Persimmon: Food of the gods


When it comes to choosing landscape trees, I look for trees that have multi-season interest.  I’ve seen too many fleeting beauties that bear a fireworks display of flowers in the spring that lasts for a week or two, and then they disappear into the landscape.

Kaki persimmon 11_3_2014

‘Fuyu’ on the left and ‘Hiyashi’ Asian persimmon on the right.

I like trees that make you look twice.  Spring flowers, lustrous green leaves in summer, and yellowish to reddish-purple leaves in the fall.  When the leaves drop, brilliantly colored edible fruits hang from the limbs like Christmas ornaments.  They can range in size from a plum to a peach, and in color from yellow to deep orange-red. Then in winter, the thick, nearly black bark cut into neat squares looks like the back of an alligator.

I’m writing about persimmons.  You’re probably familiar with our native persimmon (Diospyros virgininana), which can reach a height of 30 to 60 ft.  It’s often found in abandoned fields, along highways, pastures, and roadside ditches.  Native persimmons are prone to suckering wildly, so if you have one, chances are you’ll have a grove in a short time.  The plum-sized, yellow to orange fruit is small and seedy. Firm, unripened fruit will make your mouth pucker up and will teach you the meaning of the word astringent. To avoid the sensation of a mouthful of cotton balls, pick the fully colored fruit when it’s fully colored;  allow it to ripen and soften indoors. It is a misconception that makes persimmons edible. In fact, frost damages immature fruit on the tree.

Native persimmons are usually dioecious, which means they produce either male or female flowers. Rarely are native persimmons self-pollinating. Both male and female trees are required to produce a full crop.

I prefer Oriental or Kaki persimmon (Disopyros kaki) cultivars, which have a refined look and have been bred and selected for their juicy, sometimes seedless, peach-sized fruit. They are self-fertile and are smaller than native persimmons, often maturing to a height of 20 to 30 ft., although some cultivars grow no higher than 10 feet. For improved drought tolerance, choose Kaki persimmon grafted onto native persimmon rootstock.

Oriental persimmons are subdivided into two classes: astringent and non-astringent. The astringent type should be completely soft before eating. The non-astringent types are firmer and can be eaten prior to softening. Oriental persimmons may produce male, female and/or perfect flowers on the same tree and do not need cross-pollination to set fruit. In case you’re wondering, native and Oriental persimmons will not cross-pollinate. If you purchase a Kaki persimmon, chose on that’s grafted onto native persimmon rootstock for improved drought tolerance. Popular cultivars that grow well in our area include the astringent Hachiya, Sajio, Sheng, and Tanenashi. Non-astringent types include Fuyu, Fuyu Imoto, Hana Fuyu, Hana Gosho, Izu, and Jiro.

I discovered that native and Asian persimmons are attractive throughout the year, but most delectable during the Fall season.

Bob Polomski (c) 2015

Harvesting luffa sponges

Harvest the mature gourds of  luffa sponge plant (Luffa aegyptiaca) when they begin to turn brown, feel light and dry, and rattle when you shake them. After the first killing freeze, remove any more dried gourds. Allow the remaining gourds to dry on the vine or bring them inside to a warm, dry ventilated area.

Luffa gourds 10_16_2015You can save the seeds from large, well-formed gourds by breaking off the bloom end of the dried gourd and shaking it or beating two of them together.

The outer skin is easy to remove from mature, dry gourds. Soak the gourds in warm water until the sponge slips out. Slip your fingers between the outer shell and the fibrous material to release the sponge.

To whiten the sponges you can dip them into a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) after you’ve rinsed off the excess pulp. Allow the sponges to dry thoroughly on racks or suspend them in cheesecloth or mesh bags.

The fruits from the luffa sponge gourd plant can be used as bath sponges or scrubbers for pots and pans. The tough fibers are biodegradable and can be discarded in your compost pile when you’re finished using them.

Bob Polomski (c)

Arboretum Adventures 2015 program at Spartanburg Community College

On Oct. 1, 2015 Linda Cobb organized and hosted “Cultivating Conversations: an event benefitting Spartanburg Community College Department of Horticulture Students at the Health Sciences Building on the Spartanburg Community College campus. Bob Head, renowned plantsman and plant propagator, presented “The Truth in Selecting, Growing, and Marketing Desirable Ornamental Native Plants.”
The evening Arboretum Adventures 2015 program (attached) featured Scott McMahan, Owner, Garden*Hood Nursery in Atlanta, who presented “Climbing Asian Mountains, Fording Rivers, and Fighting the Elements: Moments from a Plant Hunter’s Diary.”
He was followed by Andrew Bunting, Garden Assistant Director & Plant Collections Director at the Chicago Botanic Garden, who presented “The Influences of Plant Exploration and Botanical Gardens On Building a Home Garden.” [Mr. Bunting’s presentation begins at 54:41].

