This past Monday was the first "official" day of fall in my zone 9 garden. I was pleasantly surprised to feel the refreshingly cool air (63 degrees) dancing around me as I walked my daughter to her classroom. As I inhaled the fresh air, I seemed to stand a little taller with an added spring in my step. Even the cats felt it as they darted back in forth from the patio to the house. The cooler temps make them feel younger than their years. Gus my "old fella" (who is 20 years old) stuck his nose out the door and decided to venture outside and curl up on the patio for his normal 8 hour nap.
This pleasant fall weather signals the start of our second gardening season. It is the perfect time to enjoy the weather at its best, once again become a part of nature and get my hands back into the dirt. And it's happened just in the knick of time as my overgrown jungle will attest too.
We moved the orchids off the sunny patio to the back deck where they now sit beneath the shade of a live oak tree. Judging by the healthy growth they experienced this summer, as well as the parade of blooms they rewarded us with, I would say they are indeed very happy in their newfound spot. This is the best they have looked since we bought them!
Well, well, I'm out here working and sweating while Miss Mocha takes a break in the shade. I can't say that I blame her as it is a very warm day. She is, however, a great garden companion as she follows me wherever I go, taking an occassional break to pounce on a lizard or leaf moving in the breeze.
The long, hot weather of summer is ever so slowly releasing its grip on the days of August. It’s barely noticeable at this time of year in a zone 9 garden unless you are very observant or a native, unschooled in the dramatic changes of the seasons. The leaves on the sycamore and elm (pictured here) trees have taken on a soft golden hue, as though they are in need of a dose of fertilizer. Squirrels are busy devouring the green holly berries that are just beginning to take on a slight blush. And while the afternoon temps continue to stretch into the 90’s, there is a different note in the morning air. A subtle coolness that permeates the first air of the day, a lighter feel that is not burdened by the heavy blanket of humidity. A freshness that encourages you to stand a little taller and take a deeper breath. Deep inside a spark of anticipation is ignited at the premise of the long-awaited fall season in the garden.
Once upon a time in a secret garden nestled between the gnarly roots of an old oak tree sat a small village where the wee people dwell. Fairies and sprites - invisible spirits so tiny they can only be heard and not seen by the eye. A fair maiden and a gray-haired crone tend their village garden. Together they water, weed and plant the much-loved flowers.
As these elusive beings flutter around and dart back in forth, the gentle breeze of their gossamer wings is heard through the play of the chimes that hang from the tree. The only noticeable sign of their visit is a trail of shimmering fairy dust left behind from the previous night’s festivities. They lead a carefree life filled with song and dance.
At the stroke of midnight they drape themselves in luminous jewel-colored necklaces, don their flower hats and dance around the giant mushrooms as the moon and stars perform their celestial symphony. They are joined by an assembly of night creatures – white iridescent moths performing their dance of pollination, a background chorus of croaking frogs and owls who join in from high above with their harmonious hoots. It is a blissful village surrounded by a stone wall, a bevy of colorful flowers and a trustworthy gnome who keeps watch for evil spirits.
Here’s a heavy-eyed lizard enjoying an afternoon siesta on a palm frond. Warmed by the sun, he dozes off and on, keeping an eye out for predators and the occasional nosy human in search of a garden photo. When I was a kid, these brilliant-colored green lizards were plentiful. These days they seem to be rare, having been replaced by the dinosaur-looking brown anoles. Seeing one now is always a real treat!
When my sister was little she took to calling every lizard she saw by the name of Charlie. I’m not sure whether she thought it was always the same lizard or not. Eventually, everyone in the family would say, “there goes another Charlie,” every time one scampered across the patio.
Crotons remind me of a wild and colorful painting. One in which an unrestrained painter used every color imaginable to create a masterpiece. Their colorful waxy leaves seem almost plastic and artificial. Talk about making a statement - these kaleidoscope-like plants are a colorful and lively addition to the garden. A masterpiece created by Mother Nature herself!
