MUSCATINE, Iowa — When entering our fair city via Rt. 92 and the Beckey Bridge, visitors are welcomed not only by a lovely stone sign but by colorful flowers in bloom across the seasons. Summer perennial bloomers phlox and cannas, along with two dramatic annual Hibiscus Mahogany Splendor (hibiscus acetosella), also known as false roselle or African Rose Mallow, are placed in front and on each side of the sign.
This large plant (36-60 inches high and 24-30 inches wide) is a perennial in Zones 8a-9b, but can be planted in our zone by seed or greenhouse starts each spring. It can not only withstand the full sun, but is drought and deer resistant, required characteristics of plantings around our Muscatine Welcome signage.
Greenhouse starts are green/rust and would stay that way if planted in shade. But in full sun, they change into deep, burgundy foliage – maple-shaped leaves with serrated edges similar to the leaves of the Japanese maple. This dramatic plant flowers, of course, but not like the tropical or dinner plate hibiscuses; it has an inconspicuous pink flower in the fall. Mahogany Splendor can also be grown in water as a pond plant.
Laura McGinnis, of Illinois City, recently shared the history of the installation of the plants at the Muscatine Welcome sign, a project some years ago of a group of Master Gardeners who wanted to beautify the entrance to the city. The original perennial plants came from their own gardens and the annuals are provided by the city each spring. Master Gardeners are quite active in our city — putting in volunteer hours at various parks, promoting our Farmers Markets and Community Gardens, and laboring at the arboretum.
The 40-hour core Master Gardening training course begins soon — Sept. 22 through Nov. 17 on Tuesdays from 6:30-9:30 p.m. and some Thursday evenings as well. The training is not only a collection of informative lessons on a variety of horticulture topics, but fun and a way to meet others interested in growing all kinds of things, from Apples to Zinnias. Also, you have access to a myriad of resources, both paper and people, when you become a Master Gardener.
Those interested in signing up for the course can contact Krista Regennitter, Muscatine County Extension Director, at email@example.com or check out the entire training program at www.mastergardener.iastate.edu/muscatine.
Linda L. Meloy is a Muscatine County Master Gardener.