Appreciating Summer Plants


By: Becky Copenhaver

Summer changes everything. One of the most wonderful things about Florida summers is the emergence of our winter sleepers. Those plants that are absent from our lives through the winter months but arrive just in time to cheer us up and get us through what we know will be very long, brutally hot days.

Caladiums are a perfect example. They begin to pop up in early summer, sometimes in unexpected places, and last through fall before taking a break in the winter. Being an avid gardener there have been times, too many to count actually, when I’ve decided to move a plant from one place to another inadvertently dragging along a few Caladium bulbs that I forgot were there. It turns out to be a delightful surprise when they come up in places where I did not expect to see them.

Summer changes everything. Dormant gingers, gone from sight all winter, are one of my favorite summer plants. They are a reminder of the wonders of nature that are lost on purely seasonal residents.

Curcuma, sometimes called hidden ginger, is one of the more common varieties of these. The blooms emerge in early summer, often weeks before the foliage, making it look like someone just stuck a fake flower in the ground. The rhizomes of some varieties of Curcuma produce a spice called Turmeric.

Other summer gingers include plants in the Globba family. Dancing Lady ginger is in this family. The softest leaves you ever felt emerge in June followed by long spikes of drooping pink or purple bracts with small yellow flowers lasting until fall. Hedychium gingers, also called butterfly ginger, is a spectacular summer bloomer worthy of a place in the garden.

Have you ever grown Peacock Ginger? This deciduous ginger is smaller in scale than other gingers you may be familiar with. Flat rounded leaves in hues of dark green and purple show off the small lavender flowers set in the center of the plant. I’ve lost more than my fair share of Peacock ginger by mulching too heavily when they are dormant, literally smothering the thing to death. I sure do miss my Peacock Ginger.

Summer changes everything. A huge reward for new full-time residents can probably be summed up in one word: Mangos! They can finally eat the fruit from their own trees. Why? Because they are now here at the same time these luscious fruits are ready.

Sorry lawn maintenance workers, sorry pool guy, sorry neighbors, these Mangos are all mine now!

I used to laugh every time I planted a mango tree for a seasonal resident knowing that they would not be here to enjoy the fruit. I explain this to them of course, but the idea of telling their up-north friends that they have a mango tree growing in their yard down in Florida is irresistible considering the price of Mangos in Ohio. But more and more snow birds are planting small mango trees in preparation for eventually becoming full time residents. Smart!

So, here’s the gig: Summer, as brutal as it is and as much as we can’t wait for it to be over, offers so many unique and beautiful things not available to us in the cooler months. Summer changes everything, including attitudes.

Becky Copenhaver is a certified Master Gardener, certified Horticulture Professional and former certified Landscape Designer. She is the owner of Becky’s Garden Shoppe at Elliott st in Punta Gorda and can be reached at 941-621-8551 or

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