Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Very Welcoming Place

Bell and I paid a visit to Sam and Linda Christine this week after Linda emailed me about a new plant that was blooming and ripening now in their magnificent garden. Last year Jenks Farmer, a Beech Island native and well known horticulturalist, had passed along some seeds to her from a plant he called “Plum Granny.” After seeing and smelling the Plum Granny fruit at the home of Jenks’ mother, Linda brought home the seeds and started them in pots.

Also known as ‘Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon,’ ‘Vine Pomegranate,’ and ‘Perfume Melon,’ this fruit is about the size of a small apple or a large plum and with skin that feels like a plum. When ripe, it is yellow with deep orange-red strips and white flesh. There isn’t much flesh, though the flesh is edible and some folks, I’m told, like its taste. Plum Granny is much better known for its fragrance than for its flavor, and a bowl of them, or even just a few, will fill a room with the melony smelling perfume.

In Harold McGee’s book, “On Food,” it’s listed under the category of “Minor Melons.” There are six groups of melons altogether, he tells us, and the Plum Granny is part of the Dudaim Group, which includes small, especially musky, melons used in the United States South. McGee also says that the name Dudaim is Hebrew for “love plants.” I don’t know if “love” is a verb, a noun, or an adjective in this case.

Plum Grannies are part of the huge Cucurbit Family that includes watermelons, cantelopes, cucumbers and squash and is thought to have been brought to the colonies by Europeans colonists. The plants will easily hybridize with other melons, including cantelopes, so it’s best not to have them growing near each other.

The Christines’ garden, as always, had some interesting flowering plants that were new to me. This time it was a dazzling flowering shrub called “Ixora.” There are many varieties of Ixora, but the flowers on this one were especially eye-catching. Imagine the mophead of a hydrangea with tiny, closely packed flowerets, in bright yellowy-orange.

Also called ‘Jungle Flame,’ ‘Flame-of-the-Woods,’ or ‘Jungle Geranium,’ this plant likes acidic, well-drained soil and makes a good evergreen hedge. That would make it perfect for Aiken conditions, except for one small problem – it is not winter hardy, and even temperatures in the thirties will damage the leaves.

Linda, and anyone else who is so fortunate as to have a greenhouse, can keep their Ixora inside when the temperatures drop and move it outdoors in the spring. If you’ve got a space inside with bright light, Ixora may also be kept as a houseplant just as you would a tropical Hibiscus. Any major pruning should be done in early spring as plants begin to send out new growth.

I don’t know that there is a more welcoming garden in the state as Sam and Linda Christines’. The daylilies were in full bloom, of course, as were the many varieties of hydrangeas. Folks from Connecticut had stopped by for a visit after seeing the article in the May issue of Southern Living Magazine. Linda presented me with a pot of basil, one of fennel, and some vining Plum Grannies ready to go on a trellis. Sam even tended to Bell while I took pictures. The Christines are pleased to show you around their garden as well. Call first - they're in the book.