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!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Color in the December Garden


The poinsettias did well this year. They bloomed right on schedule.

A holiday bromeliad,
and holly berries for the mockingbirds.
And a little bit of yellow, as well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Festive Holiday Bromeliad


I love the blossoms on this bromeliad. They look like little yellow pineapples. The neat thing about this bromeliad is that you get a little extra mileage out of the blooms because they change color from yellow (for Thanksgiving) to red (for Christmas).

Color Combinations

Note to myself: I saw a beautiful color combination in a nicely landscaped yard yesterday. It consisted of: crinum lily, oyster plants, purple lantana and a white plumbago.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Taking a Cue From Mother Nature



This photograph shows an area to the rear of my yard in which I plan to create a wildlife garden. It is also the place where I found the "terrific weeds" that I mentioned in a previous post.
This past summer I used round-up to eliminate some of those "terrific weeds" so that my planting beds would be nice and neat. I planted some young trees, and recently have been accumulating a list of plants, in my mind, for various types of wildlife. It wasn't until I wrote the post about those "terrific weeds" that I realized this area already is a wildlife haven. And, if I proceed with my plan to remove what's there and plant "my favorites," they may not be the "favorites" of the wildlife in the area.
This thought caused me to pause and reconsider my original plan. Mother Nature is a much more experienced gardener than I, and while I may add some additional food and nectar sources, I will leave all of those "terrific weeds" that the butterflies, bees and grasshoppers like so much. In my attempt to "beautify" this area to my own liking, I was eliminating what is beautiful and beneficial to those there before me. That was a real eye opener!

Learning from my Plants


As I was taking this picture it occurred to me how this exotic looking bromeliad so aptly reflects the paradox of life. Like life, it is both soft and prickly at the same time. Learning to live in the boundary between the two brings understanding and gratitude for the good and the bad, as both are compassionate teachers.
myly

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Super-sized Butterfly


As I walked out to get the mail one afternoon, I spotted this HUGE butterfly (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail) out of the corner of my eye. I quickly ran back inside for my camera, and lucky for me this big fella was in no hurry to leave this plentiful source (glory bower) of nectar. I was fascinated by his size, and he was very agreeable to posing for me while I snapped multiple shots of him. This one turned out the best, but I couldn't resist including this other shot of him in flight. The movement of his wings blurred the lines and seemed to create the look of a periwinkle blue aura surrounding him. Cool!

A Bright Fall Day


Walking along the shores of Lake Harris, I couldn't help but snap this photo of the brilliantly blue water as viewed through the towering cypress trees. The temperature was in that perfect zone (high 70's with no humidity), and the warm glow of autumn sunlight was working its magic on the normally murky colored water.
Cypress trees are always a mystery to me. As you can see the shortest tree on the left side of the photo is actually a young tree growing out of an old tree that is no longer in existence. I always have to wonder what happened to the original tree. Perhaps some strong hurricane wind snapped it off, or maybe this rotting stump is the remnants of an ancient cypress from days gone by. And, then there are the cypress knees - those knubby growths of wood in various sizes that encircle the mother tree. They are definitely mysterious and otherworldly.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Terrific Weeds

These weeds (for lack of a better word) growing on the rear of our property, in an area untouched by me, are very attractive to the butterflies. I probably wouldn't have even noticed them had I not been looking down in order to avoid a snake hidden in the tall grass. I am sorry to say that I don't know their names because they are certainly worthy of being known. They are simple little flowers that were attracting a variety of butterflies in all sizes. They darted from flower to flower, happily sipping nectar on a sunny autumn afternoon.


This looks like a morning glory but it wasn't growing on a vine. Perhaps it is a wild petunia.





This one was the butterflies favorite!

I believe it was Emerson who said, "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not been discovered."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Let it Rain!


The sun was shining when all of a sudden a passing cloud burst and showered us with much needed rain. I quickly grabbed my camera to see if I could photograph the rain. Rain is one of those elements that is very difficult to photograph. It just doesn't stand still! But my little Sony did a pretty good job as the sun lit up the background. I love the way the old oak is illuminated and serves as a background to capture the torrent of rain drops that fell on us this day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Rain in Summer sums up my thoughts on the rain perfectly - How beautiful is the rain! After the dust and the heat, In the broad and fiery street, In the narrow lane, How beautiful is the rain!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Giant of a Begonia


