Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Sinningia 'Towering Inferno'

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Dancing pendant flowers for four months and more?  Hardy gloxinias!  Start with this one, 'Towering Inferno'.  Tirelessly in bloom, happy in the hottest sun and heat.  As easy in a pot as it is (if you're gardening at the South end of Zone 7) in-ground. 

 

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Self-supporting, too, and far as I can tell, ignored by bugs, critters, and blights.  Next year I'm going to pot it up even more: The plant can get four feet tall and wide and mine isn't even half that.  Hardy gloxinias are plants with a big future, in every sense.  

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this tough and tireless perennial:

Latin Name

Sinningia 'Towering Inferno'

Common Name

Towering Inferno hardy gloxinia

Family

Gesneriaceae, the African Violet family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy flowering perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 7B - 10.

Habit

Clumping and mounding.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump to four feet tall and wide.

Texture

The velvety foliage at the lower portions of the many stems makes this perennial thick enough to do duty as groundcover.  The flowering stems are almost leafless and project a foot and more above the foliage; their brightly-colored dangling flowers are a see-through confetti.

Grown for

its rarity: "Gloxinia" so often means the totally-tropical houseplant gloxinias that even a whiff of hardiness-—let alone solidly into North Carolina, as with 'Towering Inferno'—is a shock, indeed.

 

its graceful flowers; bright rose-pink tubes dangling airily from tall strong stems, like candelabra of doll-house lipsticks.  ('Towering Inferno' is the last descriptor I'd choose:  The flowers aren't smoldering red at all, and what inferno has "airy candelabra of doll-house lipsticks"?)   

 

its length of flowering season: for me, mid-June into October.

 

its craving for all possible heat, sun, and drainage.  The grower is in North Carolina, a hot and steamy state where, even so, he advises full sun and heat.

Flowering season

Summer into Fall:  June into October.

Culture

Absolutely full sun and excellently-draining soil. 

How to handle it

These hardy Sinningia—and there's a fast-growing clutch of them—demand planting on a slope in well-draining soil with maximal exposure to sun and heat and therefore, inevitably, drought.  Not to worry:  They love every part of it.  Conversely, Summer performance and Winter hardiness suffer if these conditions are compromised.  

 

North of Zone 7, 'Towering Inferno' is a terrific pot plant, provided (I've learned through hard experience) that it be stored, in its pot, warm and dry for the Winter.  Being hardy into the tropics of Zone 10, you could keep the plant growing almost year-round, but if you're like me there are always way too many plants crowded into every inch of sunny space in the greenhouse.  Any plant that will sit out the Winter out of the sun (and sometimes, therefore, in the basement, or at least under the greenhouse bench) is a blessing.

 

In Zones 7 - 9, 'Towering Inferno' is a normal perennial that dies to the ground for the Winter and resprouts in Spring.  A Winter mulch of sand, though, would probably be a good idea, and wouldn't hold moisture like a bark mulch.  

 

In any Zone, if the plant shows an interest in resting—by ceasing growth, stopping flowering, and shedding leaves—by all means cooperate by withholding water.  Given how sustained and energetic its performance is, don't begrudge it any rest it wants.  It will only return bigger and better upon waking.

Downsides

I'm hard-pressed to think of any that could possibly outweigh the astonishing positives: this is a hardy gloxinia that can bloom for, oh, five months. 

Variants

Sinningia are a fast-increasing brood, with flowers in white, cream, yellow, pink, apricot, and rose.  I'm feeling way behind with just a pair of them, pale-yellow 'Bananas Foster' and rose-pink 'Towering Inferno'.  Four or five other flavors seem the minimum.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Do the tubers multiply?  These are all hybrids, so they won't come true from seed.  In early Spring, before growth starts, unpot or dig up your oldest to see if division is possible.  Even if the tuber is still just a solo, it's big enough that you could, with your sharpest serrated knife, saw it in two top-to-bottom just like you would an apple.  The tubers sprout multiple stems, so you'll be likely to have growth points on each half.  Let the severed sections dry gently for a day or so before replanting.

 

It might also be possible to propagate just like you would an African violet,  by rooting the leaves in sand, soil, or even (just like you did in elementary school) a glass of water in a sunny window. 

Native habitat

Sinningia are all native of Central and South America, particularly southern Brazil into Argentina.  'Towering Inferno' and all the other hybrids, though, were bred in America.

 
 
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