Welcome to my zone 9 garden. My roots are deeply planted in the sandy soil of sub-tropical central Florida, where the summers are long and hot, but the rest of the year is paradise!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Which One is King of the Yard!

I just happened to glance out the front window the other day and discovered this gorgeous Red-shouldered Hawk sitting on the front lamppost. I quickly grabbed my camera and started shooting from inside because I didn't want to scare him away.

He's breathtaking ~ ~ don't  you think?
 What a perfect match. I wonder if he opted to sit there because he blends in so well. He definitely dresses up my aged-looking lamppost, making it look like I have a fancy ornament at the top. I love it!

As I stood there admiring the beauty of this bird, I noticed that 18 feet away there was another bird emulating the hawk. This Mockingbird ~ ~ which long ago claimed stake to the top of this feeder ~ ~ was not to be outdone by the regal hawk. He normally is king of the yard, and obviously is not giving up the title easily. He, too, blends in very well with the feeder.

I'm enjoying the wildlife from within my home this chilly January, and getting itchy to get my hands back in the dirt. How about you?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ripe or Unripe - Good Either Way!

Before the forecast freeze last week we picked all the ripe and unripe tomatoes on all 4 of our bushes. We definitely didn't want to lose what we already had in the works. Fortunately, our plants were spared from the frosty breath of winter, and hopefully they'll go on to set new fruit.

  Our biggest producer of the fall/winter garden were these indescribably sweet, very plump Black Cherry tomatoes. This indeterminate variety grew to a healthy 6 foot tall specimen . . . best looking of the 4 varieties we planted. It was the third slowest to ripen its fruit . . . taking almost exactly 90 days from seed to fruit. The second thing I like best about this variety, besides its great flavor, is that they don't all ripen at the same time. It was at just the right speed for us to consume them. I highly recommend this variety

The other cherry tomato that I planted was Sweet Baby Girl which is a small red cherry that lives up to its name. This is the first season I planted this variety and am also very pleased with it. Sweet Baby Girl was the quickest to provide us with ripe tomatoes - about 70 days. This variety is a compact indeterminate and grew to about 3 to 3.5 feet tall, which would make it perfect grown in a container. The tomatoes ripened very quickly together, but I was able to pick what I needed and leave the rest hanging until I was ready for them. I will definitely be planting Sweet Baby Girl again . . . a great tasting cherry tomato and very easy to grow.

This next tomato ~ Bella Rosa ~ was planted for two reasons. It was highly recommended by Tom MacCubbin (former Orange County extension agent) and for its wonderful name. Don't you just love saying "Bella Rosa?" And, she is as gorgeous as a "beautiful rose." The description in the seed catalog says this determinate variety, "is both heat tolerant and resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus." Sounds like a perfect tomato for Florida. While I can't attest to the heat tolerant part because I grew her in the fall/winter garden, I can tell you that it is a very delicious tasting medium-size tomato. We enjoyed numerous B.L.T. sandwiches with her fruit . . . not exactly a classy dish for such a classy named tomato, but what can I say . . . we are simple people! She produced a nice amount of fruit and I had no problems with disease. I definitely will give her a test run for the spring/summer garden to see how she stands up to the heat. She will be a keeper, and a good replacement for the Celebrity variety which doesn't have much flavor to me. 

The final tomato grown this season was a freebie. Tomato Growers Supply Co. always sends a free packet of seeds if you order $15 or more. Actually, I didn't quite make the $15 cutoff, but they sent them anyway. Now that's what I call good P.R. and good for them should I like the tomato, and include it on my list in the future. Last time I ordered from them I received the German Giant variety which you can read more about here. Anyway, back to the 2013 freebie which is Cherokee Chocolate. Another great name! This indeterminate variety was the slowest to grow and the slowest to ripen, but it was quite interesting to watch. As the fruit developed I noticed it was in a curved oblong shape which intrigued me. I couldn't wait to see what the color looked like and wasn't disappointed. It's a very attractive brown to red color, produced a large fruit and was very tasty. I liked it and would definitely plant it again. 

