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Jimmy Turner, the former Director of Research and Garden Designer of the Dallas, Texas Arboretum and now the Senior Director of Gardens, is our guest writer this week. Jimmy runs one of the largest trial programs in the United States. His “Rising Stars” are plants that have survived Dallas weather conditions and still look beautiful. Some he calls his “Flame-proof Plants”. This series of Fan Flower, Scaevola ‘Surdiva’, appears to be both. 

Dallas gardens experience every vagary the weather has to offer:  Heat, drought, high humidity, wind, and hail. Then there is the soil, called Houston Black. It consists of layers of clay that alternately swell with water and then shrink as they dry out, causing cracks in the surface. Gardening under these conditions explains Jimmy’s motto: “If we can’t kill it, nobody can.”



Jimmy L. Turner, Senior Director of Gardens
Dallas Arboretum
Photographs courtesy of Dallas Arboretum

Latin name: Scaevola 'Surdiva' series
Common name: Fan flower
Flowers: Fan-shaped, nickel-sized blue, light blue, or white
Mature size: 6-8" tall by 18-24" wide
Hardiness: Summer annual
Soil: Well-drained
Exposure: Full sun
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries 

The Scaevola is a recent addition to our Texas gardening palette. It didn't appear on our nursery shelves until about 10 or 12 years ago, and since then has taken the market by storm. Bright blue flowers on weeping plants are hard to find -- especially ones that can hold up to the hot summer nights and brutal climate of Texas.

We have discovered at the Trial Gardens of the Dallas Arboretum, though, that not all Scaevola are created equal. 'Surdiva' is one of our best-scoring new series. Some older selections have a problem with what I like to call "scaevola-pattern baldness," which basically means that hanging baskets have color only around the outside edges, while the top is just shiny and green. I like my Scaevola liberally frosted with flowers from top to bottom, and 'Surdiva' doesn't disappoint with its constant covering of blossoms. 'Surdiva' is also just the right size -- not too big to look good on the nursery shelf and not so small as to look tiny and un-vigorous to the home gardener. It fits perfectly into baskets, pots, window boxes or landscape plantings. Another attribute we've noticed is this variety doesn't wilt as quickly as older varieties.

This series comes in three colors: blue, light blue and white. The blue is a clear, bright color with a small yellow eye. Light-blue is a soft violet blue that is best viewed up close, so plant it near pathways or your front door. The white is pure true white, with only a touch of sunny yellow at its throat, and it ages nicely and doesn't turn brown as the flowers fade.
All fan flowers grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. The best use of this plant's growth habit is in containers such as hanging baskets, large pots or window boxes, which show off the trailing habit and flowers at their best. Just remember: In Texas the larger the pot, the less often you have to water it!

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a little research on what the word "Scaevola" meant, as all plant names have some background history. Come to find out, the name is Latin for left-handed, in reference to the flower looking as if it has been cut in half. In one legend, a woman tears a flower in half after a quarrel with her lover. The gods, angered, turn all the Scaevola flowers into half flowers, and the two lovers remain separated while the man is destined to search in vain for another whole flower. Half a flower or not, Scaevola is an awesome addition to your landscape.

Hopefully, I've inspired you to look for this gem at your local nursery. This variety is one of our current favorites, but be on the lookout for new and exciting things from this genus. There is a new variety coming soon that is solid yellow. I believe gardeners in the hot, humid South will be using this plant for many years to come.

This article is courtesy of Jimmy Turner and the Dallas Arboretum. Visit for information on the Dallas Arboretum Trial Gardens located at the Dallas Arboretum, 8617 Garland Rd., Dallas TX 75203.



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