Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Postcards from the Garden

Nature is putting on quite a holiday show around the Bay-Friendly Landscape this year.

With another warm start to our winter, and a summer of abundant rainfall that sparked a hyperactive growth frenzy, our plants are decked out in some impressive holiday finery.
The wild coffee is laden with deep-red berries, much cherished by cardinals, blue jays and mockingbirds.

East Palatka holly
Berries also abound on our pretty east Palatka holly trees. The mockingbirds are especially fond of these berries. Now is a perfect time to purchase native hollies because you can tell which are female and produce berries. You can plant them now too -- they are very cold-hardy.

A bevy of bees zooms to and from the red passion flowers and the red pentas, emerging from the blossoms with pollen-dusted legs that make them look like they're wearing yellow hip waders. The passionvine, like our native firebush, typically dies back to the ground in winter, only to re-emerge with gusto in the Spring. Last winter was so warm neither missed a beat and bloomed straight through the season.

Passion flower
Even the cassia tree is still producing  blooms, a fact that has not escaped the attention of the sulphur butterflies  flitting about.

Although our plants have not yet decided to take a winter nap, Rick and I have definitely entered our dormant period. This is the time of year when yard maintenance is almost non-existent -- confined only to occasional weeding and blowing leaves in the walkways back into our landscape beds.

Cassia bloom
Now, finally, we can sit outside on our deck and enjoy the fruits of our labor without being drenched in sweat or eaten alive by mosquitoes. We can indulge in our favorite adult beverages while the wonderful scent of the newly planted sweet almond bush wafts over us. That is one fragrant plant!

Our backyard dressed for a holiday garden party

Winter may be coming -- in fact, I hope it is. I look forward to cold weather as a refreshing and welcome change.

But in the meantime, we're enjoying a real Florida Christmas. Hope your "decorations" are just as lovely!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Native Touch

Last weekend was the annual Native Landscape Tour sponsored by the Pinellas chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. I always try to attend this to support the Native Plant Society and to see how homeowners in diverse neighborhoods are converting their landscapes to natives, or blending natives with more traditional landscapes.

This year I attended the South Pinellas tour on Saturday, which featured eight sites in St. Petersburg -- six homes, a fire station and the Wildflower Walk at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

Here are some of the great landscapes and lovely native Florida plants I saw:

Who wouldn't want to sit in this garden and read a book?

Dotted horsemint with its dainty purple-pink blooms

Two views of the front yard of a historic Craftsman bungalow in St. Pete

This backyard featured a narrow turfgrass path surrounded by a variety of mature native shrubs and trees. Many of the plants here were planted more than a decade ago.

I love the soft inviting look of this beautiful garden filled with nectar plants for pollinators
Sword fern + pumpkins = A touch of autumn

I am adding more natives to my garden each year. They are the most amiable of plants, hardy and highly tolerant of Florida's feast-or-famine rainfall patterns. They generally don't need fertilizer or pesticides.  They provide food, shelter and nest sites for wild creatures, and the list of native plants used by pollinating insects is longer than I am tall.

But mostly, I like natives because they are part of our collective heritage. Many native Florida plants are not found anywhere else. They remind me that I live in a special place called Florida and that, even though I was born in another state, I am now, and always will  be, a Floridian.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The First Fleeting Signs of Fall

Anticipation is building. 

I sense it, my cats sense it (even the fat fluffy one occasionally zooms around in a spontaneous show of joie de vivre) and my garden senses it. Fall is coming!

Leaves are slowly wafting down from the elms in the back yard. The elms have a gentle, soothing leaf drop. By contrast, the giant live oak in the front seems to dump all its leaves at once. I'll glance out the window one day and voila! another thick layer of leaves will be added to the mulch. 

Fall peeked around the corner in Tampa for a few days, with refreshingly cool mornings and oh-so-welcome lower humidity. Now it's gone back into hiding. But it will return, hopefully to stay, very soon.
beautyberry branch close-up
Luscious beautyberry, a native Florida shrub

Fall in my garden actually began back in August, when I noticed the faint blush of purple creeping over the berries on my beautyberry bush. The berries are now completely and gloriously that rich plum color that make this shade-lover such a showstopper.
Narrow-leaved sunflower
 about to open

The blossoms on the narrow-leaved sunflowers in the butterfly bed are just beginning to open. Last year, these native sunflowers, also called swamp sunflowers, reached a towering height of 11 feet. This year, I cut them back to about two feet in early July to keep them in check. They are topping out at a more reasonable 6 feet this year.