While we wait for our tomatoes to ripen on the counter, we will take advantage of the larger green ones and eat our fill of green-fried tomatoes. Like I said, we're simple people!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Autumn Fun

My daughter and I had some autumn/halloween fun in the garden with these self-portrait pumpkins.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

My WILD Inner Gardener Unleashed

Back in 2007, when we finished building our home and the front yard was landscaped, the area pictured below which is far back behind our home kept calling to me. When landscaping our properties today we feel a certain compulsion from within to keep everything that's in view of the public eye nice and tidy, and that feeling is reconfirmed by a society that expects a landscape to fit into a neat and organized model. So, it soon became clear that this area was the perfect place to let the "WILD" side of my gardener persona loose. 

I thought to myself, "Oh, this area will be just for me and my wildlife friends . . . and the more, the merrier! Only the perimeter will be kept somewhat neat, and the inner part of it will be exactly as it chooses to be . . . wild, unkempt, natural, messy, free! And, I will delight in its uniqueness . . . and not worry about how it may be perceived by others."

This area already had its garden spaces defined for me. All I did was follow its lead and fill in the empty spaces.

So, my "wild" gardening side emerged . . . free to create whatever delights me and the feathered and furred critters that I hoped would call this place home. Unabated, by the need to follow landscape design principles . . . the plants chosen had to meet only one criteria

Do they provide food or shelter for wildlife?
Six years later it has grown into a wonderful dense canopy that provides food and shelter for a number of  wildlife species. 

This space started out with some pretty good bones as you can see in the original photo above. Along with some already established trees, it also has a wonderful rotting stag tree . . . that is still there today . . . that the woodpeckers love. I've seen numerous species of woodpeckers enjoying a feast of bugs from this beautiful rotting tree trunk. How lucky to have this treasure already here!

Another positive for this "wild area" is that its location is perfect for connecting my backyard habitat with the wooded forest (as seen below) at the very back of our property. All I needed to do was expand it and plant more tree canopy. I brought young tree seedlings from my previous yard, and some that I found in my new yard . . . elms, maples, bald cypress, hackberries . . . all trees that are currently growing here. A Sabal palm planted itself in exactly the right spot next to a pathway, and was a welcome addition. Then I filled in with lots of good food sources: Florida privets, Simpson stoppers, coonties, beautyberries, hollies and wax myrtles.
Now, the area is entirely closed in as the trees and plants have grown large, and a number of native wildflowers . . . Spanish Needle being the most prevalent . . . have been left to grow where they want. You can barely see part of the fence in that bottom right photo.

Pathways were put into place so that I could venture throughout the area to enjoy it. The first few years I would go in and clean up the dead plant material following winter, but have subsequently weaned myself from this practice, reminding myself that this is a "wild" area . . . no clippers allowed! And, in the process I have determined that it does just fine on its own. 

More plants were added like bottle brush trees and lantana for nectar. And, even more beautiful wildflowers . . . like the yellow-spiked beauties below . . . showed up on their own, and were allowed to grow where they pleased.

On the left side of the wide walk-through area that runs through the middle of my secret paradise is an area specifically for butterflies. Here's how it looked when I first stuck that butterfly on the post in the ground. 

And, today it is a wild, tangled jungle of pentas, coral bean, candlestick cassia, porterweed, Mexican heather, native salvia, several varieties of shrimp plants, milkweed, firespike and more wildflowers that truly seem to enjoy spreading themselves around.

Here are a few more pics of the butterfly plants, along with something I discovered one day. I like to leave large tree branches that fall in the area for a natural look. One day when I was out walking through my "wild" area, much to my delight I noticed that some creature had made a home for himself right in the crux of this large piece of wood behind the milkweed, next to the Golden dewdrop shrub. The opening seemed somewhat hidden by the curve of the trunk. What an exciting discovery!

Here's a close up look at how cleverly this wild animal disguised the entrance to his home. This was a lesson to me to leave pieces of wood in the garden for wildlife. What I thought was decorative, was actually useful to a wild creature.

I was delighted to see that the wildlife was arriving. Along with plenty of squirrels I've seen rat snakes, black racers, bunnies, lizards, racoons, and there are now 2 underground homes that I believe armadillos are living in.

