An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

January 19, 2015

Living Color

     Right after Christmas my wife and I drove down to Fort Lauderdale to spend some time with my brother. The last time we visited it was in the summer, when the entire southeast was in the grip of an epic heatwave, but ironically it was actually cooler and more pleasant in south Florida than it was back in Virginia. On this trip we left dreary gray and cold to find what so many migrating snowbirds seek, sun and warmth. However, it's not the weather per se that lures me to Florida; it's the foliage and flowers. This part of the state is USDA zone 10b, and on average, 63" of rain fall annually, so many things grow easily and abundantly here. On top of that, it appears that gardening and landscaping are more of a priority, and few spaces remain unplanted. I don't know if this is due to city ordinance, civic pride, or just for the love of it, but I appreciate it.

     On our first morning we rode out to Living Color Garden Center to hunt for something green that could live in a container on my brother's deck. He does not live there year-round, so it had to be something very drought tolerant that could survive on whatever falls from the sky. I was thinking an agave, which we found, and a great price too, but there were so many other things to look at, and I left with serious zone envy.
Front Entrance (1)

Front Entrance (2)

Coverd Porch

     Near the front door I was stopped by a hug-worthy rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) with what I think was Clerodendrum splendens climbing through it.
Clerodendrum splendens and Eucalyptus deglupta  (2)

Clerodendrum splendens and Eucalyptus deglupta

     Adjacent to the main building is a large courtyard where plants and pots are displayed. In the center a neckid-lady statue is surrounded by a series of remarkable bougainvillea archways.
Bougainvillea Arches (3)

Bougainvillea Arches (2)

Bougainvillea and Calliandra surinamensis

Matched Pots and Foliage (2)

Matched Pots and Foliage


     Beyond the courtyard, plants were laid out on the ground in large blocks sorted by type, and interspersed with trees I can't grow, including many palms. I was attracted to the hips on this bottle palm (Hyphorbe lagenicaulis).
Hyphorbe lagenicaulis (2)


Alternanthera and Acalypha?

Mossy Palm



     I first heard about the golden penda (Xanthostemon chrysanthus) tree from Australian blogger Onslow and Miss B when she highlighted it during my 2013 Winter Walk-Off. The tree below was only about 6', but apparently in their native Queensland they can reach over 40' tall.
Xanthostemon chrysanthus (1)

     Living Color also sells the species that really aggravates my zone envy, the Bismarck palm (Bismarckia nobilis). You can't really tell from this photo, but this plant will eventually have huge 3-4' wide silvery blue fronds on a very symmetrical plant. When planted in rows, they can give Parris Island graduates pointers on uniformity.
Bismarckia nobilis

Up on Duck

     Living Color grows much of what they sell, and the place stretched on forever, to the point I couldn't see where it ended.
Growing Fields


  1. Wow. I am always tempted to try to bring plants back when I go to Florida....but have to remember that the plants will have to be brought inside next winter......but that doesn't always stop me.

    1. Amazingly Phyllis, nothing came back to Virginia with me. Perhaps if I didn't have to keep it in the house until spring, it would have been a different story.

  2. I thought I recognized a mimosa tree from my childhood on Long Island, but you called it Calliandra, so I guess I didn't.

    1. Kathy, at first I thought it was some sort of mimosa also, but it was just a wee bit different than the tree I know (which happens to be quite a noxious invasive here). They are both in the Fabaceae family though.

  3. I lived in Florida for 4 years so had a few flashbacks seeing your photographs. I visited lovely garden centers that were amazingly colorful, much like "Living Color."

    1. Annie, I hope your flashbacks were the good kind.

  4. Florida is getting more attractive all the time. But I'm not sure I could take all that color.

    1. James, I bet you could handle the color, or at least be willing to try.

  5. I remember your love for Bismarck palm from previous posts. The bottle palm tree is fine looking as well. This lush corner of the country is a welcome sight for PNW eyes. Near the front entrance were a couple of slender-shaggy trees. Were they eucalyptus as well?

    1. Chavliness, unfortunately I don't know what those trees are.

  6. "Zone envy" ... that's a new one.

    The lushness of these photos make my Winter-weary heart long for Spring ...

    Just lovely Les.

    Some of those plants we only see sold up here as house plants ...poor things.

  7. Zone envy--that's a great way to put it. I know the feeling. ;-) The only thing that makes it bearable is that there are a few plants (Lilacs, Crabapples, etc.) that prefer northern climates. It doesn't really make up for it, and I still crave the south in the late winter, but it helps. Looks like you had a great time in Florida!

  8. I have never been to FL, and I feel conflicted about going. There is an image in my mind: hot, overcrowded, overdeveloped, humid ... though I know rationally that this cannot describe all of the state.

  9. That rainbow Eucalyptus is striking. I don't ever remember seeing that in California. I'll pay more attention when I'm out there this month. But that Golden Penda - Wow! I had to google that and I love the Wikipedia description 'Its horticultural appeal stems from its profuse and attractive flowering'. Yep...

  10. What a fun place to visit. I was in Panama recently and felt the same way---you couldn't stop plants from growing and producing beautiful flowers if you wanted to. I think that's why it seems like people garden more, it's easy. Also the flowers in the tropics are more flamboyant and eye-catching. There's no place like home though. Where would the snowdrops grow?

  11. It really is a different world of plants there. I had an opportunity to design down in Florida at the second home of one of my very wealthy clients, all expenses paid for an entire summer. I decided not to take the job and suggested he hire an architect from there. The plants were too different and at the time I did not feel I could offer any expertise. He thought I could learn on the job and I probably could, but on large properties, that is not worth the stress. I think the varied texture of the plants is pretty enticing as is all that color.

  12. Looks like a nice trip! I'm headed down there myself next month. When you went to Living Color, did you stop in at the wholesale operation next door, Black Olive East? The nurseries adjoin (same owners, I believe) and you can walk between them. Lots more interesting stuff over there!

  13. Oh my word, what a wonderful place, full of so many great plants. I love that Bismarckia nobilis, who wouldn't want to grow one. Or many...