Mexican sage
The beautiful thick Mexican sage is in full bloom, delighting the bees who emerge from the conical purple bloom stalks wearing yellow "hip waders" of pollen. Bees are very, very bizzzzy right now in my yard.

What's your favorite harbinger of Fall in the garden?

We've had a flurry of butterflies over the past couple of weeks. They seem to be in a hurry to get their last nectar-sipping and egg-laying completed before winter.

I cut back my scarlet milkweed recently
   so it won't tempt migrating monarchs
 to stick around my yard for the winter. 

I just cut back my non-native scarlet (tropical) milkweed for the winter, after hearing warnings from a researcher who spoke at the state Florida Native Plant Society conference this year about the potential for this milkweed (which blooms all year in Florida, unlike our native milkweeds) encouraging migratory monarch butterflies to stick around instead of wintering in Mexico. When they do, their progeny almost inevitably fall victim to a cold snap. 

Rick and I saw this first-hand a few years ago, We watched a  monarch emerge from its chrysalis one cold morning in December, only to watch it flutter feebly for an hour before falling to the ground and dying.

So, just to be safe, I began cutting back my milkweed in early September. 

One of my favorite fall garden beauties is the native muhly grass. This thick, clumping grass blooms only in the Fall. Most of the year it's a Plain Jane content to blend into the background. But when those feathery pink plumes appear, it takes center stage. 

So far, I've seen only a single pink tuft. But as we know,  the best things in life -- and in our gardens -- are worth waiting for. 

I'm enjoying the wait. 
My beautyberry shrub surrounded by dwarf Walter's viburnum, holly fern,
cardboard palm and liriope

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I know. I know. Gardeners are supposed to love rain.

And I do. Really.

But this is getting ridiculous.

My yard has received more than 10 inches of rain in the last 10 days. And, as  I write this, we are receiving still more rain from Tropical Storm Isaac. Since June, we've had several weeks of rainfall exceeding four inches. The first two days of June brought us a 6-inch deluge!

I know exactly how much rain we've had because we monitor our rain gauges carefully ( see "The tool I can't live without"). And I'm beginning to think I need to start building an ark.

Parts of my backyard are underwater 

Last week, the soil finally became so saturated that water began ponding up in the backyard. The 2.5 inches we've received so far from Isaac has created even larger ponds in the yard, with water seeping into our detached shed. Rick had to pull out his ancient rubber Wellies to stay dry on his forays to and from the shed.

A river runs through it!

Now, many of my plants think this is wonderful, and are partying like they were just chosen to appear in the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. They appear to be growing about 6 inches a week (scorpion tail, Mexican sage, passionvine, and chenille plant among them). So much for my low-maintenance yard: It took me 1 1/2 hours one day just to beat the butterfly bed back into submission with pruners. 

This passion flower is loving the rain!
But my yard is landscaped largely with tough, drought-tolerant specimens, and some of these look none too happy about now. The beach sunflower is about to rot, the muhly grass looks mushy and the bulbine tubers are downright spongy. 

Can we just have a week to dry out?

Yes, this is Florida - where it's always either feast or famine, flood or drought. Gotta roll with it. Or is that row?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

You're Invited to a Plant Swap!

The first-ever Be Floridian Plant Swap will be held on Saturday, August 11 from  8 am-11 am at Rivercrest Park in Tampa.

The Be Floridian campaign supports local ordinances in Tampa, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties that prohibit use of nitrogen fertilizer in the summer to prevent polluted runoff from entering our waterways. Just as importantly, Be Floridian encourages homeowners to garden like True Floridians, so it's only natural that the plant swap highlight native or Florida-friendly plants.

Full disclosure: I coordinate this great campaign with its plastic pink yard flamingo mascot as part of my job with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Just call me "Chief Flamingo Wrangler."
Yes, it's August and yes, it's hot! That's why we're swappin' early and beating feet before the hottest part of the day.

