The Blooming Asian Globba
By Virginia Hayes
October is sort of an in-between season in southern California gardens. The summer flowers are fading, and warm weather is still upon us so cool-growing ones aren’t yet thriving. In my garden, though, there is one stunning plant that is just hitting its stride. It is Globba wintii. This ginger relative is native to Thailand and Vietnam, and you might pass it by thinking it was too tropical to do well in our moderate climate. A quirk of its life cycle, however, makes it a good choice for fall.
During the coldest months of the year, the foliage dies down and the tuberous roots remain dormant until spring prompts them to grow again. Then the plant sends up numerous shoots, about two feet in height, that eventually hold several boat-shaped leaves with a narrow “drip tip” characteristic of tropical plants. At the end of the summer, each of these shoots will also sport an arching spray of exotic-looking flowers. The flowers themselves are small and yellow, but their narrow throats and the large hot pink bracts that enclose them create quite a show.
Because Globba requires good drainage and constant moisture to do well, growing them in containers may be the easiest way to monitor these conditions. When the flower cycle is finished and the foliage begins to wither, cut back on the water. Warmer temperatures will prompt new growth and then you can resume a regular watering schedule. Grow them in full to half shade and if you do plant them into the garden, be sure to mark their position as you would any deciduous bulb, so that they remain undisturbed during their rest period.
As with many plants that at some time caught the fancy of gardeners, there are some selections of Globba with other color combinations. There is a pure white variety called “White Dragon” and another that has leaves with a reddish underside called “Red Leaf.’” Other named cultivars have been developed in Hawaii and marketed widely. Most will be found through catalog sales, but don’t be shy about asking for them at your area retail nursery.
October Tips • Start cool season vegetables such as peas, spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli from seed now or buy young plants. • If you still have a lawn of Bermuda grass, cut it on the lowest setting and over-seed with a perennial ryegrass mix. • Start the fall cleanup of old perennial leaves and flower stalks and rake up leaves of orchard trees that were affected by fungal diseases this spring. Compost them (make sure the pile reaches temperatures of 116-130 degrees for at least three days to kill the pathogens) or send them to the green waste recycling facility.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.