Almost tropical

Tender mangaves and questionably cold hardy, orange flowered osmanthus have been dug and banished to the basement for the winter, but several maybe and perhaps cold hardy shrubs will be left outdoors for the winter. ‘Spider’s Web’ fatsia has been outdoors for three winters, the first when it was protected by a basket of shredded leaves, and the past two that have been very mild with no protection.

Most unexpectedly for a plant that appears that it should now be lounging in the warmth of the family room, the tropical looking fatsia flowers in mid-autumn, and in early November it is nearing its peak bloom. Outdoors. The flowers show no ill effect from recent freezes, but as winter progresses and if cold nearing ten degrees (Fahrenheit) or lower is forecast I’ll gather the wire cage and leaves in a hurry.

I once grew cleyera (probably Ternstroemia gymnanthera, not Cleyera japonica) for several years in a most sheltered part of the garden. Never was it happy, so finally it was discarded. But winters were colder then, and with milder temperatures in recent years I am emboldened to try another, this time a variegated cleyera (Cleyera japonica ‘Tokyo Sunrise’, above) that should be slightly less cold tolerant than green leafed types, but again it has been planted in a protected location. I am undecided if it will be protected with temperatures nearing zero, but I should err on the side of yes with a new planting.

Tetrapanax (Tetrapanax papyifera ‘Steroidal Giant’, above) is the most tropical looking of the group, but perhaps the most cold tolerant. A single stem with huge leaves will be joined by others next year, and it has the potential to spread aggressively, though it is hemmed in on all sides by trees that are likely to limit its spread. For the nutcase gardener attracted to any plant with oversized leaves, this is as good as it gets.

I once grew the lovely but dreaded Paulownia tomentosa, that is lovely in flower, but an extreme nuisance in seedling itself about. Annually, it was chopped back to the trunk so there was never a flower, but the leaves were enormous. My wife objected annually to this monstrosity, and finally I came to my senses and pulled it out. She now objects to the vigorous Ostrich ferns that took the tree’s place.

Schefflera delavayi (above) is nearly the poster child for houseplants brought into the garden to stay. This is practically indistinguishable from the scheffleras sold in every garden center, but it is promised to be cold hardy below ten degrees. Still, I might protect it this first winter outdoors.

Grevillea ‘Murray Valley Queen’ (above) is also cold hardy below ten degrees, but I’ve never seen one locally, so there is good reason for skepticism. The gray-green leaves are pleasant enough, but the shrub is unremarkable until it begins flowering, which it did last week with more to come.

Two autumn arrivals, Huodendron thibeticum and a reblooming cultivar of Magnolia figo (Michelia) were potted upon arrival, and both will spend the winter months in the greenhouse. Both might spend a few years in pots along with a Brazilian Orchid tree (Bauhinia forficata, above) that has been in a pot for a few years and will be ready for a permanent outdoor spot as soon as one opens up. The orchid tree will die to the ground each winter, but that is preferable to hauling pots indoors and out.

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