It seems the hotter it gets, the more these tropical beauties take it all in stride. There are no delicate debutantes or wilting impatiens among this group. These sunworshippers can take the heat. As a matter of fact, the hotter it gets, the better they like it!
My nose catches the sweet fragrance of gardenia as I walk to the mailbox each day. Without even thinking, I am irresistably drawn to place my nose right up close to this flower for another wift of its potent scent. A few cut flowers placed in a bowl will soon envelope the entire room in fragrance. This pretty plant has a commanding presence in the garden when it is in bloom. She makes it difficult to ignore her.
These days I am very thankful for even the smallest shower to quench the thirst of my garden, and provide me with a break from my watering routine. A day when the rain pours steadily all day is purely an invitation from Mother Nature to toss my usual routine out the door and relax. When one of these deliciously lazy days comes my way, I treat myself to a cup of cinnamon-flavored coffee, a sweet treat and a good book.
The impending dark clouds, the soft sound of rain falling on the roof and my purring cat curled up next to me create a feeling of warmth and gratitude for this special day spent snuggled up inside my dry cocoon. While others may feel pampered from a day at the spa, I feel rested and recharged from my time spent indoors on a rainy day. You might say, I’m as happy as the ducks splashing in the puddles outside.
This befuddled squirrel has discovered a resting place on the back of this heron garden statute. It looks like he has taken to new heights in trying to figure out how to get around the squirrel baffle on the birdfeeder located next to the heron. Perhaps this is his thinking chair, or maybe he's trying to sweet-talk the heron into lifiting him onto the birdfeeder.
This is the first time I have ever grown hollyhocks. Until a couple of years ago I didn't even know it was possible to grow them in Florida. I learned it was possible when I spotted them in a garden club's flowerbed at the local library. I was so taken by this towering beauty that I wrote down the name of the variety and set out to grow some of my own.
The first year I planted the seeds in September and watched them through the winter, but when spring came they didn't do anything. Soon summer arrived and the plants died out. Last summer, I planted seeds (summer carnival) a little earlier in August and planted them outdoors when the plants were a good size. In January I purchased a 4-pack of small plants and planted them in the garden as well. To my total delight the plants flourised and began to grow tall and set buds in early April. They have now been flowering for about two weeks.
Both the seeds that I planted and the plants I purchased at the nursery were the variety summer carnival. However, as you can see by the photos they are two very different varieties. The plant I grew from seeds is also different from these two. While it is the same pink color it is a single flower like the yellow one. When I think back to the one I saw at the library I seem to recall that it had several different shades of pink on one stalk???? I don't know which varieties these are, but I am enjoying their beautiful flowers immensely.
The angel trumpet is one of my favorite garden plants. I have planted an offspring of the one in my mother's yard at all four homes I have lived in. I don't know which I enjoy better, the gorgeous ivory and apricot blooms or the intoxicating fragrance. It is such a striking looking plant with all of those trumpets dangling from the branches. And the fragrance that seems to float through the garden, especially at the close of the day is absolutely wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy this plant!
This bowl full of Drunken Woman lettuce was planted on March 5th. We began to harvest it about one month later. It makes a tasty addition to romaine lettuce and was very easy to grow. I purchased it from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, mainly because of the unique name. I can't imagine how they came up with such a name, but would be interested to know. It is an organic variety that had an excellent germination rate.
These tropical sunset colored orchid flowers happily sit atop a delicate green fern that decided to take up residence in its pot. These two plants compliment each other nicely, as the low growing bushy fern hides the long thin legs of the orchid. It's a pretty plant combination designed by Mother Nature herself.
These beguiling begonias were derived from cuttings of plants belonging to my aunt (mother's sister) and my brother-in-law's grandmother. They are planted in the ground and seem to thrive in the dapple sunlight beneath the oaks. When they're not in bloom their beautifully colored leaves provide a little interest to this woodland garden bed. I love them because the flowers are so different from any other plants that bloom in Florida. When people see them they always ask what kind of flower it is.
