Ruby red , pink and hairy

Last week, while slouching around the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, I came across many plants that were new to me. I hiked close to the Tarcoles River and visited, for the tenth time, the Carara National Park, one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. Carara is important for many reasons. It is a transition zone between two climate types – sunny and dry and cloudy and humid. It contains a significant area of primary rainforest and is a nesting place for many Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao cyanoptera). White-faced capuchin monkeys ((Cebus capucinus) are common.

White-faced capuchin
Scarlet Macaw


Further south, near Dominical, I visited a private garden designed by a friend, Dennis Schrader of Landcraft Environments, Ltd. .I will write more about this wonderful garden later and elsewhere. There were three plants and one bird that caught my attention.

The bird, the northern jacana (Jacana spinosa), was much disturbed by visitors to the water-lily filled lake that is its home. Raising its wings in territorial defense, the yellow wings against the dark brown body were striking.

Northern Jacana


As to the plants, the first is Siam Ruby Banana. I have never grown this, not even in the halcyon days at Chanticleer. In Costa Rica, the banana was freshly unfurling. The leaves are ruby-red sprinkled with lime-green flecks. Strong with color even under the shade of large Heliconias, it is listed as growing to a height of 8 feet. Here, the young growth was just above 3 feet. Siam Ruby is a sport of a banana found in Thailand (Siam), hence the name. What a treat.

Musa ‘Siam Ruby’


There are between 200 and 250 species of Heliconia, and a number of hybrids and cultivars.  In Costa Rica, in the house of the private garden, there was a tall, glass vase. In it was a sublime flower arrangement of the pink and the hairy Heliconia.  The pink (Heliconia chartacea) is unusual in that the waxy bracts are a bright pink. There is a cultivar, ‘Sexy Pink’. The species is sexy enough. The other Heliconia, one that really made me drool, is the hairy one. My knowledge of Heliconia is limited to say the least but if I could grow just one, it would be H. vellerigera. The bracts are red-orange and are covered with a soft fur. I may be wrong about the species. It matters little.

Heliconia chartacea



Heliconia vellerigera




It would have been horticulturally pornographic if the flower arranger had included Heliconia vaginalis but, in this case, restraint held firm.

To paraphrase a quote by David C. Day, “The flowers are louder when there are fewer of them.”



Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

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The New Perennialist

Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.


for people who want more than gardening from gardens


Uprooting the Gardening World

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