Grow this! Confederate rose

Like aspiring Hollywood actors, there are some lesser known fall-blooming garden plants that perform brilliantly in our gardens, but are rarely found in the marketplace.  These plants have beauty, talent, and the ability to make passersby stop for a longer look.  Some of them have even been around for a long time.  Nevertheless, they aren’t as easilyConfederate rose_3 (2) recognized from the street as garden mums, asters, or goldenrods.

As a self-appointed publicity agent for lesser-known plants,  I would like to promote Confederate rose in this month’s issue.  Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) was new to me when I arrived in South Carolina   I first heard about it from the late Jim Wilson, the former cohost of PBS’ The Victory Garden.  Mr. Wilson told me that this Chinese native has been passed along over the years by generations of southern gardeners.

When I first saw this plant in bloom one October morning several autumns ago, I had to stop the car to take a closer look.  Standing over 10 feet all and taking up more than 5 feet of lawn, this woody, multistemmed shrub had red, pink, and white peonylike flowers—all on the same plant.  I was awestruck.

True to its species name—mutabilis—which means “changing”, Confederate rose flowers open up white and then change to pink and then to red before they begin to fade.   Some cultivars of Confederate rose, such as ‘Plena,’ have double-flowers that change from white to pink.  ‘Flore-plena’ is a common cultivar that has doublConfederate rose_1 (2)e pink, camellialike flowers.  Two cultivars with single flowers include raspberry-red flowered ‘Raspberry Rose’ and the scarlet colored ‘Rubus.’

Confederate rose prefers full sun to partial shade in a well-drained location.  In the Piedmont, the woody stems die back to the ground when temperatures drop to 15 degrees F.  However, new shoots slowly emerge in the spring.

Confederate rose may never get the lucky break it deserves to become famous, mostly because it spends most of the growing season looking rather ordinary with large, fuzzy, sycamorelike leaves.  It’s also relatively pest-free, and so demands little attention or interest from gardeners for most of the time.  It’s not until late September and October when Confederate rose makes its debut that people take notice.  Believe me, it’s worth waiting to see her in bloom.

Unfortunately, Confederate rose is not very common in the nursery trade.  It’s probably because it’s difficultConfederate rose_4 (2) to sell a plant without flowers.  Thankfully, we can always find the opportunity to befriend someone who’s already growing a Confederate rose with the hope of receiving a handful of passalong cuttings.

With the owner’s permission (who has now become your new best friend), take a few cuttings now and root them in water.  Jim Wilson said that his wife Jane used to overwinter cuttings in a pail of water.  In the spring she potted them up and passed them along to friends and acquaintances.   I’ve rooted a few cuttings in water and found that they’re perfect confidence-builders for people who are timid or inexperienced at rooting garden plants.  There’s nothing to it.  Just put them in water and stand back.

One piece of advice that Jim Wilson shared with me: “Don’t plant Confederate rose unless you like havin’ lots of company.”

© Bob Polomski 2015

Great 21st Century Plantsmen

Donglin and kevin parris_2015

Donglin Zhang, Ph.D., on the left and Kevin Parris on my right.

Over my career I have had the good fortune of meeting many plantsmen and plantswomen who have made invaluable and innumerable contributions to horticulture. This morning I had the good fortune of spending an hour with two of them in the SC Botanic Garden in Clemson, SC. Dr. Donglin Zhang is the Michael A. Dirr Endowed Chair Professor for Woody Plant Instruction and Introduction at the University of Georgia in Athens. My friend, Kevin Parris, is the Horticulture Instructor/ Arboretum Director at Spartanburg Community College. Kevin is an internationally recognized magnolia breeder who has introduced a number of plants to the industry, namely Kay Parris southern magnolia, which he fondly wrote about in a Journal of the Magnolia Society International article in 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

“As time has gone by I have been pleased that “Kay” has taken a place alongside the other M.
grandiflora matriarchs such as ‘Claudia Wanna- maker’, ‘Edith Bogue’, ‘Phyllis Barrow’, and ‘Margaret Davis’. Knowing that there are real people behind the inspiration and existence of cultivated plants makes the hope of future discoveries and honorary tributes a noble endeavor in my mind. It is very difficult to describe the reward of seeing a whimsical notion come alive and make its way across the waters of this earth. In North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, China, Canada, Colombia, and elsewhere, people may be saying, “Who in the world is Kay Parris?” Now you know.”

We toured the Garden and admired a wide array of plants, especially the deciduous and evergreen magnolias. Gentlemen, it was an amazing experience for me. Thank you.

Turn your landscape into a “foodscape.”