Want to join us? Please click here to read the rules and register. You can find directions to Rivercrest Park here too. Don't delay -- we have a maximum of 45 participants to keep all of us crazed plantaholics from trampling each other in a mad rush to grab that coveted coontie or coreopsis.

I attended my first Plant Swap a year ago and loved it! Swaps are a great way to add new plants to your yard, to make new gardening friends, and to save money because the plants are all free!! That's right, I said FREE. The catch is that you need to bring plants to take plants.

Each participant will be given tickets based on the number of plants they bring, up to a maximum of 20. For example, if you bring five plants, you get five tickets to take five plants. 

Please also bring an extra plant for a cash-strapped gardening newbie who doesn't have the ability to purchase landscape plants. We don't want anyone to leave empty-handed!

This lovely lady needs a new home
I've been digging up plants in my yard for the last two weeks and stacking them in a side corner. I think I already have about 25 plants to contribute myself -- including two gorgeous beautyberry shrubs I had to remove because the yard was just a bit too crowded with three of these magnificent shade-loving natives. I hope to find them a very good home at the swap!

Seeds, cuttings (fresh, wrapped in moist paper towels or newspapers) and bulbs also are welcome. We'll even take gardening tools or books in exchange for plant tickets.

This is a great time to get new plants in the ground, because Mother Nature will do the work of watering them in for you. My easy-care yard is lovin' life right now, and so am I! Hope to see you at the Plant Swap on August 11. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sowing Seeds of Friendship: Passalong Plants

Among my most cherished plants are those came from friends. Gardeners call these gifts "Passalong Plants."

These are generally plants that are very easy to propagate, but not easy to find in nurseries or garden centers. Here are some of my favorite passalongs. What are yours?

Blackberry lily is also called "leopard lily" 
If I had to pick the most popular passalong plant, I'd bet on blackberry lilies (Bellamcanda chinenis). Raise your hands, Florida gardeners, I can see you smiling now. Many of my friends have this plant, and every single one of them got it from someone else! I don't think I've ever seen it for sale in a Big Box store. Have you?  

In my yard Blackberry Lily goes to sleep in the winter, but bursts back with a vengeance in the spring and blooms prolifically until fall. And a few seeds will go a long way, since this beauty rapidly spreads. It is very drought-tolerant and easy to divide when it gets too crowded. 

When the seeds ripen and turn black or deep purple (thus the name of the plant), pluck them off, put them in an envelope and "pass them along." They can be planted virtually any time of year.
Dancing Lady Ginger (Globba winitii) is a
 beautiful summer bloomer that dies back completely in the winter.

Dancing Lady Ginger is another lovely passalong. I've never seen this one in a garden center either, but it's a great shade plant.  A friend gave me two of these and they bloom reliably every year. It's fun to anticipate the arrival of the first little green fronds.

Peacock ginger (Kaempferia laotica) is another terrific passalong for shady locations. It's a perfect groundocver with violet flowers that are short-lived but frequent. I have seen these used in rain gardens where they are often in standing water, but in my yard they are underneath trees and thrive with only rainfall. Peacock ginger spreads readily: Just dig up babies and pass them on to friends with shade.

Peacock ginger is an excellent groundcover for shade.

My oldest passalong pal is walking iris (Neomarica gracilis). Those in my garden today are descendants of two given to me by a dear friend when I bought my home in 1994. I salvaged a few during our Extreme Yard Makeover in 2010, and they are once again "walking" under my shade trees. They're great for areas with lots of tree roots where planting is difficult because you don't need to plant them deep. When a blade flops over and forms roots, cut the "babies" off from mama, and give them to someone who will appreciate their happy purple-and-white faces.

