FORT MYERS, Fla. (June 18, 2021) — Edison and Ford Winter Estates received a donation of an Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant) collection from a local gardener. The collection includes nearly 30 full-size and dwarf cultivars. This plant earned its common name from the Victorian era when it was the only houseplant that could withstand the low light, cold, and often dreary environment of Victorian homes.
“During the Victorian era, they were so popular, that people often posed for a portrait next to their Aspidistra plants,” said Karen Maxwell, horticulture specialist. “Today, they would take a selfie.”
The tough foliage plant originates from Japan and many of the cultivars today have Japanese names, such as “Ichi Mon Ji,” “Asahi,” “Suisho” and “Ashahi.” Aspidistra is very slow growing, with flowers that grow quite close to the ground. There is disputed evidence as to whether it is pollinated by snails or gnats.
Full-size Aspidistra were planted in the Research Gardens where the plants should thrive under the shade of the Zulu Fig (Ficus lutea). Dwarf varieties were planted with companion azaleas (Azalea “White Ruffles”) in a shady bed near the Moonlight Garden to re-establish the Japanese horticulture link to Mina Edison.
The generous donation of these Japanese plants serves to remind visitors that in the 1930s, Mina Edison was renowned for her unparalleled collection of Japanese plants at her Fort Myers winter home. Mina was exposed to Japanese culture at the 1888 and 1893 World Fairs, where the country of Japan showcased art, architecture and horticulture at the Exposition Universelle – the Paris World’s Fair, and then to Americans at its largest fair, the Columbia Exposition in Chicago.
Contrasting the noise and energy of America’s Industrial Age exhibits such as those of her husband and her father at the Chicago Fair, the peaceful and pleasant atmosphere at the Japanese pavilion, situated in a lagoon surrounded by water lilies offered visitors a serene and beautiful landscape. It impressed Mina so much that she brought many Japanese plants to Fort Myers. Most of those plants were purchased from S.M. Japanese Nursery in West Orange, New Jersey, which was close to the Edison’s Glenmont Estate.
According to early design plans for the Moonlight Garden, white azaleas were included in the first established plantings and were incorporated into Ellen Biddle Shipman’s 1929 design, along with Funkia and Snapdragons (Antirrhinaea). A plant that Mina was particularly proud of was the Japanese Flowering Almond (Prunus triloba), which produced pink flowers, but unfortunately, it was not suited for Florida’s climate. Japanese iris and Funkia (today commonly referred to as Hosta) also did not thrive in the Zone 10 climate and sandy soil.
Mina was also fond of floating freshwater lilies, and she installed two lily ponds – one in Fort Myers and one in Glenmont. Today, lilies flourish in the pond as well as in the Moonlight Garden reflecting pool. Another plant that was installed in the Moonlight Garden was the Podocarpus or Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus). These were planted in the 1930s to replicate the look of the ill-suited Italian cypress trees.
Visitors can see the new Aspidistra collection and other plants when touring the gardens at Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Self-guided and guided tours are offered daily. Specialty garden tours, led by horticulture staff are available by appointment. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit EdisonFord.org.