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Diggin' Florida Dirt: My favorite social media will always be pass-along plants

A couple of years ago, my across-the-street neighbor sent me a friend request on Facebook. When I accepted, she sent me a message:

"I friended you because I want to know what those big bushes are growing next to your house. The ones with all the red flowers. I love them!"

When I got done laughing — Facebook? Really? I'd have just marched across the street with my snippers and asked for a cutting — I dug up some of my Java glorybower and helped Alina and her husband, Michael, plant them.

Call it karmic sweat equity: My spectacular (in all modesty) Clerodendrum speciosissimum were passed along by a 90-something Tampa gardener, Miss Mary Lee Tyre, to my sister, who passed some to my mother, who passed them to me.

You'll be hard put to find our "pagodas" in a retail nursery, though they've thrived for decades in Florida.

My garden is full of pass-alongs, antique plants handed down through generations, one gardener to the next. (A fun book about this fine Southern tradition is Passalong Plants by Steve Bender and Felder Rushing.)

Pass-alongs are surprisingly hard to find in nurseries and garden centers, although they're easy to propagate, heat- and drought-tolerant, and have flowers that make passers-by say, "I want that!" They're great plants. There's a reason gardeners have been sharing them since before Miracle-Gro and micro-irrigation.

My inner sentimental sap also appreciates garden heirlooms that bloom in memoriam. My family refers to our Java glorybowers as "Miss Mary Lee's pagodas," homage to that dear lady who passed away a few years ago. She cinched her legacy with flaming flowers that will forever remind me of her big, red-lipstick smile.

A lot of the old pass-alongs in my garden are Clerodendrum, a genus that includes hundreds of tropical and subtropical plants native to Asia and Africa. Bleeding heart vine, Clerodendrum thomsoniae, is probably the best known of the bunch.

Mine, now twining prettily around the garden swing, was a cutting passed along last year by Marilyn Anderson of the Elegant Gardeners Club of Sun City Center. (I can't say thank you, per pass-along rules, so Marilyn, know that I think of you every time I admire those red and white blooms.)

The rest I have I bought from George Griepenburg, a Dade City botanist and longtime grower who sells at festivals under the name Hummingbird and Butterfly Plants by George. He grows more than 300 varieties of plants and counts Clerodendrums among his favorites.

"I have customers come back to me all the time and tell me how great they're doing," he says. "They don't need a lot of water if you remember to water them well the first few months to get them established. They bloom almost year-round. I never see aphids or any other pests on them. You gotta love plants like that."

Most Clerodendrum die back in the winter in the Tampa area, but thanks to massive root systems, they rebound bigger and better in the spring. Blue butterfly, Clerodendrum ugandense, and musical note, Clerodendrum incisum, can be exceptions. The former will usually come back, Griepenburg says, if the roots are kept watered during spring dry spells. Musical note, however, is more tropical than the others, so it needs to be in a protected spot and covered during freezes.

A downside for some varieties, including my Java glorybower and the true "pagoda," Clerodendrum paniculatum, can be a tenacious will to spread.

"That's not a problem if you put them in the right spot where they have some room," Griepenburg says.

Mine were the perfect solution for a neglected side yard visible from the street. When they stray too far, I just pull them up and pass them along.

Griepenburg's plants, sold with robust root systems in 3-gallon containers, are priced from $10 to $20. He will be at the Caladium Festival in Lake Placid (lpfla.com/caladium.htm) today and Saturday, and, closer to home, at Pioneer Florida Days (pioneerfloridamuseum.org) Sept. 3-4 in Dade City. Check his website, george4plants.com, for other events.

In the meantime, keep your eye on your neighbors' gardens for potential pass-alongs. And you just might make a new friend, too.

Reach Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan@sptimes.com.

Diggin' Florida Dirt: My favorite social media will always be pass-along plants 08/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:51pm]

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