Heady Hedychium and more Gingers

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

My first appreciation of white butterfly ginger had nothing to do with its heady fragrance, its waxy petals, nor its fasty growth.  Instead, I remember well what happened when I hopped each stalk down in the name of drama.  Mama had planted a stand to screan the central air conditioning unit the year before, and the ginger had begun its work.  I admired its five foot height, the whorls of strappy green leaves; it looked just like corn and i used it to create a farm scene for a play.  Thankfully it grew back, almost as rapidly as Mama wanted.


While butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) remains a hardy staple for semi-tropical gardens, easy to establish in a semi-shady location with rich organic soil.  Look for a warm yellow butterfly ginger as a great complement to the white; both make excellent cut flowers.  As the first flower clusters fade, cut the old stems off to promost new flower.  The plants will go dormant, or dieback in a frosty winter, but new growth will return in spring. These babies are virtually carefree.
The ginger family (Zingiberaceae) of hardy and tender perennials offers edible and ornamental plants strong on tropical texture.  Edible ginger is easily grown from rhizomes purchased at the grocery store then cut and allowed to callous over before planting.  But for spectacular flowers, look to its relatives among the Zingibers, the pincone gingers.  Also called shampoo gingers for obvious reasons, Z zerumbet grows to six feet tall with footlong, very dark green leaves.  The green, coneshaped flowers are tightly wrapped, then turn red, and finnaly pop little yellow flowers among the red bracts.


Popular for years in deep south gardens, hidden lily is also a ginger.  Curcuma petiolata blooms a distinct lilac and white bract deep inside the clumps of sword shaped leaves.  Three feet tall when mature, hidden lily blooms at midsummer, its cool colors welcome in the heat.  Grow it in organic soil in morning sun or semishade all day.


Two other named gingers deserve your attention:  Look for 'Kew Garden' ginger, a lovely salmon-pink, and 'Orange Brush', a scarlet beauty.  But don't stop with these two names; each season brings more varieties to the market and they all deserve growing.  Then you can join me in a memory - every time I smell the gingers, I'm transported to the road up from Hilo riding to hula lessons at the volcano on the Big Island in Hawaii.  We rode with the windows down on a warm, misty morning when the scent stayed lower to the ground and poured through the car like fog.  The ginger came with me, and stayed.

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