There are many species of feathered friends that visit this area and some that stay permanently.

There is a bluebird family that has taken up residence.

And, there are a few friendly tree men around to make sure that all who enter here appreciate the wild, natural beauty that abounds. NO naysayers, critics or hedge clippers allowed here!

 This "wild" garden turned out to be my favorite spot in the entire yard, and the one that you're most likely to find me in. In the center of this "wild" garden is my inner sanctuary . . . the spot where I love to sit on the bench, hidden away among the surrounding foliage, and watch the squirrels and birds that dart back and forth in search of food.

Here's the "wild" garden as it stands today.
Planning and planting for this area was one of the most fun garden projects I've ever done. And, I have to say that now that my "wild" inner gardener has been unleashed, I'm looking at the garden in a new and different way. This "wild" garden helped me heal following a dark period in my life, and brought forth not only a new perspective on life but on gardening, as well.  And, that's a good thing!

 There is a lot of  busy-ness that takes place in my wonderfully "wild" area. Not by me, but by all the wonderful creatures that call it home!

Friday, October 04, 2013

How the Garden Grows

The autumn vegetable garden is off and running, so to speak. It all started back in August when I planted tomato seeds - 4 different varieties: Sweet Baby Girl, Black cherry, Bella Rosa and Cherokee Chocolate - all from Tomato Growers, Inc.

All 4 tomatoes went into the ground around mid-September, and Sweet Baby Girl is the first to set flowers.

Planted at the end of August were Packman broccoli, Blue Lake bush beans, Green onions.  The green pepper plants from spring were resurrected with a dose of fertilizer - to which they responded well and have stepped up their production of peppers. The plants look a bit shabby but they keep chugging along, so I'll let them stay, as long as they keep pumping out their tasty little peppers.

The eggplants that were planted in June are still producing 3 to 4 a week

Mid-September seed plantings included another round of Packman broccoli and Blue Lake bush beans. I have to say that I really struggled with the Blue Lake bush beans - from Seeds of Change - having to replant them numerous times. My mother had the same experience. Has anybody else had the same experience with this brand?

Other new additions to the garden were Snow Peas (seeds), Winterbor kale (starts), True Siberian kale (seeds) and pictured below - Georgia collards (starts). 

The broccoli has not liked the hot mid-day sun, but other than having to dust them with an organic insecticide and give them a cooler spray of water, in the heat of the day, they look on track to begin producing by the middle to end of this month.

The end of September found me planting Red Core Chantenay carrots, Cherry Belle radishes, Early White bush Scallop squash, Swiss Chard and Bok Choy seeds, as well as French shallots which I read about on Daisy's Maple Hill 101 blog. I'm not sure if it's the right time of the year to plant them but since my green onions are doing well, I decided to give them a try. The bulbs were purchased at the super market.

The 3 rainy days we experienced last week were a big help in getting my little starts well on their way. I've been busy mulching the beds with straw to keep them from drying out. I've had more than normal pest problems - - - - caterpillars, stink bugs and some other little worm eating holes in the bean leaves, but a little organic dust seems to have remedied the problem.

How is your Autumn vegetable garden growing?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Stumbling Upon the Unexpected

Look what I discovered in the garden this week . . .

After escorting the trash can to the curb,  I was walking back towards the house . . . just minding my own business . . . when the morning light on the east side of the garden caught my eye. It's always a treat to see rays of sunbeams filtering through the trees, so I stopped to admire the soft autumn light for a minute. That's when the 2 blue orbs caught my attention.

As I walked closer, both of the blue orbs and the bird feeder appeared to be lit up like lamps. "How neat is that!" I thought. And, then there it was on the right side . . . another surprise . . . the overnight handy work of a busy spider. Whenever, I come across a spider's web, I'm reminded of the lyrics in The Eagle's song "Waiting in the Weeds"  - - "A small, gray spider spinning in the dark, in spite of all the times the web is torn apart."   Don't you just love the meaning behind those lyrics? Spiders are resilient and people need to be resilient, too, to weather life's storms.

