I lived and gardened in northeastern Florida for two years.
Those were lonely, often difficult years, but there were bright spots, mostly of the botanical sort: thick bougainvillea vines tracing patterns on the walls of old St. Augustine, the intoxicating scent of jasmine, the dry rustle of Queen palms.
Here are the garden plants I remember most fondly from those hot and humid days, and–to help us all out–some suggestions for plants that might give similar effects in more northern places.
- Passionflower vine / Clematis
I will never forget stepping out of the car at a Florida park near my home and seeing a Passionflower vine for the first time. I was like a cartoon character–eyes almost popping out of my head–what could this be?? This bizarre, alien, vivid, purple beauty? It was too strange to be real. And yet, there it was, curling its way around and around the wooden fence that separated parking lot from park.
Passionflower is a native of the southeastern U.S. and can actually be grown as far north as zone 6. It is a vigorous grower. If passionflower isn’t the vine for you, the famous clematis variety ‘Jackmanii’ makes a stunning, purple substitute.
Queen palms are elegant trees with a dry, silvery beauty. River birch is a lovely native tree–excellent for wildlife–that brings a similar textural beauty to our gardens.
- Amaryllis / Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
The first year in my Florida garden, I was astonished to discover the exotic greenhouse beauty of an amaryllis flowering in our slightly shady side yard. I’d never seen a flower like that growing outside. Southern and northern gardeners can enjoy these flowers that have long been associated with Christmas celebrations. In the north, we can keep potted bulbs indoors to bring much-needed botanical beauty to long winter days.
Star jasmine (sometimes called Confederate jasmine) was a garden plant I discovered by smell, not sight. The scent used to taunt me as I took walks around our Florida neighborhood. It didn’t take me long to discover that the scent belonged to a gorgeous, starry-flowered vine growing on many back fences. My Pennsylvania garden is far too cold for Star Jasmine, but I achieve a similar white-flowering perfume by growing moonflower vines from seed. These annual vines take time to grow, but by the end of summer I usually have a few flowers opening up each evening. And all it takes is one to stop you in your tracks.