't too fussy about sunlight. We have successfully grown it in full sun outdoors and part shade in the Conservatory.
The cheery golden blossoms of Abutilon 'Dwarf Moon Chimes' is commonly called flowering maple, but don't be fooled! It's not in the maple family at all, but is more closely related to hibiscus, okra and cotton. This further proves my favorite line, "common names are for entertainment purposes only.
One of the newer plants we've introduced to basket culture is Streptocarpus 'Concord Blue'. This plant is a gesneriad (a member of the African violet family) and has proven to be one of the easiest and longest-lasting plants we display overhead! The attractive purple flowers are produced all year long. We found that flowering was reduced in the middle of the summer when temperatures reached over 90 degrees for several weeks in a row. Now that the weather is cooling off, this plant is burning up the runway with a show that stops traffic in all directions!
As our current exhibition, Making Scents: The Art and Passion of Fragrance, draws to an end (November 21 is the last day!), I reflect back to my favorite fragrant basket of 2010 which was Hermannia verticillata. This plant is native to South Africa and only blooms in early spring (April for us). The tiny yellow flowers are produced by the hundreds and are richly fragrant; hence the common name, honeybells. Be on the lookout for this plant to make a return visit in the spring of 2011.