On a recent press tour of the Mobile Bay area as a guest of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, I had the opportunity to visit Mobile Botanical Gardens, a 100-acre site with collections of hollies, rhododendrons, magnolias, and perennials. One of the highlights at this time of year is the camellia winter garden honoring horticulturist and plant breeder, Kosaku Sawada. He developed numerous varieties of camellias adapted to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Here are images of some of the color I spotted on my tour.
Top row (l. to r.) - Camellia japonica 'Kiku Toji', Camellia japonica 'Alba Plena', Camellia sasanqua 'Sarrel's Favorite'; middle row: Camellia hiemalis 'Chansonette', loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), fried egg plant (Gordonia axillaris); bottom row: Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis), white ginger (Hedychium coronarium), calamondin orange (XCitrofortunella)
The open canopy of longleaf pine encourages the growth of dozens of species of wildflowers.
The garden is also known for its work in longleaf pine forest restoration. Much of the site is devoted to this important Lower South habitat, home to dozens of species of wildlife and wildflowers.
Other sites nearby to experience nature include the 5 Rivers Delta Center, an educational center and starting point for nature tours in the delta, The Estuarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab, with its boardwalk, aquariums and exhibits, and the Audubon Bird Sanctuary part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. The latter two are located on Dauphin Island, a barrier island at the mouth of Mobile Bay.
For a more formal garden experience in the Mobile Bay area, be sure to visit Bellingrath Gardens and Home. I wrote about it several weeks ago. Here’s a link to that post.
My calamondin orange is famous! This photo of it appears in the February issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, in Debra Prinzing’s column, Debra’s Garden. I love how the morning light streams in through the sidelight windows next to the front door, highlighting the orange orbs and giving a golden glow to the foliage.
My indoor citrus grove also includes two Meyer lemons, a dwarf orange tree, and an Oroblanco grapefruit tree. These citrus trees spend most of the winter in my attached greenhouse. This week I noticed that the plants are loaded with flower buds. (One Meyer lemon has already started to bloom.) On sunny days, I open the door into the greenhouse, letting the warm, moist greenhouse air drift indoors. A bonus is the scent of citrus blossoms that fills the house. What better way to lift spirits on a cold winter day than to breathe in the heady aroma of orange blossoms?
By mid-March the citrus trees get moved out of the greenhouse to make room for flower and vegetable seedlings that must be transplanted from their seed germination chamber. (If I could control my plant addiction, the citrus trees wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of a late winter move!) Usually the trees reside in the garage for a few weeks until the weather warms. Then, they’re moved to the parking pad next to the garage, in a sunny microclimate facing southeast, protected from cold northwest winds. On frosty nights they get wheeled back into the garage. I find that this routine allows me to harvest ripe fruits the following December or January.
I can’t always escape Iowa winters, but my orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees let me experience a touch of the tropics no matter how nasty the winter weather becomes.