Walking iris should be planted at a shallow depth,
with about 18 inches between plants so it can "walk."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two Years and Counting: Lessons Learned

Our wonderful landscape designer, Lisa Strange, reminded me last week that it has been two years since we completed our Extreme Yard Makeover. Lisa stopped by our yard to see how everything looked and I thought back about all the work we put into the landscape transformation and what I've learned from the experience. Here are my Top Five Lessons Learned:

1. There is no such thing as a garden that takes care of itself.

I had an unrealistic view that our grass-free landscape, once completed, would just truck along without any assistance from us. Hah! I know now that all landscapes need care and maintenance to thrive. Plants grow, mulch breaks down, leaves fall, drought happens.  Plants need water, pruning, dividing, mulching, and occasionally some non-toxic pest control to look their best. Like a marriage, you can't just plant a garden and forget about it. You must nurture it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Our back yard May 2012

Our back yard May 2010

But I am happy to report that our original goal for the yard makeover -- Mo' Fishing! Less Mowing! --  has been achieved. Ditching the grass; choosing tough, Florida-tested plants; and installing easy-care shell and gravel pathways has dramatically reduced the amount of time we spend on "yard work." We now spend most of our weekends having fun. Truthfully, even working in our new and vastly improved yard is fun!

2. Garden projects will always take longer, be more difficult and cost more money than you expect.

I coerced my husband into the Extreme Yard Makeover by telling him that it would only take us a couple of months, and would be relatively easy and cheap.  Part of that was true -- much of it was not. I didn't lie. I just didn't know what "lie" ahead!!

Getting rid of the grass was easy. But then came the hard part. We had to rent a small Bobcat to smooth out the "moguls" in our front yard (Rick did have a good time with that "Big Boy Toy!"). We had to remove literally every existing plant in our yard, most of which had been planted in the wrong place to begin with, or were just butt-ugly things like those horrid queen palms we dug up. If you have ever tried to remove a palm root ball (or any tree) by hand, you know what we went through! We hauled in truckloads of mulch and shell and gravel and had to cart it, one wheelbarrow at a time, to its final destination.
Rick driving the Bobcat

We discovered that having large trees all around means that you have large roots underneath. We could easily work around our live oak roots, but the elm trees in the back had a sprawling network of vein-like roots that apparently cover every square foot of our property.  They made planting anything an expletive-laced exercise in frustration. Example: It took two weeks for us to clear and completely plant the front yard, with our huge live oak. It took more than two months to clear and plant our back yard, even with our beloved tree shovel (see Lesson #3). I did, however, have some serious muscles in my upper arms by the time we were done.

Plants themselves are expensive, although I was fortunate to acquire many freebies (see Lesson #4). Our small trees, the two East Palatka hollies, Weeping Yaupon holly, and Majestic Beauty Hawthorne, cost $75 each. Coonties are $15-$20 each and we have about 15 of them. Evergreen Liriope is a bargain, at about $2 each, but we have about 40 of those! However, there is no doubt in my mind that the front-end investment is more than justified. We use hardly any water on this landscape, and most of the water we use comes from our rain barrels. I know folks in high-end developments with in-ground irrigation systems and large, grass-dominated landscapes who spend $50-$100 or more every month just to water their grass! Our water bill averages $5-$6 a month.
Our weeping yaupon holly
 right after planting

We don't have to pay a lawn service to mow, fertilize or apply pesticides to our new yard, or spend our free time doing that ourselves. We gave away our lawn mower!

And most of the plants we chose are "lifers" -- they'll be with us for years, or even decades. 

Grass is definitely the cheapest landscape choice in the short run - that's why developers love to thrown down sod on new homesites-- but the most expensive in the long run. Plus, IMHO, grass is just plain boring.

3. Good garden tools are worth their weight in gold.

Rick with our new wheelbarrow
and the "Super Shovel"
We started the yard makeover with a cheap shovel, a hoe, a rake and a rusty wheelbarrow with one wheel about to fall off. It did, in fact, fall off about two weeks into the project. By the time we finished, we owned a good wheelbarrow, an axe, a pickax, a posthole digger, a good tree saw, and -- my favorite garden tool ever -- an $80 tree shovel that will slice through just about anything short of concrete.

I still remember my husband's sticker shock when I came home with the $80 shovel. Then he used it. Never heard a peep out of him after that. 

4. Gardeners are the most generous and helpful people on earth.

My plant-loving friends, neighbors and colleagues took a keen interest in our yard makeover. Free seeds, cuttings and starter pots of plants came pouring in. Many were not in Lisa's landscape plan, but many were. I received a chickasaw plum seedling and several home-grown coonties from my colleague Carlos -- saving me a bunch of money, since coonties are expensive. Virginia provided, and continues to provide, all sorts of native wildflower seeds. She also gave me a stunning bird's nest anthurium that is a focal point of our backyard. Suzanne gave me a cardboard palm that she had carried with her in a pot from one new home to another for 15 years. I planted it in the front yard, and it has taken off.
Thank you sign I posted by little coontie
 plants Carlos gave me.

