In East Texas Gardens
Gardeners are happiest when their plants are blooming. They invite you to see their gardens, post pictures on Facebook, and even have photo books printed of their gardens of blooms. If you happen to visit their gardens when the blooms start fading, they’ll say, ‘You should have been here last week.’ Blooms are fleeting – a gardener must also look for the beauty after the flowers fade.
Some plants produce edible fruit that follows the flowers, and those fruit can provide continuing beauty. (Please do not eat the fruit of any plant unless you are certain that it’s not poisonous.) Edible doesn’t always mean tasty, and there’s no correlation between beauty and taste. For example, I have a hardy citrus tree that blooms each spring – fragrant white orange-blossoms – and bears large fruit later in the year. Unfortunately the fruit tastes like a not-very-good grapefruit, so I leave it on the tree all winter. The result is stunning: a ten-foot tree with deep green leaves that provide an evergreen backdrop to large yellow orbs scattered throughout.
A more familiar example of a plant with showy edible fruits is American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) – its bright purple berries are ripening now along our roadsides. The fruit isn’t really palatable – it has a medicinal taste to me, and can cause stomach upset – but it makes a great jelly. The beautyberry shrub is somewhat unruly, and not very attractive most of the year, so it looks best in the back of a border, along a fence, or in a naturalized area.
One of my favorite garden snacks appears each fall on the native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus). The flowers, in red, pink, or white, produce a fruit that looks like a shiny red apple in miniature. I munch on those as I walk in the garden and spit out the seeds – and I think every seed has sprouted, resulting in a line of Turk’s cap along my garden path. Turk’s cap performs well in full sun to shade, and can be a part of a dry garden that receives no supplemental water.
Other plants produce colorful fruits and seeds that are not edible. One of my favorites is a shrub called harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum), sporting clusters of white blooms in June. But that’s not enough for this easy-to-grow shrub: in August, blooms that were pollinated become metallic-blue berries surrounded by hot-pink calyxes. Harlequin glorybower does like to spread by the roots, so you may have to pull out ones that pop up in neighboring beds. I have some plants to share with the first three gardeners who email me at email@example.com.
One plant that I grow is pretty nondescript, almost invisible, until its fruit ripens – in fact I often forget that I have a strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus) in my shade garden. The small blooms are yellow-green and not very noticeable. But when the pods split open, it’s a showstopper! Another common name for this plant is ‘hearts a-burstin’ and that’s pretty descriptive of the purplish-pinkish husks that split open to reveal bright orange seeds.
Finally, some plants have seeds whose form alone provides interest in the garden. My absolute favorite seedheads are those on clematis vines, such as our native leatherflower (Clematis carrizoensis) – they form a tangle of filaments that will ripen into a fuzzy ball – exotic and beautiful! Most clematis will form interesting seedheads, so plant the vines where you can see the seeds ripen, and don’t deadhead this vine or you’ll miss half of its beauty.
This fall, as the flowers are fading, take the time to notice the fruits and seeds in your east Texas garden.
About the author: Lin is the garden manager for the Wood County Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in Quitman, and is there each Wednesday from 8 till 12 during the summe - stop by and she’ll show you some of the interesting fruits and seeds in the botanical gardens. Email your gardening questions to her.