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

 
 

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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

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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

Daniel Weeks tropical ginger

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Hot and steaming weather—just what tropical gingers crave.  This is a hybrid, Hedychium 'Daniel Weeks', one of a half dozen I grow in large pots in the dappled shade of one of the wisteria-covered pergolas. 

 

The orchid-like flowers emerge from dramatic buds, and waft a heavy gardenia-like fragrance into the evening air. 

 

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Even before a single flower has opened, the somewhat creepy buds are a show all themselves.

 

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I had fantasies of my gingers swanning about in full sun, right next to the dahlias.  Ha!  Although native to the sweltering tropics of Asia, these gingers don't seem comfortable in full sun even when it's the comparatively weak stuff here in New England.  They get direct blasts of sun only in morning and late-day, with just glints in between. 

 

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With almost all of the collection together under this pergola, the fragrance is all the more concentrated.  I should bring over a couple of chairs, so we can have an evening drink while being awash in it.

 

 

Here's how to grow this swell-when-it-swelters tropical perennial:

 

Latin Name

Hedychium 'Daniel Weeks'

Common Name

'Daniel Weeks' tropical ginger

Family

Zingiberaceae, the Ginger family.

What kind of plant is it?

Flowering perennial.

Hardiness

The warm end of Zone 7, up to 10.

Habit

Upright bamboo-like canes, spreading (where hardy in-ground) from thick but shallow iris-like rhizomes to form a substantial colony.  Doesn't run like bamboo, but the colony definitely increases.  There are no strictly-clumping tropical gingers, and in truly mild climates gingers can eventually take up a lot of real estate if you don't control them. 

Rate of Growth

Fast if happy.

Size in ten years

Taller and faster in warmer climate zones.  A colony six feet or more across and four to six feet tall.

Texture

The foliage and the canes are both corn-like, for a look that's either vegetable or tropical depending on your own context.  The large "cobs" of colorful fragrant orchid-like flowers that terminate each cane, though, definitely proclaim "fabulous tropics." 

Grown for

its flowers.  If the growing season is long enough, each and every cane eventually terminates in a pine-conish—or, rather, corn-cobish—bud cluster that matures to an extraordinary vertical cluster of orchid-like flowers the color of the most high-fat orange ice-cream, each with an orange center.  The long orange stamens give the whole cluster a further drama of gaudy Mardi Gras eyelashes.  The evening fragrance, wafting through the heavy still air of a sweltering August, is yet another pleasure.  

 

its hot-weather flowering season.  For me, from early August into September depending on how many canes I've been able to coax.  In-ground in warmer climates there will be many more canes, and the blooming season extends right through Fall.  Sigh.

Flowering season

Summer and (with large colonies) Fall, starting, for me, in August.  Even earlier in milder climates where the colony has been able to get that much more of a start in Spring.

Culture

Dappled sun, heat, rich soil, and plenty of moisture.  Gingers are native to the "wet" tropics—think jungles of Borneo—rather than the dry tropics of, say, many Caribbean Islands.  I found that even here in Rhode Island the sun is too strong for sustained exposure. 

How to handle it

In-ground, gingers can scarcely have too rich or, in the growing season, too moist a soil.  (That said, they aren't bog plants, let alone aquatics.)  But as usual, good Winter drainage helps hardiness at the lower end of their range.  The rhizomes don't tolerate much frost but as long as you mulch heavily in Zones 7 and 8, and lightly even in Zone 9, they should be safe.  You can also dig up clumps after the first Fall frost, storing them dormant and frost-free, and then replanting in Spring.  But ginger clumps can be as big as manual typewriters, and much heavier, so this isn't the tactic if you don't have a strong back.

 

I've gotten the best results by growing my gingers in large containers year-round.  If nothing else, I'm spared the onerous Fall digging.  I keep them in the greenhouse over the Winter.  The clumps handle dormant-storage (like you'd do for cannas and dahlias) just fine, too—but, in my experience, need to be started back into early-Spring growth in the greenhouse if they're to have a hope of blooming before that first Fall frost. 

 

Each cane blooms only once; cut them off right to the ground when they begin to fade.  Be careful of new canes that might also be emerging:  Canes bloom only at the very tip so if you damage it, it's best to cut off the entire cane and resolve to be more careful from now on.

 

In less-than-tropical climates, where the canes are killed back by frost but the rhizomes are still hardy by virtue of your mulching or just because it's so darn mild, let the old canes last until early Spring, cutting them off only when the new canes start.  In the real tropics, you can cut them off any time at all, lucky you.

 

Divide up older colonies in early Spring (again, minding the fragile new canes), replanting the vigorous outer portions and tossing the sparser, woodier, center portions.  In this regard, you handle tropical gingers like you handle Siberian iris.   

 

Wherever you grow tropical gingers, site them either under high shade day-long, or where they get shade from mid-day sun.   

Downsides

Hedychium can be challenging to bring into bloom if your Summer is—from a ginger's perspective—short or cool, which can be New England (short) as well as the Pacific Northwest (cool).  For us, then, the effortless bounty that gingers bring to gardens in its more-favored sweltering and long-season locales can be (trust me) exasperating.  On the other hand, I say, having gingers run riot from June to Thanksgiving is at least some solace when you need to live in someplace truly steamy like, say, Biloxi.

Variants

Hedychium flowers are almost as diverse in color as roses, from white, pink, or yellow into deepest orange-red.  (For flowers in pure red to burgundy-black, look to the even more extravagantly-sized and -flowered Hedychium relatives, the Heliconias.)  

 

Individual flowers can be larger or smaller, and their vertical clusters longer or shorter.  Some species and cultivars come into bloom much earlier than others; 'Tara' is particularly helpful in this regard when you're trying to grow any hedychium in a short-season, cool-Summer locale; I've had it in bloom in July, even when starting it from a dormant clump instead of carrying the pot over the Winter in leaf in the greenhouse.

 

Overall plant heights vary from three or four feet to three times that, so depending on your choices, hedychiums can function like colorful perennials as well as giant horticultural screens.

 

Hedychium foliage was boring until the softly-variegated 'Dr. Moi' came along; now it's downright jivey with 'Vanilla Ice', which is 'Dr. Moi' after he took something he shouldn't.  The foliage of 'Vanilla Ice' is so dramatically lined and sectored in white that the flowers—apricot with hedychium's gardenia-like fragrance—are still, nonetheless, only secondary.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division in late Winter or Spring.  The pure species come true from seed. 

Native habitat

Hedychia are native to tropical Asia; 'Daniel Weeks' was hybridized in Gainesville, Florida.

 
 
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