Over a quarter century ago, Rosalind Creasy published The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping which popularized the concept of landscaping with edible plants: “a yard that is both productive and beautiful.” Her seminal book erased the lines that separate edibles from ornamentals and ultimately changed how Americans look at fruit trees, squash vines, and flowering herbs.

Covers Round 2_rev.indd

Paperback, 176 Pages. $24.99 paperback. ISBN: 978-1591866275 171 color photos. Published by Cool Springs Press: May 6, 2015

Many Southern gardeners embraced this concept, including the first lady of the University of South Carolina, Patricia Moore-Pastides. On a fall visit to the Columbia campus last year, I marveled at a flower bed of cool season annuals growing cheek-by-jowl with an attractive assortment of red cabbage, Swiss chard, and kale.

Following Creasy’s footsteps is Charlie Nardozzi with Foodscaping: practical and innovative ways to create an edible landscape ($24.99 paperback; ISBN: 978-1591866275; 171 color photos; Cool Springs Press, 2015). He sums up the premise of his book in the Introduction: “Foodscaping is integrating edibles into your gardens without sacrificing beauty. It’s a great way to produce food for yourself and your community and still have the beauty and functionality you want in the landscape.” Nardozzi writes with a reassuring tone and gains your trust immediately. The author makes you believe that it’s possible to grow food without sacrificing beauty.

In Chapter 1, Ways and Places to Grow Food, Nardozzi encourages us to re-imagine our front and backyards by blurring the boundaries between ornamentals and edibles. I have to admit that using edibles in foundation plantings or hedgerows seems ludicrous, but the luscious images that complement the text makes it work.

The second chapter, Foodscaping 101, is a crash course in designing with edibles, evaluating and retrofitting your landscape with edibles, and learning how to substitute ornamental plants with “foodscaping plants.” Nardozzi reminds the reader that edibles can taste as good as they look. His lists of “Foodscape varieties with interesting leaf colors” and “Foodscape plants with seasonal color interest” makes me want to venture away from the traditional backyard vegetable garden and to the front yard. If it’s a violation of subdivision covenants to integrate vegetables and herbs in my foundation plantings of coneflowers, four o’clocks, loropetalum, and milkweed, so be it.

In Chapter 3, My Favorite Foodscape Plants, Nardozzi discusses 43 of his favorite vegetables, herbs and flowers, edible annual flowers, groundcovers, berry shrubs, vines, and fruit trees that “taste great.” Despite the national scope of this book, Nardozzi reaches out to Southern gardeners. He writes about southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberry varieties in “Blueberry” and muscadines in “Grapes.” Thankfully, there’s plenty of room in the margins of each page for jotting down additional varieties and ideas for your foodscape.

Finally, when I got to the last chapter, I knew I was hooked. The author knows that as well in the first line of Chapter 4, Plant, Grow, and Harvest, “Now that you’ve gotten inspired….” Nardozzi covers the nuts-and-bolts of site selection, pre-planting, planting, pruning, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, and composting. I enjoyed his discussion of Integrated Pest Management and foodscaping, rotating vegetable families, and attracting beneficial insects with vegetables and herbs.

Nardozzi admits that his book is not the ultimate resource for foodscapers, so he provides a section on Supplies and Resources for gardeners to delve further into specific variety recommendations or cultural practices. Rounding out this 176-page book is the USDA Hardiness Zone map, Glossary, and Index.

Charlie Nardozzi’s Foodscaping will help you create an edible landscape that tastes as good as it looks.

© Bob Polomski 2015

You want flowers and more flowers? Grow glossy abelia

Canyon Creek glossyabelia

Canyon Creek glossy abelia with bronze-red new leaves that change to variegated yellow and gold.

You want flowers? Glossy abelia (Abelia xgrandiflora) will give you flowers–plenty of them over a long period of time. This hybrid (A. chinensis x A. uniflora) originated in Italy before 1866 and has been in cultivation for more than a century. It remains as one of the most popular shrubs for gardens. White, flushed pink tubular flowers emerge from May until frost. When you look at the flowers individually, you’ll say, “Yeah, so what.” Step back and look at the flowers smothering the leaves and you’ll find yourself saying, “Holy cow!” This cast-iron shrub is not fazed by heat or drought; sun or shade is acceptable although full sun results in the best floral display. It has not significant insect or disease problems.

The typical height of the species is 3 to 6 ft. high and wide (18 to 20 ft. high specimens at the Keith Arboretum in Chapel Hill, NC), but you should consider cultivars that offer a range of sizes, forms, and flower colors. My current favorites are ‘Canyon Creek’, ‘John Creech’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Little Richard’ and ‘PIIAB-I’ Golden Fleece™.

While other shrubs and trees go in and out of bloom, count on glossy abelia to charm you with a seemingly never-ending floral display.

© Bob Polomski 2015