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Falling in Love with Red

By Karl Gercens, on February 8, 2011

I love plants, and I especially love plants with red flowers, stems or leaves. Red is described in so many words, such as crimson, vermilion, carmine, claret, cherry and ruby. Each of these terms helps express garden excitement to me! It's hard to describe the feeling inside, when for the first time, you see an amazing plant in person that you've read about for years ! I love hearing from guests who encounter choice plants in the gardens for the first time. 

Mimulus ‘Valentine’. Mimulus ‘Valentine’.

With Valentine's Day approaching, I think it's fitting to take a romantic stroll down through the Conservatory to see what exciting, red plants we have on display!  A plant with a very appropriate name for the season is Mimulus 'Valentine'.  The common name for this is sticky monkey flower, and if you touch the leaves you'll know where the "sticky" comes from!  This California native is often found in Longwood's Mediterranean Garden, where its cherry-red blossoms are enjoyed from late winter to early spring. One of the warmest gardens in the Conservatory complex (the Rose House) contains our collection of Chinese hybrid hibiscus.

Hibiscus 'Caleb' & 'Kiss and Tell’. Hibiscus 'Caleb' & 'Kiss and Tell’.

These plants require very warm temperatures and very bright light.  They appreciate a constant low-level feeding program and careful monitoring of the soil pH.  In your home you might have experienced lots of yellow leaves forming on your plants.  No fear, ours do the same thing. It's perfectly natural for the older leaves to yellow and fall.  The key is to have a healthy enough plant to regrow new leaves quickly. There's no better place in the Conservatory to relax on a bench and soak up some rays with your sweetheart than near our hibiscus plants in the Rose House!  I captured this image of Hibiscus 'Kiss and Tell' embracing Hibiscus 'Caleb'.  Looks like 'Caleb' was blushingfrom the advances of his carmine partner!

Cestrum elegans 'Newelii’. Cestrum elegans 'Newelii’.

Cestrum elegans 'Newelii' is one of the more unusual plants you might encounter in the Conservatory.  We grow this plant as a multi-stemmed small shrub and as an elegant standard with a single trunk.  The pendulous clusters of vermilion florets hang with such beauty and weight!  This specimen is native to Mexico and can bloom profusely from late December through early March.  This member of the Solanaceae family (also the family of tomatoes and potatoes) attracts butterflies when it flowers outdoors, but indoors it attracts only "OOH's and AHH's" 

Abutilon 'Voodoo'. Abutilon 'Voodoo'.

For anyone superstitious about the power of the color red then look  no further than Abutilon 'Voodoo'. This Victorian favorite is an ever-bloomer in the Garden Path, and likely will do the same inside your home.  This horticultural hybrid developed by California's Jon Dixon is a vigorous and upright grower.  You can find this member of the Malvaceae family (think of okra, cotton and hibiscus) throughout all continents with tropical and sub-tropical climates.  You will be rewarded by intensely colored carmine bells that hang like ornaments during every holiday! Australia has a wonderful diversity of flowering plants and one of my favorites that blossoms in the East Conservatory is Callistemon citrinus. 

Callistemon Callistemon.

This member of the myrtle family has delightfully fragrant foliage when crushed, and if you happen to hold a leaf to the light you will see hundreds of tiny holes that seem to act as skylights through the leaf itself!  The real beauty is the flower with its fuzzy red stamens that are produced by the hundreds! I can't resist adding at least one orchid into the mix since Longwood Gardens is celebrating the Orchid Extravaganza from now through March 27, 2011.

Stenorrhynchos speciosum Stenorrhynchos speciosum.

Stenorrhynchos speciosum (commonly called the Latin American lady orchid) is a South American native with small white splotches on the foliage.  The floral spike consists of red bracts (modified leaves) with true flowers inside.  It's a challenge to grow in the home, and is best suited to experts or those who have a cool greenhouse.  Longwood's Orchid Extravaganza has more than 2,000 orchids on display and this is just one of the many different kinds of orchids we display throughout the year.  Some bloom for months, but this one lasts for just a few weeks.  Come regularly and see if you can spot it in our collection! We know Spring is on the way when we see tulips in flower, and in the Orangery we have some of the newest cultivars available.

Tulipa 'Pallada'. Tulipa 'Pallada'.

Tulipa 'Pallada' is one of the best deep red triumph tulips on the market.  Red tulips are some of the heaviest researched and trialed colors out there due to their huge popularity in the garden and floral arranging.  I know they'll be your favorite bulb this year.  These "two lips" don't lie!

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