This beautiful daylily is from my stepfather Charlie's garden. It is the first of the daylilies to bloom each year and will soon be followed by a solid yellow variety that is also from his garden. These are the only two daylilies that I have been able to maintain in my garden throughout the years. I purchase others but after a few years they quietly fade away. Like Charlie (who will be 90 in May), these two varieties are dependable, durable and long-lived.
The plants I have received from family and friends are some of my most favorite ones. When one blooms, I can't help but think of the generous person who shared it with me. Some evoke a living memory to the past, while others are a link to a loved one who is no longer alive. My garden contains an angel trumpet, camellias, bromeliads and yellow candlestick plant from my mom, daylilies from my stepfather, mint from my mother-in-law, begonias from an aunt, cactus from an aunt who is no longer alive, butterfly ginger, Australian violets and walking iris from a neighbor gardening friend, morning glories from a good friend and this beautiful amaryllis from my next door neighbor. He has a large patch of these beauties in full bloom right now.
Every time I go outside I notice that I can hear and feel the steady vibration of bees humming. A hum so loud that it seems to penetrate the upper layers of my skin. The feeling is actually a little disconcerting. All this bee activity caused me to remember the book written by Sue Monk Kidd called The Secret Life of Bees (a book I would highly recommend to anyone in search of a good book – one of the best I have ever read). I pulled the book off the shelf to read her description of the sound of bees. She described them as “making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along the skin.”
Now here’s where the story takes a bizarre twist. For the next two days the bees began to surface inside the house. As I sat watching television one day, I began to hear and feel that low hum in the family room. At first I thought I was imagining things, as I looked around the room and didn’t see any bees. Later I began to notice that there were a number of bees congregating on the window ledge. They seemed to be disoriented and quickly fell to the floor and died. It appears as though they are coming in through the fireplace – but why? I hope these bees are not having a secret life inside our fireplace!!!!
Now back to the bees outside. As I was tracking a bee in search of a photo (these little buggers move fast), it occurred to me that gardeners and bees have something in common – we are both deliriously happy when working in the garden!
Note: I was finally able to snap the button quick enough to snag this little honey bee getting drunk on an orange blossom.
Both Saturday and Sunday were beautiful spring days. I totally enjoyed myself as I piddled around in the garden all weekend. Lots of little spring jobs to do such as a little edging here, a little clipping there, rearranging a few plants and filling in a few empty spots with coral-colored impatiens. All the tasks were thoroughly delightful as I soaked up the warmth of the sun and enjoyed the colorful show of azalea blooms surrounding me.
In the afternoon I relaxed on the deck with a cup of coffee and a stash of garden magazines (new and old) but couldn’t seem to sit still for long before I was up again finding some little something to do. I was finally forced to drag myself into the house when the sun sank below the horizon and my family was hungry for dinner!
Pictured is the first African iris to bloom in my garden this spring.
It happens every year at this time. I wake up at 3:00 am. I can't go back to sleep. I toss and turn. I can't shut off the stream of plant names that continuously run through my brain. I can't stop thinking about my yard. I dream about plant combinations and flowers to plant.
The diagnosis - SPRING FEVER!
As the warm breath of spring arrives I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for the outdoors. Even pollen allergies cannot keep me inside. I MUST be out in the garden sprucing up, mulching and of course, planting. Some people clean their homes and rearrange the furniture but I rearrange the plants. My husband jokes that I should give the plants a break this year. I tell him that it's all trial and error - fine tuning! A gardener is always in search of finding the right place for a specific plant. It's all part of the fun and I love it!
It was the day before (February 14) our last projected frost date (for zone 9) when the weather forecasters began proclaiming their "freeze watch" warnings at every newscast. Some Arctic air was expected to dip low into the region during the wee hours of the morning. Along with a full moon and a sky as clear as a newly cleaned window, the news was not good for gardeners.
