August 17, 2009

Flowering Gingers in the Garden

The aviary at the NC Zoo™ in Asheboro, North Carolina is filled with tropical plants. Peering through the foliage looking for colorful birds, I spotted a tall, red torch ginger. A tropical plant, Etlingera elatior, is suitable for zones 10b and 11, not my zone 7. Although I can't grow the gorgeous torch ginger in my garden, I do have a ginger that never disappoints.

My white butterfly ginger is blooming early this year. During these late summer evenings, the sweet fragrance hangs in the air. During the day, you have to get close to the bloom to inhale the fragrance. This tall (4-6 feet) ginger has been divided a few times and is now in different locations around the garden. The mother plant, located in the fragrance garden on the east side of the house, is always the first one to bloom.

Hedychium coronarium is a tropical plant or tender perennial for zones 8a through 11. I'm pushing the zone by letting this ginger overwinter outside in zone 7b. The original ginger is up against the house, receiving morning sun and afternoon shade. After the frosts turn it to mush, I cut it back. The ginger gets covered with fallen tree leaves in the winter. In colder zones, it can be lifted and stored over the winter like other tender perennials such as colocasia, brugmansia or dahlias.

Expanding rapidly, you only need an eight inch root section to start your own clump of white butterfly ginger. Within a year, you'll have a mass planting and will start dividing it to give to all of your gardening friends. In spring, when the green shoots first emerge, you can take a sharp shovel or knife to cut off sections of the ginger.

The deer have never attempted to eat the foliage or the blooms. I now have a large clump out front at the top of the dry stream where the ginger is easily reached by the deer. The deer have no fear of crossing our patio to nibble on impatiens out of my containers, but they haven't tried the white ginger during their nightly food raids.

The late summer blooms are perfectly white and continue until frost. The foliage is a rich green and beautiful, so it's easy to use in a part shade, perennial border. For gardeners interested in a "moon garden" of white flowers and fragrance, this is a perfect perennial.

Photos and words by Freda Cameron; August 2009
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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