Archive | June 2013

Blueberries: incredible edible ornamentals

Blueberry SCBG

Northern highbush blueberry, SC Botanic Garden, Clemson

The genus Vaccinium includes more than 150 species of evergreen, semievergreen, or deciduous ground covers, shrubs and trees; however, very few of the species are cultivated in our gardens.  The most widely cultivated plants are those bred and selected for their edible fruits: northern highbush (V. corymbosum), rabbiteye (V. ashei), southern highbush (hybrids derived from crosses between northern and native southern species, mainly Darrow’s evergreen blueberry [V. darrowi]), and lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium).

Rabbiteye cultivars are best suited for most of South Carolina.  You will need at least two cultivars to ensure adequate cross-pollination.  Dozens of early, mid- and late-season fruiting cultivars are available. For the Midlands and Piedmont of SC, good choices include Alapaha, Vernon, Premier, Brightwell, Powderblue, Ochlockonee, Centurion.  For Coastal SC, both rabbiteye and southern highbush cultivars could be used.  Good choices there include Rebel, Star, Camellia, Palmetto, Emerald, Windsor, Farthing, Sweetcrisp, and Suziblue.

Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for a list of recommended blueberry cultivars for your region (e.g., North  Carolina and Georgia). Also, see the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium for additional information on growing small fruits in the Southeast.

Blueberries are not beautiful for only their fruits.  These edible shrubs have dark blue-green leaves, white to pink bell-shaped flowers, stunning fall color that can include mixtures of orange, red, and yellow, and colorful, red, yellow, and green stems in winter. Tuck blueberries into your landscape with other acid-loving plants–ericaceous plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and pieris. Their multi-season attributes will make your borders, hedges, and perennial plantings pop.


Blackberries: a delectable native North American fruit

Over the past few weeks it’s been open season on blackberries.  These delicious native North American fruits—chock-full of antioxidants— are ripe and ready for picking.  These low maintenance fruits have the shortest shelf-life of any small fruit, which makes them suitable for home gardens and landscapes.

Southern gardeners can grow thorny or thornless semitrailing or erect blackberries.  Semitrailing blackberries typically ripen a month later than early to midseason erect thorny blackberries, and require support.

Ripening blackberries.


Blackberries have an interesting growth habit. In the spring the newly emerging shoots are called primocanes.  In their second season these overwintered shoots are called floricanes.  They produce fruit and eventually die.  These spent floricanes should be removed to provide room for primocanes and to eliminate any harboring insects or diseases.

The lines between primocanes and floricanse have been blurred with the introduction of primocane-bearing blackberries.  Bred by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture fruit breeding program, APF-12 [Prime-Jim®], APF-8 [Prime-Jan®], and ‘APF-45’ [Prime-Ark® 45] also bear fruit on floricanes.  One caveat when growing these primocane-bearing cultivars is that high temperatures (> 85 degrees F) reduce fruit set, size, and quality.

Consult your local Cooperative Extension office for a list of recommended blackberry cultivars for your region (e.g., North  Carolina and Georgia). Also, see the Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium for additional informationon growing small fruits in the Southeast.

Besides their fruit, consider their functionality in the landscape.  Upright or erect blackberries make suitable hedges or deciduous screens. The white and pink flowers of ‘Chester’ and ‘Hull’ semitrailing thornless blackberries look attractive on an espalier or draped over a split rail fence.  Fathers with daughters should remember the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, and the Prince’s encounter with brambles.  Potential suitors will be stymied with a dense planting of thorny ’Choctaw’ or ‘Kiowa’ blackberries. Ask the Prince.

Dahlias, lilies, and colocasias are summer bulbs that can invigorate you and your landscape this summer

Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'_LR

Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ at River Banks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

For some, summer is the season for vacations. Fine, but that doesn’t mean that your landscape has to go on vacation too. You can extend the springtime pageantry of colors, flowers, and fragrances throughout the summer with bulbs. Some bulbs require a little attention, while others thrive on neglect. In this entry I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite summer bulbs.

Dahlias come in nearly every color but blue on stems that range from a foot high to over 5 feet. Their head-turning flowers range from soft peony shapes to spiky “cactus” shapes. Pom-pom dahlias produce tight balls of tiered, rounded petals, while others look like daisies or anemones. I‚m especially fond of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ which grows 2 to 3 feet high with burg

Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ at Riverbanks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

undy-black leaves and garnet red anemone-type flowers. For competitive gardeners, grow the mammoth “dinner plate” dahlias with 6 to 9 inch wide flowers, such as ‘Thomas Edison’‚ (purple), ‘Kelvin Floodlight’‚ (golden yellow), or ‘Garden Wonder’‚ (red).

