Volunteer gardener tends to blooming flowers at LSU AgCenter
Before you move on that morning, sunlight-only bed or a filtered light garden, check out the gingers beside the LSU AgCenter Burden conference center on Essen Lane.
Many of the gingers are in bloom with more flowers expected in August.
Cut flowers call to mind sun-loving zinnia, rudbeckia and roses, but gingers make exotic flowers and foliage and hold up for weeks in vases indoors.
Most ginger flowers have no smell, but Hedychium make up for all their cousins’ being quiet to the nose.
“The gingers with smell are the butterfly gingers, Hedychium,” said Jeff Kuehny, professor of horticulture and Burden’s resident director.
“My favorite Hedychium are the Tahitian Flame with variegated leaves, orange and cream flowers and a wonderful smell,” Kuehny said.
The smell is about that of the butterfly gingers but comes as a surprise since the more exotic, colorful gingers have no smell.
The Hedychium emits a strong smell in the evening, drawing hummingbird moths to it.
Unlike the butterfly ginger, Tahitian Flame’s stiff stalks stand up better in wind and rain.
The ginger bed at Burden is narrow and, at first glance, short. But, then, the eye is carried far back into a line of trees and a profusion of gingers in all sizes, colors and height.
“We put the ginger bed in eight years ago,” Kuehny said. “It came out of flowering potted plant research. We were looking at the Kaempferias, the ‘peacock gingers,’ Globba and Curcuma.
“The Kaempferia is more foliage than flower,” Kuehny said. “The Globbas and Curcuma make more flowers.”
The Burden Center tries to recruit and keep volunteers by letting the unpaid gardeners specialize in parts of the gardens that interest them.
To volunteer at Burden, call Bob Souvestre, (225) 763-3990, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining the Burden Horticultural Society is what landed retired gastroenterologist Mike Ruth in the ginger bed.
One steaming weekday morning, Ruth took a break to downplay his contributions as a Burden volunteer.
“Ninety-nine percent of what I do is pull weeds,” he said. “I’m not a horticultural control person.”
What Ruth does is make weeds disappear by pulling them and by keeping a deep pile of shredded tree mulch in place for that walking-on-new-deep-piled carpet feeling.
Hedychium is the ginger most people associate with Deep South gardens. Hardy to Zone 7, you’ll find them in Monroe, less likely in Little Rock, Ark.
Kuehny mentions Curcuma, a.k.a. the “tulip ginger.” The flowers are shaped like tulips Dr. Seuss might have “thunk up.” The Curcuma is also called “hidden ginger.”
The Burden ginger bed has shell gingers (Alpinia) that make exquisite, colorful flowers with no smell.
“They bloom in the spring,” Kuehny said, “on last year’s growth. If we get a freeze, you won’t have flowers in the spring.”
Gingers are native to Asia. If you’ve never sniffed one in a garden, you may have eaten one with sushi.
“You can eat the roots of ginger,” Kuehny said. “I don’t recommend it. Some are more bitter than others.”
Gingers are grown in Asia for their culinary and medicinal properties. When Kuehny went on a cruise, he took along some ginger root to chew for seasickness.
“It worked,” he said.
“When I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma, we drank ginger ale if we had an upset stomach,” he said.
Kaempferia is a good substitute for hosta which will grow in the Deep South but not reach the size of hosta in the Midwest.
“You give Kaempferia morning sun only,” Kuehny said. “It will take our heat and humidity” where hosta, though it can be grown successfully here, is a challenge.
Kuehny likes small gingers as ground covers. Globba globalifera (pink) and Globba schomburgkii (yellow) spread by dropping tiny bulbs called bulbils. In this climate, baby gingers will start to grow from bulbils that are still attached to the stem.
The Globba are good cut-flowers. “They last for weeks,” Kuehny said.
Curcumas and Globba bloom from May until frost. Hedychium begin blooming in July. Costus or “spiral ginger” put on blooms of red or orange in August.
For his summer sweat, Ruth is allowed plenty of latitude in the ginger bed which includes transplanting plants from home that aren’t gingers.
“There’s not much winter interest in a ginger garden,” said Ruth, who has gingers at home. “So, I put in (the bed at Burden) palms and cycads.” Sago palm isn’t a palm. It’s a cycad.
Ruth likes the palm Trachycarpus princeps for the light to white backs of the fronds.
“It’ll get 10 to 15 feet tall, though not this one in my lifetime,” said the 63-year-old gardener. “If it gets 6 feet tall while I’m still around, I’ll be happy.”
Kuehny recommends a couple of books for people thinking about putting in a ginger bed: “Garden Bulbs for the South” by Scott Ogden, which goes into detail on gingers, as well as other plants. Taylor Publishing Co. of Dallas published the book.
The other book is “Ornamental Gingers: A Guide to Selection and Cultivation” by Timothy Sean Chapman, self-published, spiral bound. The 1994 copyright has Chapman living on Bayou Paul Road, St. Gabriel, so what he has to say about gingers is close to home.