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Tropical temptations; Visit to Logee's fills the senses.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

You don't have to travel too far south to reach the Tropic of Danielson.

Logee's Greenhouses, located in decidedly temperate Danielson, Conn., is the internationally recognized glassed-in home to such exotic tropical flora as stately banana trees, lemon guava plants and a world-class collection of begonias. No, not the ubiquitous bedding begonias you get at the garden center in spring. These are tropical beauties grown less for their pretty-but-understated flowers and more for their spectacular leaves. Names like "hot tamale," "raspberry swirl" and "Hilo holiday" capture their iridescent essence.

Begonias have been around since Victorian days and so has Logee's. It was founded in 1892 by the grandfather of current president Byron Martin, a man whose obvious passion for plants bespeaks an inherited bent. You could call him "Mr. Green Genes."

"It was a neat place to grow up for a young kid," Martin said, standing amid masses of flashy-leaved foliage and outsized flowers that are a long way from their original rainforest homes. Even if you aren't looking to buy, a stroll through the greenhouses offers a

respite from chilly weather, if only for a balmy half hour or so.

"We lived right next door so there was never any separation between myself, my parents and the greenhouses, so that was a blessing," Martin continued. On a recent tour, he stops frequently to bless a visitor with plant pieces he plucks from Logee's lush indoor jungle. "Smell this," he would say, enthusiastically proffering a bloom. Most were lovely white flowers with a pleasing, jasmine-like fragrance, a scent that seems to be a favorite of his.

Then there was the stapelia.

The huge flower of stapelia gigantia dwarfs even its own faux-cactus foliage, a cluster of fat, green, upright stems. Commonly called the starfish flower, the bloom is shaped like an actual starfish but is much larger, and the scent is quite attractive - if you happen to be a fly in search of some several-days-old carrion.

"The flower smells like rotting meat and is best enjoyed from a distance," reads a warning in "Spectacular Container Plants," a book written by Martin and his former wife, Laurelynn Martin, with whom he maintains an amicable working relationship.

With the stinky stapelia, nature knew exactly what she was doing. The scent is meant to attract not humans, but flies that pollinate the plant.

In contrast, the fragrance of the greenhouses' many citrus blooms is sweet and delicate. Sunny citrus and other fruiting plants are another Logee's specialty. Along with the expected oranges, lemons and limes there are intriguing, hard-to-find kinds such as the limequat and strawberry guava.

Martin interrupts the olfactory aspect of the tour to offer for consumption a slice of a lemon guava, a tropical fruit well-adapted to pot culture.

"Try this!" he says, with the same almost-childlike enthusiasm he exuded during the "smell-this!" phase. Hesitation was only momentary before we decide to trust in his three generations of horticultural experience and take a bite. The small yellow fruit is sweet and delicious. The plant produces the soft-skinned treats abundantly from summer through fall, he says, another reason to perhaps skip supermarket philodendrons and seek out less common plants.

Logee's "miracle fruit" is about as uncommon as you can get.

The miracle is in the plant's fruit, more like a red berry and sometimes called "miracle berry." Once you eat one, anything you eat afterward that is sour tastes amazingly sweet. We take the plunge and chew on a proffered berry. Martin finds a lemon tree and slices a wedge from its small, sour fruit. "Now try this," he says. It tastes like candy. There is no hint of tartness whatsoever. The effect can last half an hour or more.

The miracle berry/lemon experience was one that Martin offered another visitor, a very famous one. Last year, Martha Stewart, a Connecticut resident, popped over to Logee's for a visit - unannounced. Her staff had visited the greenhouse from time to time and had told her about its uncommercialized country charm and collection of unusual plants and she invited Martin to appear on her show. Now, she had come to see the greenhouses firsthand.

Star-struck cashiers summoned Martin, who took Stewart on a tour. One can almost hear how it must have gone: "Try this, Martha!" and "Smell this, Martha!" The miracle fruit was one of things the Martin was able to get his celebrity guest to ingest. She loved it and featured the plant on her show. The resulting backlog of orders has only recently been cleared out.

Another big seller is a hardy banana tree that can survive a New England winter. "In the winter you just cut it back and mulch it," Laurelynn Martin said. It produces tons of bananas - all fibrous and inedible, alas. That is not true for several of Logee's potted bananas, which can be grown indoors. "They are some of our most popular plants," she said. "People seem to love to be able to pick a banana and cut it up for their cereal in the morning."

Not all tropical plants take to a pot the way a banana does. "There are a lot of plants in the tropics that we don't grow because they don't work in containers," Byron Martin said. "Plants have to grow in a pot and do whatever they do - they have to flower, they have to fruit or they have to have beautiful foliage - within a confined area."

Logee's has found a niche as a purveyor of plants that would not be considered mainstream in terms of horticulture. There are many reasons for that marginality. A plant may be rare because it is difficult to propagate so it doesn't make it into the mass market, or it grows too slowly for commercial growers, who are looking for a large volume of plants and don't want to waste time on it.

