The bleeding heart vine, a twining evergreen shrub native to tropical western Africa, blooms white calyx and red corolla flowers in clusters as early as June and lasts through October.
July 03, 2008

Your garden is an expression of
your life
A beautiful little gardening book, “The Spirit of Gardening,” caught my eye in a gift shop while on an extended weekend getaway to Las Vegas this spring. It is written and illustrated so vividly and with such color, that one can practically see and feel a garden come alive. The more I read, the more I saw how the spirit of my own garden is an expression of my life.

American Flags

With Independence Day on Friday, my assignment for this column comes naturally. Anyone who knows me expects patriotic speeches, memorabilia, garden structures – and even red, white and blue plant selections.

My front yard embraces three American flags permanently, a real one spotlighted above the front door, one on a metal stand embraced with “God Bless America,” and another attached to a large white gate that leads into my back yard.

Inside the gate are not only beds and hanging baskets in red, white and blue blooms, but also focal point patriotic containers positioned with green tropicals under a framed, flag-painted screen of Old Glory in a covered pavilion.

Bleeding Heart Vine

Climbing on one of my garden fences is a plant commonly and appropriately known as a bleeding heart vine. Clerodendrum thomsoniae – bleeding glory-bower verbenaceae – is actually a twining evergreen shrub native to tropical western Africa that blooms from July through October.

Mine started blooming early this year, with its white calyx and red corolla flowers in clusters as early as June. Its vine explodes into the sky with vigor in direct sun with daily moisture. What an essence of the spirit of the Fourth of July.
Focal point patriotic containers are joined with plantings of bright red and white impatiens with cascading blue lobelia. The larger planter boasts a perennial wispy flax lily with variegated foliage. These are positioned with a group of tropical plants under a framed flag painted screen on a pavilion wall.
Patriotic Containers
The patriotic containers under the pavilion are positioned along with bright red and white impatiens with cascading blue lobelia. A wispy flax lily with variegated foliage finds its place in the largest of the planters, intermixed with healthy green tropicals under the outdoor painted screen flag artwork.

Freedom Angel
In yet another nearby courtyard, is a display of red, white and blue, which is very meaningful to me and my husband. Resting in a natural opening of Carolina jasmine vine climbing on extensive latticework is my freedom angel given to me by my dear friends Penni and Paula. It is situated in a shaded pocket of the same seasonal red and white impatiens, edged with the bursts of bright blue plumbago.

This angel is indeed the spirit of the garden that keeps our memory alive of our first very special dog, which we lost on New Year’s Eve a year ago in both of our arms. He loved this area of our garden.
A freedom angel statue is situated in a Carolina jasmine shaded pocket with nearby plantings of seasonal red and white and edged with bursts of bright blue plumbago. It is the spirit of the garden that keeps memories alive of a much loved and cherished dog which passed away on New Year’s Eve a year ago in the arms of its owners.
Patriotic Garden
The recent weekend getaway I previously described nurtured my own spirit of gardening. One of the many wonderful taken-for-granted things about living in this country is the freedom to go and do as we please, capturing the essence of what America offers. I want to share a vision of patriotism that I witnessed come to life while in the Bellagio Hotel Conservatory and Botanical Garden in Las Vegas.

Renowned for its dancing fountain water feature in front of the hotel, and its indoor splendor, elegance and masterful floral design, the conservatory is an out-of-this world creation of floral and fauna.

The 13,573-square-foot planting area is converted into five seasonal themes each year with infinite imagination, design and detail. My husband Bobby and I were hotel guests during the design transition of the most recent display, which replicates a summer tour through America. Located in the atrium just beyond the lobby, the conservatory captured our attention and inspired extraordinary patriotic spirit.

Since that visit I have had contact with several horticultural, floral and aquatic personnel who were part of the 24-hour a day transition team that worked together for a full week in completing the current display. Of the 140 horticulturists on staff, some 80 to 90 design experts participated in the construction of this patriotic masterpiece.

Garden maintenance is as important as its design in the conservatory. Larger plantings are watered via an underneath basement gear-driven system that also provides for laminar flow water arches across the gardens.

Staff begins arriving at 5 a.m. daily, to hand water the more than 10,000 potted plants in the flower mosaic and replace them every two weeks if needed. An off-site 40,000 square foot greenhouse supplies the plants that are shipped in from all over the world to be acclimated to the 78 to 80 degree temperature atrium.

Historical Lattice Trail
Below colorful hot-air balloons that contrast the blue sky through the 50-foot atrium ceiling is the main entrance garden, which replicates the woven hedge from the ancestral home of George Washington in a unique lattice trail of 3,100 square feet of clump moss. Interspersed are cherry pie red and white star burst blooms of aza leas, with a frame of heavenly blue hydrangeas.

Trains Explore America
The romance of the locomotive cutting through mountains and valleys with garden-scale railways and trains explores America. A topiary locomotive of 36,110 floral ingredients, weighing more than 6,000 pounds, stops at the railroad crossing. A smaller, bustling train criss-crosses around mountain peaks, past Mount Rushmore, through forests and a vast canvas of ‘painted’ flowers of America the Beautiful in the central garden. Two animated white floral feathered American eaglets overlook from a nest of twigs in a crevasse of a mountain.

Spotlighted Flags
Twelve 10x20 feet American flags surround the conservatory, suspended on horizontal poles from the ceiling, observing flag protocol with the blue union to the observer’s left. While we were there, professional lighting experts ascended in power lift machinery to the ceiling to spotlight those flags and every design element to perfection to accentuate its best features at night.

The conservatory attracts thousands of visitors and can be viewed free 24/7. To get a snapshot of what we experienced, visit

Won’t you join in flying your flag in the spirit of freedom and independence? Happy Fourth of July.
The main entrance garden of the Conservatory in Las Vegas replicates a woven hedge from the ancestral home of George Washington with a lattice trail of 3,100 square feet of clump moss, interspersed with cherry pie red and white starburst blooms of azaleas and framed in heavenly blue hydrangeas. To the back are displays of Mt. Rushmore and variegated color representing all parts of America. Above are hot air balloons, flanked by 12 large, suspended American flags. To the right is a locomotive topiary and to the left is the train track touring through America.
At the far back of the center garden are two animated flower-covered American eaglets peaking out from a nest in a mountainous crevasse above a train moving across America. Theatrically spotlighted at night, they appear ready to make their first freedom flight when morning arrives.
Renewed spirit for year six

With renewed spirit, today's article begins year six of publication of The Gardeners' Dirt, an educational endeavor coordinated by Texas AgriLife Extension Service--Victoria County through Victoria County Master Gardener Association.  Written totally voluntarily by 84 master gardeners with 260 original, never repeated articles, the column serves to provide relevant, quality educational material to the public.

As editor-in-chief since inception, I thank the writers and you, our readers, for helping make it a success.  It also would not be possible without the partnership shared with the Victoria Advocate.

Contact us with your questions, comments or topics you would like to see in the column.

VCMGA, c/o The Victoria Advocate, P. O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902 or

                                   Charla Borchers Leon, Editor-in-Chief of Gardeners' Dirt