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Garden Talk

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"GardenTalk", a regular feature for The Gazette, brings to you the combined experience and expertise of Holly Lake's dedicated gardeners and others. A continuing focus will be subjects of interest to anyone who has ever bought a packet of seeds or dug a hole in the ground for a plant, as well as the dedicated and sharp-eyed observers of nature. "GardenTalk" will not only inform you each issue but solicits your ideas and personal gardening experiences which you may wish to pass on to others. The hope is that "GardenTalk" will enrich us all as well as help make Holly Lake even more beautiful.

On Turk's Cap and Birch Logs

I have paid $4.00 for a cup of chai latte, and $1.09 for a bottle of water and I may go as far as spending my precious retirement money for poop (manure), rocks or dirt but I draw the line on birch logs that only will be seen in the fireplace! Yep, that's right. People are now buying birch logs – you know the ones shown in the glossy mags and are used as props in decorator houses. Now, direct to your supermarket from Estonian forests, these peeling, white-barked logs can be placed on your hearth or arranged tastefully in baskets in your house. Netted bags holding about 12 logs are selling for $7.00 at Whole Foods! Well, I never. . . but I digress from the subject at hand – Turk's Cap.

My new, favorite plant is Turk's cap and it is one you should check out. The botanical name is Malvaviscus arboreus, var. drummondii. Other common names this lovely plant goes by is Drummond wax-mallow, red mallow and Texas wax mallow but it's known to most by its beautiful red "Turk's cap" bloom. This plant is a perennial flowering shrub (evergreen in southern areas where it does not get a hard freeze and dies back to the ground in northern parts of our state). This shrubby plant will reach 2-4 feet by the end of the summer; taller in areas where it receives some sun, shorter when it is in full shade. Yep, it can be grown in full shade. And, it will spread 3-5 feet.

In the spring the stems with heart-shaped leaves, which are soft and velvety on the underside, emerge. This plant begins to bloom in late spring and continues until fall, producing unique bright red blooms that never unfurl. The name "Turks Cap" comes from the flowers that resemble a Turkish fez. The pistils protrude beyond the petals in the center of the flowers. Blooms are followed by marble sized red fruit. The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies (Gulf Fritillary, Black Swallowtail and Painted Lady) and the seeds are eaten by a variety of birds. There are white and pink flower forms and I found the pink form at Shades of Green in Frisco, Texas (this nursery carries a variety of natives).

The plant can be propagated from seed or by rooting soft wood cuttings. It can also be dug and divided. It may also root by layering (where long branches touch the ground). Turk's Cap likes well-drained soil and soil that has been amended with compost or organic matter. Three to five feet should be allowed between plants. After planting, water well and mulch, then after the plant is established supplemental watering is only needed during a prolonged drought. This plant has no pests but might get mildew if planted in full sun. If the plant gets leggy it can be sheared back a little in the early summer to encourage more branching and to form a more dense form. The plant will spread slowly – but is not a problematically invasive plant.

Turk's Cap is a native of Texas and Mexico and can be found along the Gulf coast east to Florida. Now the very good news – even though the fruit is prized by birds and other wildlife, this plant is somewhat deer resistant!

Getting back to winter and fireplace logs, I wonder if I can paint my sweet gum logs white to look like birch . . .