Celebrate Spring with VIVA BOTANICA 2003

Express News
Sunday, March 30, 2003

By Diane Pfeil

Here at Extension, we always know when spring is in the air because the phones are ringing off the wall with gardening questions. The season is marked with blooming flowers and the scent of Mountain Laurel blossoms in the air. There is another way to know that spring has arrived. The annual event, Viva Botanica! Festival, is held every year and helps us celebrate spring and all it has to offer. The 23rd annual Viva Botanica! Festival will be held at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens located at 555 Funston at North New Braunfels. The event runs from 9am until 5pm on Saturday, April 5 and on Sunday, April 6 from noon until 5pm.

Some have said this event is magic. Visitors will be able to wander through the 33-acres of the Gardens, the glass conservatories, and a nature area that is ablaze with beautiful color from wildflowers. The Gardens are alive with food, fun, entertainment, family activities, gardening experts and plants for sale for all to enjoy. This annual family-oriented event features ethnic cuisines, various vendors, children’s activities, music, and horticultural and educational exhibits spanning the entire garden.

A falconry demonstration by John Karger with Last Chance Forever-Birds of Prey Conservancy will be featured on Saturday. Dino George will be back with “Dino Adventures” on Sunday. Vendors will offer plants, including “water-wise” perennials well suited for our harsh climate (and often unavailable at local nurseries).

The Bexar County Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions and help you turn your thumb “greener”. Hanging baskets will also be on display to give visitors ideas on how to create beautiful color combinations. The Master Gardeners will also be conducting children’s activities. Children will be able to engage themselves in fun garden activities, including Garden Scavenger Hunt, Wildflower Bingo, and dinosaur mobiles. The children’s activities will feature butterflies, sunflowers, making tree rubbings, bug bingo, and beneficial bugs.

One of the jewels featured during Viva is the plant sale sponsored by the San Antonio Botanical Society. Volunteers have propagated many of the plants offered for sale. Gardeners can pick from exclusive new introductions, hybrids, and selections from native plants that perform well in the warm, dry conditions of the local landscapes. There are too many varieties to include here, but we offer you a sneak preview:

Pyramid Bush (Melochia tomentosa) is a small slender shrub from the Chocolate Family. It reaches a mature size of two feet and is covered with beautiful bright, violet-pink flowers. It is an excellent xeriscape plant that grows quickly and will provide color during the summer heat. Ruby Grass (Rhynchelytrum nerviglume) reaches a height of 20 to 24 inches and has bluish green leaves that turn purplish in the fall. Delightful coral pink flower plumes appear in the spring and last throughout the summer. The plumes turn a lovely creamy white as they mature. It prefers well-drained soil in full sun.

Sugar Cane Grass (Saccharum arundinaceum) is very versatile and can be used as a screening plant or as a stand-alone specimen. It grows to 14 feet and has quite impressive plumes from spring to fall. Esperanza (Tecoma stans) is a spectacular, heat-tolerant native with striking masses of golden yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. Esperanza reaches about six feet tall and blooms early summer till frost. It is a Texas Superstar along with others that will be for sale. Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea) is an excellent border plant for shade, forming 18 to 24 inch mounds. Reddish-orange tubular flowers appear on spikes beginning in early spring. Betony is a favorite nectar plant for hummingbirds and Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies. Another plus is that the deer do not like the pungent leaves.

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) is a drought tolerant, evergreen shrub that reaches a mature size of 4 feet by 4 feet. Its orange flowers attract butterflies and are present spring through winter. Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus x hybridus) is very impressive when used in a hanging basket. Violet-colored blooms develop on the end of 3-inch stalks last for 3 to 4 weeks at a time. The Lotus Rose is a hardy, mildew resistant plant. This easy-to-care-for bush reaches about 2 feet with a beautiful red bloom.
The Icicle Plant (Helichrysum thianschianicum) is native to the Mediterranean region, and useful as a foliage plant with narrow and intensely silver leaves that feel like velvet. It enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. Yellow Skullcap (Scuttelaria supiana) is a ground cover with pale yellow flowers from summer until fall. It reaches a size of about 12 inches by 30 inches and should be planted in full sun.

Chenille Plant (Acalypha radians) loves the heat and has drooping, tassel-like spikes 12 to 20 inches long that resemble crimson chenille. This plant makes an excellent hanging basket. Two cultivars of Cape Fuchsia (Phygelius capensis) will be offered. ‘Devil’s Tears’ has open clustered, pendulous, tubular orange to red flowers borne on loosely branched clusters. ‘Moonraker’ has soft creamy yellow flowers. Both possess abundant nectar for hummingbirds and prefer partial shade. Dobo Lily (Cyrtanthus brachyscyphus) has dark foliage with bright, well-shaped orange-red flowers. It blooms spring to summer and can reach two feet tall by two feet wide. Plant Dobo lily in partial shade for best results. Torenia hybrida ‘Blue Moon’ loves the shade and heat. It possesses a free flowering habit of purple to blue flowers from spring through fall. It is 6 to 8 inches high and 3 inches wide. The cool colors of this plant are a welcome relief during the heat of the summer. A new species of salvia called Salvia corrugate ‘Cielo Blue,’ has dark green, distinctively textured leaves. Showy, deep blue-purple flowers held by violet calyxes appear spring through fall.

For the tree lovers, Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha) is a large evergreen tree that is highly adaptable to our area. It reaches heights of fifty feet or more and has large ovate leaves.

Creeping Knotweed (Polyganum capitatum) is a trailing ground cover that reaches about six inches high. The leaves are dark green with a purplish, v-shaped marking on the upper surface of the leaf, turning to a tinged pink. The pink spherical flower heads are abundant most of the year. Creeping knotweed is drought tolerant and loves the heat. Samson’s Snakeroot (Obexilum pedunculatum) is a trailing evergreen groundcover that loves the heat and shade. Bright purple-blue flowers appear on a slender stem from spring through summer. Origanum rotundifolium ‘Barbara Tingley’ is a variety of ornamental oregano that is drought-tolerant and loves the heat. Lavender flowers accent the trailing hop-like bracts. This sun-lover can spread to three feet.

This is just a sampling of the plants that will be for sale during Viva Botanica! Festival. Booths offering a variety of foods from the good old American hot dog to Mexican favorites will ensure that no one goes hungry. This event will be an opportunity to enjoy good food, entertainment, educational exhibits and purchase plants for your landscape.

This article was written by Diane Pfeil, Horticulture Associate, Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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