 This is my version . . . or, at least the beginning of a "bottle tree."  In the past, Southerners created bottle trees to keep evil spirits (or 'haints' as they were called) at bay. The Southerners would hang bottles, while the Europeans hung round globes (known as "witch balls") with an opening in them The evil spirits (or haints) would be attracted to the sound made by the wind around the bottle openings, and would be sucked into the bottle or ball. Since I'm of European descent and a Southerner, I wanted to include a bit of this history in my garden. Click on this link if you want to read the history around the "bottle tree."

 And, a view from the other side of the tree gave a whole different perspective. There's always 2 sides to every story . . .isn't there? Not to bore you but to quote Don Henley in his song "Long Way Home" he says. . . "there's 3 sides to every story - your side, my side and the cold hard truth." Now, how true is that, even though we'd rarely admit it. From the back side, the sunlight is illuminating the cinnamon-colored bark of the Natchez crape myrtle, and the gazing balls are their natural deep blue color.

Wouldn't you agree that was a neat little discovery? That's been happening in my front yard every morning since I hung those orbs there, and I didn't even know it. Wonder what else is going on in my garden that I don't know about!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Oh, and look what other unexpected, and not so wonderful, things I discovered when checking on my vegetable garden. I actually love seeing caterpillars in my garden but not on my eggplant leaves, so he was quickly relocated. Can anyone identify this little guy for me?

And, then there was this feisty green stinkbug hanging out on my tomato bush. He is definitely not a welcome visitor! I actually saw two of them fighting over a small Sungold tomato yesterday. He was quite agitated by my picture taking attempts, and finally flew away.

But before heading indoors to get some work done, my walk ended on an upbeat note when I came across this bright green Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly sunning himself on the tomato cage. Can't blame him, as it was quite a delightful morning following 3 days of rain and gray skies!

It should be a wonderful weekend . . . so enjoy!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Summer is Waning

 Now that summer is waning and I'm starting to venture back out into the garden, the result of many months of a tropical summer is staring me smack in the face. Like this chocolate cherry allamanda that is in definite competition with the elm tree.

 She's intent on using the tree branches for support as she extends her long branches high into the tree. Oh, but what gorgeous flowers all summer long. 

She's right outside the screened enclosure, so I can enjoy her blooms and super-sized buds all summer long while staying cool in the pool.

And, while we're on the topic of the pool . . . the poolside plantings are growing nicely in their 2nd year. They're all starting to meld together nicely and create that tangled jungle look.
Who in their right mind would leave the comfort of cool water in July and August to venture out in the heat to trim?

All of my tropical foliage LOVED the plentiful rain we had this summer, and I am very grateful for it, too!

Yes, there is some trimming that needs to be done all throughout the garden. But there's nothing like a large blooming hibiscus keeping company with a palm tree. They definitely scream "Florida!" It makes me want to plant more of them again, especially since those nasty old cold winters are now a distant memory. You know what I mean?

I did venture out in August long enough to give my roses a mini-trim so that I could enjoy some autumn blooms.

 And, now that I'm back in the garden tidying up, I'm reminded to cut some blossoms like this hydrangea and rose to enjoy inside. 

And, I'm even finding a little time to decorate for fall . . . or should I say I'm encouraging fall to arrive. My apologies for the fake autumn leaves, but after all, I do live in Florida . . . as the Spanish moss will attest to!

A long happy gardening season is soon to arrive . . . ENJOY!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Late Summer Surprises

Who doesn't love finding wonderful blooming surprises in their garden? I know I do, especially when it involves an orchid plant. My orchids are tucked so far back in my garden beneath the giant trees that I don't often see what they're up to. With all the steady rainfall this summer, I haven't had to venture back in that mosquito-laden area to water them. So, when I decided to walk back and see how they're doing, I was delighted to find these late summer surprises.

The vanda (yellow) and ascocenda (tangerine) orchids are so easy to grow and they bloom at least twice a year. They simply hang in a wood basket with no orchid medium whatsoever. I do believe the white and purple orchid is a Miltonia which is also a very easy orchid to grow and never fails to reward me with a generous amount of blossoms.

Are there any "late summer surprises" lurking in your garden?

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