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Old Flower Varieties Remain Popular Today
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The first spring in my Mississippi home, built in the late 1800's, several plants really humbled this horticulturist. Although I probably destroyed some thinking they were weeds, many survivors have endeared themselves to me.
One timeless classic I immediately fell in love with had bright orange-red flowers. It kept me guessing for a while, but turned out to be crocosmia, or monbretia.
Every gardener needs crocosmia. Native to Africa, it is an old-time Southern favorite and fairly easy to find in nurseries. It blooms for a really long time on stems 15 to 20 inches long .
Typically, the flower stems branch and curve slightly, and the ends of spikes bear a couple rows of buds. You can tell they are related to the gladiola.
I have some crocosmia intermingled with tall monkey grass, or liriope. This is a nice arrangement, but my favorite groupings are among banana trees. The banana stalks accented with the crocosmia flowers make a unique display. The dappled shade provide by the banana leaves seems ideal.
Bold plantings in large drifts are also attractive. You will want to plant at least a dozen for this type of display.
Crocosmias are great as cut flowers used with grasses, zinnias or gingers. Condition them with warm water before placing in the vase.
Another plant that showed up that first spring was the cashmere bouquet, or Clerodendron bungei. I spent a great deal of time in the West Indies and fell in love with the clerodendrons grown there and was excited to find one growing at my house.
I was fairly dumbfounded when I discovered the plant because I did not know what it was. I have since seen it growing all over the state, but almost never for sale in a nursery.
Although in the verbena family, the clerodendrons are mostly zone 10 tropical. The cashmere bouquet, or glory flower, is native to China and India and can reach 6 feet high. Its dark green and purple foliage has a musky odor when touched.
This plant's large heads of pink, sweetly-fragrant flowers remind me of a broccoli head as they prepare to open.
The cashmere bouquet blooms on current seasons' growth, so winter temperatures that knock it to the ground are no problem.
Morning sun and afternoon shade or filtered light seems to be ideal. Plant the cashmere bouquet in well-mulched, organic-rich beds that keep it moist and offer winter protection.
I am growing mine near small bananas, gingers and upright elephant ears. The blooms form through-out the growing season and can be absolutely spectacular in flower arrangements. It also seems to be a good nectar source for butterflies, as I see swallowtails visiting quite often.
Some people say cashmere bouquet is invasive and will sucker and spread throughout the garden. I suppose that may be true for gardeners who simply want to plant and never do any tending.
On the other hand, one of the prettiest displays I have seen was in Belzoni where the gardener started with one plant but let it spread until there where more than 50 growing. That is how I feel about cashmere bouquet. I have never had trouble removing an unwanted plant or finding someone who would like it.