5. Landscape designers and garden coaches are very good investments.

I knew I needed professional help with our yard makeover. I realized I had many every mistake in the gardening book. Both Rick and I agreed that, if were going to go to all this trouble and work, we wanted to do it right this time. We have never regretted hiring Lisa to develop a landscape plan for us. She came up with a design that looks good (instead of the haphazard mess I left behind) and that fits our needs and lifestyle. She chose lots of native plants, at our request, and also lots of inexpensive, Florida-friendly plants (like the liriope) that helped keep our costs down.

Our landscape plan
Having expert assistance in developing a landscape plan will probably cost less than you think, and save you from wasting money on plants not suited to your site conditions or location. Whether you want to make small changes or wholesale do-overs like we did, landscape designers and gardening coaches can help you plant the "right plant in the right place" and achieve success.

So, these are a few of the lessons I've learned from my yard makeover. What are the most important lessons you've learned as a gardener?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Made In The Shade

Farewell, Spring. You were glorious and surprisingly persistent this year. But Summer has finally moved in and with it the sizzling heat and wilting humidity that can make gardening in West Central Florida such a challenge. 

Thanks to the magnificent mature live oak in my front yard, my front yard sails through summer. The plants there have their own "beach umbrella" thanks to the oak's leafy canopy. We had no idea how beneficial large trees can be until we embarked on our grand yard makeover. We have been amazed at how well the oak canopy insulates our plants from cold in the winter, and from heat in the summer. The plants under the oak also require much less water than those in full sun, thanks to both the shade and the free mulch provided by the thick layer of oak leaves.

The oak tree keeps us cool too. What's not to love?
My front yard, shaded by a large live oak
Granted, you do need to keep in mind that large trees have large appetites. They an easily outcompete other plants for available resources, especially water. Contrary to popular belief, their root systems are generally shallow and wide, not narrow and deep. Roots typically extend 2 to 3 times beyond the drip line of the canopy, so the actual "footprint" of a tree is much larger than what you see.

In our backyard, which is shaded by two large elms, many of the Ocala anise shrubs we planted along the fence line are struggling. They like wet feet to begin with, and the elms are hogging all the water. Additionally the roots of the elms are so numerous and densely packed that the roots of the anise  have literally no room to spread out. The anise shrubs farthest away from the elms are flourishing; those closest to the elms have barely grown since we planted them two years ago. A classic case of "wrong plant, wrong place." I finally took the pathetic anise shrubs out and am mulling over what to try in that area next. Suggestions, anyone? 

Unlike the elms, the live oak coexists beautifully with other plants. I continue to marvel at the variety of shrubs, groundcovers and even flowers that bask in its leafy embrace. 

Many people seem to think the areas underneath large trees are destined to be dead zones. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are my top six favorite shade plants. Six because five just wasn't enough! 

Oakleaf Hydrangea
Oakleaf Hydrangea  
(Hydrangea quercifolia)                                                                 
This native hydrangea produces large, showy leaves and gorgeous clusters of white blossoms. Give it lots of room -- it can get big and wide, but what a  showstopper!                                                                              

Cast Iron Plant

Cast Iron Plant
(Aspidistra elatior)                   

The ultimate trouble-free shade champion. Its tall, glossy, deep green leaves look great in mass plantings under a tree.

Peacock Ginger
Peacock Ginger (Kaempferia spp.)  
A lovely low-growing groundcover, with wide leaves and delicate purple flowers. I have seen peacock ginger thriving in rain gardens, but mine is very drought-tolerant in its shady home and spreads readily.

Rouge Plant
Rouge Plant 
(Rivina humilis)                                      
Another Florida native, named because its crushed berries were used in cosmetics. Pretty pinkish-white flowers and red berries grace this small shrub that will reach only 5-6 feet in height. Very shallow-growing, thin roots make this a great choice beneath trees.                                                    

'White Christmas' Caladium
(Caladium spp.)   

