Its fruit is not much bigger than a golfball. “If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was a mandarin from the grocery store,” said Seamone, a Germantown-based designer of tropical landscapes. Saia’s tree grows in the lee of the house, but in a garden that still gets the chill of the outer suburbs.
Citrus guru Tom McClendon, in his book “Hardy Citrus for the Southeast,” lists an amazing number of species and hybrids that in theory have a chance of surviving in a Washington garden, especially if sheltered. He lists six species or crosses that are hardy below 10 degrees, and another dozen than could probably take temperatures down to that threshold. These include the Ten-Degree Kumquat, which is a hybrid of Fortunella japonica, and the Juanita Tangerine (Citrus reticulata). Saia has both in pots and is working up the courage to plant them in garden beds.
Adrian Higgins has been writing about the intersection of gardening and life for more than 25 years, and joined the Post in 1994. He is the author of several books, including the Washington Post Garden Book and Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden.
The silver lining to the strange summer weather? Grape tomato varieties are uniformly good.
Bees and butterflies are imperiled by habitat loss and pesticide use. Gardeners can throw them a lifeline.
Despite a fear of leaving the garden for two weeks, upon return the plants were robust and growing.
Hardy citrus, palms and eucalyptus are best planted in the spring, so they can establish themselves before their first winter.
Seamone doesn’t ascribe their success to climate change, saying it is tied to the genetics of a given plant.
Fans of these outliers say their survivability is linked to how well they are grown, their locations, their age and the nature of the freezes that threaten them. My instincts tell me that they would do best in an east-facing bed sheltered from winter sun and winds, and planted in soil that drains freely, not wet clay.
With some imagination and adventure, and the blending of hardy and tender tropical type plants (such as bananas, taros, caladiums, coleus and cannas), it is possible to create a garden that has all the hedonistic feel of a Caribbean landscape; break out the rum punch, put on the calypso music (in a neighborly way, please) and let the rush hour melt away.
“I want to be different,” Saia said. “If you drive down the typical suburb here you see Knock Out roses, some azaleas, rhododendrons, arborvitae. To me there’s no knockout factor. I know cold-hardy tropical gardening isn’t for everybody, but it’s something I have liked.”
As I left his garden, Seamone pointed out a couple of stout trees. “Live oaks, they grow fine around here.” And, yes, hanging from one was some Spanish moss.
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