For looks and fragrance I turn to lilies with flowers that come in several colors: red, yellow, orange, pink, lavender, cream, white, and purple. They range in height from 1 to 6 feet. For starters I recommend Asiatic lilies, Easter lilies (you planted your potted Easter lilies outside, didn’t you?), and the late summer to early fall-flowering Formosa lilies that bear fragrant, off-white funnel-shaped flowers in a candelabra-like display.

Pineapple lilies, particularly ‘Sparkling Burgundy‚ with its intense reddish-purple leaves, has been a reliable performer for me. With anticipation I look forward to the miniature purple pineapple flower bud rising a foot or two high and watch it open gradually to reveal a a spike of white flowers.

Crinums or swamp lilies are the quintessential summer bulb for southern gardens. In the spring bold green leaves sprout from underground bulbs (some attain the size of grapefruits) to create a fountainlike haystack of straplike leaves. In the summer clusters of lilylike flowers appear on three foot tall stalks in colors that range from white, pink, or striped (“milk and wine lilies”).

Crinum 'Cecil Houdyshel'

Crinum ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ at Riverbanks Garden, Columbia, SC. Credit: Andy Cabe.

Several common varieties include ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ (red), ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ (deep pink to red), and C. x powellii ‘Album (white). The Orange River lily (C. bulbispermum) is well-suited for wet areas (“hog wallows”); it blooms in the Spring and sporadically though the summer and fall producing white, pink or striped flowers.

More hard-to-find cultivars worth seeking out include the purple-leaved ‘Sangria’ with deep wine-pink flowers and ‘Regina’s Disco Lounge’ with large pale pink-white flowers with a darker central stripe to each lobe. Depending on the cultivar, crinums may bloom one time or sporadically throughout the season. To see these and hundreds of other crinum species and hybrids, visit Riverbanks Garden in Columbia, SC.

Summer bulbs cultivated for their big, bold leaves include the elephant ears or colocasias. Growing three to five feet in height, these cultivars are grown for their colorful stems and leaves: ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Blue Hawaii’, ‘Hawaiian Eye’, and ‘Lime Aide.

For an eyecatching accent plant, conversation piece, and quick summertime shade, grow Jack’s Giant Elephant Ear. This colocasia introduced by Jack de Vroomen of Greenwood, SC, reaches a height of 7 feet and produces umbrella-sized leaves with wavy margins.

These are just a few of the many summer bulbs that will invigorate you and your landscape without having to take a vacation.

The tomato: fruit or vegetetable?

When I want to get a room full of gardeners engaged in a lively debate, I bring up the topic of tomatoes.

A question that transforms shy, reserved types into outspoken, opinionated verbal wranglers is this one: “Is the tomato a fruit or a vegetable?”

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit. In The American Heritage Dictionary, fruit is defined as a “ripened, seed-bearing part of a plant, esp. when fleshy and edible.”

From a legal standpoint, the tomato is a vegetable. More than 100 years ago this question was litigated in the courts, according to Michael S. Heard in his paper titled “The Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable? A Nonhorticulturist’s Perspective” (July/September 1996 issue of HortTechnology).closeup_tomato_BPlow res

On Feb. 4, 1887, an importer named Nix brought a case against one Mr. Hedden, a collector of the port of New York. Nix, the plaintiff, wanted to recover the duties he paid on tomatoes that he imported from the West Indies the previous year.

Nix argued that tomatoes were fruit, thus exempt from a tariff. Hedden, the defendant, considered tomatoes vegetables and followed the regulations of the 1883 Tariff Act, which imposed a duty on vegetables, but not fruits.

The court had to decide if the tomato was a fruit or vegetable according to the 1883 Tariff Act.

Both parties used dictionaries to prove their cases. Nix’s counsel read the dictionary definitions of fruit and vegetable. He followed with a definition of tomato, proving that it was a fruit.

Hedden’s counsel countered with dictionary definitions of pea, eggplant, cucumber, squash and pepper.

Nix closed with dictionary definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.

The court ruled in favor of Hedden by declaring the tomato a vegetable. Nix appealed.