Thanks to Hoe and Shovel blogger Meems and Central Florida Gardener blogger Susan, I am now a passionate fan of these summertime splashes of color. Pick your favorite, or mix and match light and dark-leaved varieties, and you'll have stunning color in your shade garden all summer. And, they'll pop back up all by themselves every year!               

Neoregelia 'Orange Crush'
(Bromeliad spp.)     
                                                             Another perfect plant for adding color to a shady area. Bromeliads come in an amazing variety of styles and colors. Some produce stunning flower spikes; others climb, and others have richly colored foliage. My favorite: Neoregilia 'Orange Crush'

Now it's your turn. What are your favorite "made in the shade" choices?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Butterflies are Evil Creatures

Aha! I bet I got your interest with the headline.

Do I really think butterflies are evil? Of course not! Like many of you, I've dedicated a sizable chunk of my landscape to encouraging them to visit, sip a while, and lay eggs. I have larval host plants for monarch butterflies, sulfur butterflies, black swallowtails, zebra longwings and Gulf fritillaries. 

But that's where the conundrum lies. I love, love, love these flying gems, but the gardener in me is horrified by the destruction they leave in their wake.

Exhibit Number One:
A lush, robust and garishly blooming red passionvine that looked spectacular on my fence in early March due to our warm winter.

And, here it is below, two days ago. Agent Orange could not have done a better job of defoliating it than the army of Gulf fritillaries that has stripped it over the last month. At peak munch, we counted 32 caterpillars on it at one time -- and I know we missed some!

The culprit: a Gulf fritillary caterpillar,
one of dozens
Yesterday, one lone caterpillar remained, relegated to chewing on bare stems.

I know red passionvine can be horribly invasive -- I've heard horror tales of it taking over pool enclosures and even climbing over roofs -- but in my yard it never gets the chance to outgrow its allotted space. The fritillaries see to that.

The sulfurs have arrived too, and their babies have already given the cassia tree a severe pruning.
I bought more milkweed to tide over the monarchs till the remnants of the last group gluttony recover. 

And I expect the parsley I scattered in pots around the yard will soon attract the interest of the black swallowtails. I saw one feeding on angelonia blooms recently, so I know the parsley's days are short-lived.
One of last year's crop of black swallowtails on parsley. Dill and fennel are also good host plants for this species, but parsley is easiest for me to grow in our hot summers.
It's always hard for me to bear the plant mutilation. I take great pride in caring for my garden and having it look good. But I wouldn't trade the result -- the fluttering, dipping and swooping splashes of color that grace my garden when the caterpillars finally turn into perfect winged jewels that always lift my spirits.
The reward: A Gulf fritillary butterfly
Besides, the plants will recover. They always do, and pretty quickly too. And then we'll be counting caterpillars again. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Subtle Beauty of Spiderwort

It pops up like a weed every Spring, and many people treat it like one, trampling it, ripping it out or mowing it down. Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) deserves better.

Spiderwort is not too picky about its home. It grows everywhere from the rich, mucky edges of ponds to pure sand. It takes blazing sun to part shade, and it doesn't ask for much water. It spreads by rhizomes, so a single plant will, in fairly short order, give you an entire bed.

Most importantly, they produce lovely little blue flowers. Who doesn't love blue in the garden, as a contrast to all that pink and red and yellow? A bonus? Bees, which apparently have a great affinity for blue, like it too!

Also called Dayflower because its blossoms open in the morning and close by midday, Spiderwort is a true Florida native found along roadsides, ponds, the understory of shrubs and trees, and anywhere it can get a toehold in a residential landscape, including cracks in sidewalks and driveways! I admit that I too viewed it as an unsightly weed until a few years ago, when a friend gave me a huge bag of them harvested from her garden.

Spiderwort blooms from spring to early summer. If you cut it back close to the ground in mid-summer, it will rejuvenate and bloom again in the fall. It makes a nice groundcover or addition to a wildflower bed. It only grows to 1-2 feet in height and will be happy in whatever space you give it.

I have grown to love it for its easygoing nature, extreme drought tolerance and its subtle beauty. Not big, not flashy, just steady, reliable and no trouble at all.  

That's my kind of plant.