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Want to remember the RNC? Plant a GOP garden

I think I have a nonpartisan garden. My plants are, by necessity, independents. Some do lean one way or the other, but it's mostly toward the sun. They tend to stay out of politics. With the Republican National Convention in town this week, though, we've all been involved, one way or another, no matter our party affiliation or lack thereof. Which got me thinking about the Grand Old Party and, because plants color most of my thoughts, what a GOP garden might look like. Should we have installed elephant ears months ago so the delegates would feel at home as they commuted to downtown Tampa? Maybe medians full of red caladiums? Yup, red is the place to start.

Red for Republican

Jatropha integerrima (a.k.a. spicy jatropha or Peregrina), old-fashioned crimson pentas and native swamp hibiscus all have bright red flowers and thrive in generally horrible conditions. Any true conservative should go nuts for these.

Jatropha can be a huge shrub or small tree, depending how you prune. Even if it freezes to the ground, you can almost always count on it to come back from the roots. It has clusters of small, bright red blooms nearly year-round and, once established, asks for nothing from the government — er, gardener.

As for pentas, there are lots of new hybrids available in a Crayola box of colors at your local big-box garden center. But my favorite, for color and staying power, is the old-fashioned crimson. It needs no coddling and produces clusters of scarlet, eye-catching blooms on bushes that can get at least 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide.

Mine usually die back in a freeze unless they're covered, but they're so easy to start from cuttings, I just make sure I have some winter insurance plants.

If you're plant shopping, you can distinguish old-fashioned crimsons from newer hybrids by looking at the blooms. The hybrids' flowers will have pale to white centers, while the crimsons are red through and through.

The only pests that seem to bother these are nematodes, the microscopic worms that thrive in sandy soil. Add some leaves, compost, or other organic material to the dirt and you've got a natural, good-for-you pesticide.

Swamp hibiscus are Florida natives, and native is always a plus if you're looking for low-maintenance plants. However, if you really want to stay with the RNC theme, you'll want to install these guys as far from the main garden action as possible -- they're your Florida delegates.

Swamp hibiscus love water. They'll be happy in a boggy bed, in a container in a pond, or in a container that doesn't drain.

Full sun for these guys.

Fiscal conservatives

Succulents are beautiful plants that will add very little, if anything, to your budget deficit. You can find an amazing variety, and get growing advice from experts, Saturday at the 18th annual Central Florida Cactus and Succulent Society Show and Sale at USF Botanical Gardens, It's 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it's free. (Visit gardens.usf.edu for details.)

I have friends who say they can't grow any plants because "I kill cactus." Actually, it's not so hard to kill a cactus if you don't know what yours wants.

Cactus are a member of the succulents family, which — generally — love the sun and have minimal water needs.

They do need water; they just don't want to sit in it. That means you need soil that drains well. In containers, plant your succulents in a 50/50 mix of potting soil and perlite, which you can find at any big-box store. Don't buy potting mixes labeled for cactus, they don't work well here, according to my succie-loving friends.

Be sure the container has drainage holes, too.

Some beautiful no-brainer succulents are hen-and-chicks, a family of little plants with a main plant (the hen) that spawns babies (chicks). My favorites of these are the Echeveria varieties.

Your best bet is to buy from a vendor or nursery where someone can tell you exactly what your selection needs. And you can do that Saturday.

• • •

The nice thing about all the plants I've mentioned is they'll do great in your garden no matter what your politics. Throw in some protest signs, wind, rain and lots of traffic, and you'll remember Tampa's first national party convention for years to come.

Call it an entitlement, courtesy of the GOP.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at pcarnathan49@gmail.com. Find more local garden stories on her blog, www.digginfladirt.com or join the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.

Want to remember the RNC? Plant a GOP garden 08/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 30, 2012 4:30am]
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