"But it might be something that we would be willing to take the time to grow," Byron Martin said. "Sometimes it's just an obscure plant and there just aren't a half a million people out there that are going to buy it, so it doesn't go into the mainstream market."

People like Martin who have horticulture in their blood, however, are fascinated by the varied habits, beautiful blooms, lush foliage and sensuous fragrances of tropical plants. Even the idiosyncrasies are endearing: a plant that only blooms at night or the stinky stapelia. Logee's is willing to propagate a promising plant and winnow out the non-performers so that we all can have a taste of the tropics on our windowsills.

"For those of us who have a broader or a deeper interest in container horticulture, it is well worth the time to do this," he said.

Ten indestructible houseplants

With greenhouses filled with gorgeous plants, it is hard to pick favorites, but Byron Martin's "personal bests" are Brugmansia Inca Sun because it has lots of fragrant flowers; Rex Begonias because they are easy to grow and have great texture and color; abutilons because they are easy to grow and colorful; passionflowers, especially the fragrant ones such as "Blue Bouquet" and any of the fruiting varieties, including bananas, lemons, figs.

If, however, you are a brown thumb, a slayer of spider plants and find that cacti can survive the harshest desert but not you, the experts at Logee's Greenhouses have compiled a list of plants that might make a green-thumb person of you yet.

Aeschynanthus radicans

"Lipstick Plant" - One of the best houseplants for the hanging basket because of its trailing nature with bright red flowers that cascade among shiny green leaves. Requires partial sun to shade, can take dry conditions with ease, blooms intermittently throughout the year.

Bowiea volubilis

"Climbing Onion"- In late winter, vining stems emerge from the onion bulb and dense lacy branches put on a fanciful display. Partial to full sun, drying out between waterings, allow for a dormancy in late fall to late winter.

Billbergia nutans

"Queen's Tears"- A wonderful houseplant that gives an exotic look with its sprays of pink and green flowers. It is a reliable bloomer and performs well regardless of watering frequency, available light or humidity. Partial to full sun and dry out between waterings recommended.


"Palomar Prince"- Adaptable to the home environment, this rhizomatous begonia strikes a royal presence with its fullness. Dark green, deeply cut double-spiraled leaves are dashed with flecks of lighter green and accented by golden veins. Partial sun, dry out between waterings.

Clivia miniata

"Fire Lily"- A beautiful winter bloomer with its deep orange flowers emanating from sunshine-yellow centers. Can take low humidity and dryness. To bring into flower, give it dryness and cooler nights in the winter. Full to partial sun, water on the dry side.

Epiphylum Oxypetalum

"Night blooming Cereus" - The dinner-plate sized flower and the intense nighttime fragrance make this epiphyllum a rare find. The pure white flower cascades on its cactus-like stems and blooms in waves. Give a period of dryness and cool nighttime temperatures in the winter to insure summer blooms.

Fittonia verschaffeltii

"Super Red" - Great for small spaces or terrariums, Fittonia's red foliage grows in a full mounding habit making this prized for the limited space grower. Dryness and low humidity is welcome; full to partial sun.

Hoya carnosa

"Crispa" "Variegated Hindu Rope"- Grown for its variegated foliage and lovely fragrance, this Hoya makes an excellent hanging basket. Its pink umbels carry a delicious mocha scent amongst the twisted leaves. Grow in partial sun, dry out between waterings. Will bloom in spring, summer and fall.

Tradescantia spathacea variegata

"Moses in the Bulrushes" - A wonderfully popular plant grown for its tri-colored foliage of pink, green and white. Its size makes it the perfect plant for small spaces that need a touch of color. Grow in full to partial sun and water on the dry side.

Trichodiadema densum -

A resilient and rugged grower that is loved for its unusual caudex and bright, cheery flowers that adorn the plant in spring. Periods of dryness are recommended and a bright, sunny spot.

If you go


141 North St., Danielson

Phone: (888) 330-8038

Web site:

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closes early in November and February (4:30 p.m.) and December and January (4 p.m.)

Directions: Take I-395 south to Exit 92. Take a right at the bottom of the exit ramp, then another right at the traffic light onto Route 12 (Main Street). At the next traffic light turn left onto North Street. Bear right at the split; Logee's is 4/10 of a mile on the left.


CUTLINE: (1) Opposite page, foliage surrounds a bench in "the big house" at Logee's Greenhouses in Danielson, Conn. (2) Above, a passion vine plant. (3) Jane Hjertberg, with her daughter Anna Keiter and granddaughter Payton Keiter, all of Grafton, investigate some of the rare plants found at Logee's. (4) A Miracle Fruit berry. (5) Greenhouse manager Rich Logee holds a clivia miniata plant.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 27, 2008
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