Like the neighbors, I began throwing blankets over freeze-prone plants for added warmth and hauling in the orchids. It never fails - at least one night every winter there is a cold night that dips down to around 32 degrees and lightly toasts our tender tropical plants in this sub-tropical region.
Our temps on the back porch stood right at 32 degrees the next morning. When I peered out the window the grass covered in white frost was an unusual and not completely welcome sight. I always envision my angel trumpet and hibiscus plants shivering right down to their roots, and I sympathize with them since I too am a sissy when it comes to cold weather.
The good news is that the temperatures soon began to rise as the sun beamed its warm glow toward earth. As I returned home from dropping my daughter off at school I had to smile at the melted frost dripping off the palm fronds. A quick trip around the yard revealed that most plants were spared from damage. The top of my angel trumpet was mushy and a few impatiens were slightly droopy. The staghorns and bromeliads were safe under the protective covering of the oak trees.
Our first try at growing Seminole pumpkin squash turned out to be relatively fruitful. We planted a few seeds beside my daughter's swing set in late August. Before we new it the vine was on the move with it's attractive large grayish-green two-tone leaves. Since we didn't have much room I ended up clipping the end of the vine to keep it out of the grass.
Seminole pumpkin squash is native to Florida. The Seminole Indians grew it at the base of palm trees so that the vine would crawl up the trunk and hang on the fronds. We didnt have any pest problems and we harvested 8 squash. Inside their flesh is a deep orange color.
Note: Start seeds in July for earlier harvest. We just beat the cold weather on our harvest.
Normally, I wouldn't advocate stealing, especially from one's neighbor, but in some circumstances it might be more sinful not to. Here's the facts.
Northern folks transplanted to the south don't realize that Mother Nature provides southern gardeners with free mulch in the form of oak leaves. Last week I noticed my neighbor was raking and bagging his free gift from nature. Four large bags of clean oak leaves and dried grass clippings all neatly bundled and stacked at the back of their driveway. I knew those bags were headed for the dump. Every time I pulled out of my driveway I would covet those four bags of leaves. So finally, I couldn't take it any more. I knocked on their door to ask if I could have them. No one answered - darn it!
The next day was garbarge day and sure enough all four bags were at the curb in the morning. I didn't want to knock on their door or call them at 8 am, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I just couldn't let that free gift go to the dump. I got my garden cart out and sheepishly crossed the street, all the while praying that no one would catch me stealing the neighbor's garden trash. It took four trips to get the leaves. Tucked safely out of view, I smiled within at the thought of my stolen loot as dreamy thoughts of thickly mulched, weedless flower beds floated through my mind.
I secretly confided my theft to a neighbor gardener and she proudly admitted that she drives her SUV through the neighborhood loading up all the leaves she can find. Perhaps next year I'll be more bold and hold my head high as I steal the neighbor's garden trash. So, to all the non-gardeners that toss their leaves into the trash - I thank you, my soil thanks you and my plants thank you!
This barren piece of landscape may not look like much to the ordinary eye, but to the eye of a gardener it is a sight to behold. A blank canvas that holds so many possibilities. A chance to start fresh - to build anew. The mind races with ideas of what to plant. Should it be a mix of varying shades of foliage woven together to create a living tapestry, or a kaleidoscope of brightly colored flowers all jumbled together?????
Half the fun is in the dreaming. The design changes from moment to moment until the frazzled mind needs a rest. Such a small piece of land and so many possibilities. The debate goes on...
He is definitely the Mona Lisa of tree art. This mysteriously looking creature is Carlos. He is a friendly "tree spirit" whose watchful eyes seem to follow my every move in the garden. I've even taken to confessing my deepest secrets and wishes to him, knowing that not a word of it will ever pass from his lips. A true friend indeed!