In 1893, the higher court defined the case of Nix v. Hedden as a “single question: whether tomatoes are to be classed as ‘vegetables’ or as ‘fruits,’ within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883.”

Justice Gray delivered the court’s opinion: “Botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans, and peas.

“But in the common language of the people, all these are vegetables, which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with or after the soup, fish or meats which, constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”

The higher court agreed that dictionaries call the tomato a fruit; however, the dictionary definitions were not admitted as evidence because “in the common language of the people (tomatoes) are vegetables.”

The ruling of the court: “Tomatoes are vegetables and not fruit within the meaning of the 1883 Tariff Act.”

When I was recently cornered by a group of truth-seeking gardeners during a lunch break at a symposium, I was asked if the tomato is a fruit or vegetable.

I calmly replied, “Yes,” and quickly ducked out in the direction of the sliced tomatoes, salsa and gazpacho.

Edible and ornamental fruits

Continuing with this month’s theme, I’d like you to consider adding edible fruiting shrubs, vines, and trees to your landscape.  In the previous entry, I mentioned “cross-over” edibles—vegetables, herbs, and fruits that offer sustenance and beauty.  In the Southeast, we have several cross-over fruiting plants that can be tucked into flower beds and shrub borders in well-drained, full sun locations.  I prefer species that are well-adapted to the South (even native), low maintenance, and re resistant to pests (insects and diseases).  A few of my favorites that I’ll discuss in more detail in future entries this month are blackberry, blueberry, pawpaw, fig, persimmon, pomegranate, pineapple guava, and muscadine grapes.

In your consideration of edible species and cultivars, consider the appropriate chill-hour requirements for your region.  Chill hours are the number of hours below 45 degrees F accumulated by temperate fruiting plants during the winter to overcome dormancy.  Cultivars that were developed for the northeastern U.S. or for Florida may have chilling requirements that are too high or too low, respectively, and will perform poorly for you.  In my home state of South Carolina, the Upstate (Foothills and Mountains) typically accumulates 1,000-2,000 chill hours per year.  The central Midlands normally receives 700-900 chill hours.  The Coastal Plain and Coast may average as few as 400-600 hours.  Georgia gardeners (I’m writing in Savannah) can calculate the chill hours accumulated in their region.

By simply choosing the right fruiting plants and planting them in the  right location, you can create an edible landscape that tastes as good as it looks.

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month

Celebrate this month by growing vegetables and fruits in your home landscape.  You don’t have to relegate your vegetables and fruits to the backyard in neat, regimented rows.  Nowadays, you can break tradition with a bevy of colorful, eye-catching edibles that can be tucked in flower beds and borders in the front yard instead of being hidden from view in the backyard.  These “cross-over” edibles offer the dual benefits of aesthetics and nutrition.

Today I wanted to introduce you to my favorite boldly-colored and -shaped veggies that aren’t your mother’s vegetables:  they offer sustenance and beauty.  Plant breeders have given us purple cauliflower (‘Graffiti’), burgundy asparagus (‘Purple Passion’), red mustard greens (‘Ruby Streaks’), purplish-red Brussels sprouts (‘Falstaff’), and lemon-yellow cucumbers (‘Lemon’).  Back in 2009 I was smitten by a dwarf basil that looks like a boxwood (‘Boxwood’), and a tomato that produces inch-long strawberry-shaped fruit (‘Tomatoberry’).

If you like hidden surprises, then consider watermelons with lemon-colored flesh (‘Baby Doll’ and ‘Yellow Crunch’), blue potatoes (‘All Blue’), and carrots that come in various shades of red (‘Atomic Red’), yellow (‘Yellowstone’), and purple (‘Purple Dragon’ and ‘Purple Haze’).

'Purple Haze' carrot. Credit: All-America Selections

‘Purple Haze’ carrot. Credit: All-America Selections

My kids viewed this morphing of vegetables into palatable-looking eye-candy as a parent-driven conspiracy to make them eat more vegetables and fruits.  I see it as an opportunity to create an edible landscape that tastes as good as it looks.

Next time I’ll introduce you to several tasty and nutritious fruiting shrubs, vines and trees that can be include in flower beds and shrub borders in well-drained, full sun locations.

Note:  Part of the success of growing  vegetables is timing:  sowing seeds or setting-out transplants at the right time of year.  If you live in South Carolina, see “Planning a Garden.”  If not, visit eXtension to find a vegetable planting calendar that’s appropriate for your region.