Physalis alkekengi (Chinese Lantern)  

This unusual plant is a member of the potato family, Solanaceae (which also includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants).  “Physalis” is from the Greek “a bladder,” a reference to the inflated calyx (sepals of the flower). The flower pods, or lanterns, contain a berry where the seeds are located. Because it spreads by colony-forming rhizomes, it is considered invasive in many parts of the country. Here in Georgia (specifically Zone 7B) it is most commonly used as a fall annual for autumn planters because it combines beautifully with all the colors of fall. Use caution if setting Physalis out into the landscape in a planter, as its roots can easily escape and take hold in the yard. 

To dry the lanterns for winter floral arrangements, simply cut the stems off at ground level when the lanterns reach their peak color and remove the leaves. Hang them right side up to dry in a dark, protected location with good air circulation. 

Growing Physalis is similar to growing tomatoes, which may explain its sudden popularity in garden centers. Started from seed, the plants will grow in much the same way as tomatoes, with the fruit (lanterns) maturing mid to late summer, along with late-summer garden tomatoes. 

This plant is best grown as an outdoor ornamental, because the immature fruits are considered poisonous to children and pets. For information about toxicity, refer to:  Lampe, K. F., McCann, M. A. 1985. AMA Handbook of poisonous and injurious plants. American Medical Assoc. Chicago, Ill., USA. 432 pp.

To keep these plants in spectacular form through the Thanksgiving weekend, they are fed a diet of organic compost tea, from Authentic Haven Brand

It’s October, and if you’ve noticed something sweet in the air, it just might be this beautiful fall-blooming shrub: Osmanthus fragrans var. aurantiacus, the Tea Olive (or Sweet Olive).  

The dense branches are massed with orange blossoms that have a citrus, peach-like fragrance, so place this near a deck or patio where it will be noticed. Tea Olives work well as a screen or hedge, and take to pruning well. With large dark green leaves, the Tea Olive will reach a height of 10-12 feet (and more) without pruning, depending on location. This particular variety is more cold hardy than the species, tolerating temperatures down to the single digits (Clemson Univ. Coop. Ext.). Tolerating a wide range of horticultural conditions, Tea Olives grow well in full sun to medium shade (with a slightly more open shape in shadier locations). Deer will not bother Tea Olives. 

"Osmanthus" is from the Greek word osma, meaning “fragrant,” and anthos meaning flower. Tea Olives are natives of the Himalayas, China, and Japan. The flowers are used in Asian dishes, tea, and wine (Kew Royal Botanic Gardens). 

Here in Georgia, the Sweet Olive was selected as a 2009 Georgia Gold Medal Plant selection. (The white blooming variety is the more common of the species, Osmanthus fragrans.) 

Begonia Love. 

I use a lot of begonias in my clients’ container gardens during the summer. Some are used for foliage, while others are used for a proliferation of flowers. Rex begonias have beautiful symmetrical leaf patterns and insignificant flowers, while cane begonias produce long branching arms, dripping with flowers for months on end. Tuberous begonias come in summer-hot sizzling colors like tangerine-orange and ruby-red. These are all shade plants, especially here in Zone 7B, but they stand up to the heat very well. 

Look for the different types of begonias in the garden center. My favorites include Tuberous Begonias, Shrub Begonias, Rex Begonias, and Rhizome Begonias, all of which offer a stunning variety in foliage and flower production.