Two new favourites: Rusellia and Dionella

I have two new favourite plants.  The only problem is you can only grow them in places like Florida, and other tropical climes.

This self-seeding evergreen perennial with wispy foliage and slender, cigar shaped blooms not only adds colour but also movement to the garden.  It is called the Firecracker plant (Rusellia equisetiformis) after the tubular shape of the flowers and is a heat-lover, requiring moderate water and lean soil.  It is native to Mexico but will grow in similar climates (Zones 9-11) as long as temperatures don’t dip below 25 degrees fahrenheit.

This plant has a loose, cascading habit and if you neglect to deadhead the almost neon-coloured blooms (honestly, who has that kind of time?!), the plant will vigorously self-seed and form a large colony.  Because of this tendency, it is considered moderately invasive.

I thought I had seen it before!  I took this picture several years ago while we were vacationing in St-Martin and you can see it planted atop a concrete wall on a hillside.  The perfect plant to colonize a difficult space and provide colour and texture.  I also remember that this planting was an incredible lure for hummingbirds!

The landscapes here in Florida are almost schizophrenic:  on the one hand, there are displays like this above, often surrounding grand estates, where plants are massed and treated like hedges or barriers or rigid walls.  To do this they are pruned and clipped into formal shapes and used for the colour and texture of their foliage.

On the other hand,  some plantings are loose, free-wheeling and appear almost naturalized.  I took this shot out of the car as we were travelling down the ocean-side, main street.  These grasses (Pennisetum), grown to maturity with their adult seedheads and straw-coloured foliage, wave languorously in the breeze.  They reflect a much more casual and informal landscape, mimicked by the much more modest, sea-side cottages.

Another tropical that has been new to me here is the variegated Flax lily (Dionella tasmanica ‘Variegata’) and I am smitten.   Upon first viewing this plant I thought it was a variegated form of Liriope, but it has a delicate flower held high on a dangling stem that resembles those in the nightshade family (like a potato).

It generally grows to a height of one foot, double that when you include the flowering wands.  Unlike many flowering tropicals, it will take some shade and makes a grassy but well-behaved clump so is often used as an edger in low-maintenance beds.

In general, the landscapes here in this part of Florida are very highly manicured:  sharp edges, plants clipped and primped, lawns pristine and automatically irrigated, with spaces between plants to show off contrasting mulch.

I must admit, there is something satisfactory to me about this kind of garden.  A feeling of tidiness, control and predictability.  But, on the other hand, it also leaves me feeling a bit uneasy.

Gardens like these (above and below) promise surprise and unpredictability.  Perhaps that is why I love these two featured plants:  neither can be clipped, pruned or trained.  Both move with the breeze and are simply what they are, allowed to be themselves without snipping, shaping or manipulating.

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