This begonia is a real beauty. My neighbor, Nancy a/k/a "gardener extraordinaire" gave it to me when it was a wee little plant. Her plant was at least 5' tall and gorgeous. I stuck it in the ground and it is now about 3' tall. I knew it was a begonia but I didn't know its official name until I saw a picture of it in the Aug/Sept issue of Florida Gardening magazine in the article about Valkaria Tropical Gardens. It is called a lotus-leafed begonia (B. nelumbiifolia). It gets a tall spike of creamy white (small) flowers. The flowers pale in comparison to the leaf. As an old-timer greenhouse plantsman once told us, "If the leaf is beautiful then the flower is usually blah!"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Butterfly Rainforest






I wish I could say that these images of beautiful butterflies were taken in my own backyard, but the truth is that these "flying flowers" are part of what we saw in the Butterfly Rainforest at the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History. There were lots and lots of them fluttering all around us, happy as a lark sipping nectar from the array of beautiful tropical plants. This was a fun trip for all of us (mother, daughter & me), and I highly recommend a visit to this living exhibit of some of God's most exquisite creatures. Pictured from left to right: a view of the plants, Monarch, Owl butterfly, and the unbelievable Blue Morpho butterfly.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The New Neighborhood is a Bit Wild

It’s an eclectic mix of homes from the 20’s to the present. A neighborhood of the past, unlike the subdivisions of today. But what makes it such a wild place is the inhabitants. No, not the neighbors who live in the homes on our street, but the ones who live in the trees, the lake and the wooded areas. The place has a wildness about it - a touch of “Old Florida.” Century old live oaks that could tell some tales if only they could talk, alligators and herons just feet apart in the tannin-colored water, unusually large Pileated woodpeckers snatching insects off old maple trees with rotted out cavities in their trunks, hawks taking off with field mice and snakes in their talons, osprey who raise their young in nests perched atop the bald cypress trees,





an otter that hobbles down the road in the early morning hours, fireflies alight in the tall grass of the neighboring field, and many nocturnal animals I have yet to see. The area is alive with the sound of nature - frogs croaking at night, osprey chatting all day, crickets making music as they rub their limbs together and grasshoppers humming.



There is a mix of tree varieties - none of them having been planted by anyone. The live oaks draped heavily in Spanish moss, maples, bald cypress, cabbage and queen palms, camphor, mulberry, sweet gum and even banana plants.



But the Cabbage palms (state palm) splattered throughout the wide expanses of open fields speak to me the deepest. Grown from a seed dropped by a bird of unknown species, left undisturbed for years to grow on their own. It’s this vision of the cabbage palms more than any other that gives this place a feel of the wild for me. It is a vision from my childhood. A once common sight along Florida highways that I remember well - A group of tall and lanky palms thriving in open fields of green with a background of clear blue sky and puffed up white clouds. It is an ordinary landscape scene in old paintings of Florida. One that is seen less often as more and more of Florida is gobbled up by development. It is these Cabbage palms that I cherish the most. They remind me of how Florida used to be.



I know there are many more “wild” neighbors I’ve yet to meet, and I look forward to discovering them in this place that speaks to the soul.

Bet You'll Never Guess What's in this Photo


I couldn't resist snapping this shot in the dark, and I was actually surprised that it turned out as well as it did with my little camera.
Can you guess what it is? Give up? Okay, I'll tell you. It's a spider (see the spider in the top center) in his web that has trapped a hearty dinner of blind mosquitoes. They ought to keep him feasting for a while.

Off to a Good Start




I usually don‘t garden too much during the summer months, with the exception of mowing the lawn. And then I only do that in the evening or early morning hours. But this year I’m eager to get our new house landscaped, so I’m outside sweating away.


We’re not living in this house yet, so I plant in stages because the rain has been unreliable and we can only irrigate twice a week. I plant a small bed and then use a soaker hose with a timer to water real good for two weeks. And then I move on to the next section. So far, this system has worked really well. It’s a little slower going but we haven’t lost any plants which really surprises me. The areas that I’ve planted are wide open with no relief from the hot, searing sun. I’ve always hand-watered new plants everyday for a couple of weeks thinking they needed the extra water but I’ve discovered that plants are pretty tough little survivors. You learn something new all the time.
My goal is to use plants that do not need regular pruning - no hedge plants. In front of the porch I want low growing shrubs, and of course there must be colorful flowers or foliage everywhere. I have a really difficult time planting a plant that doesn't produce some kind of color. It seems like such a waste to plant something that is only green all year long. I want my plants to do double duty - be green and colorful!

The first of the front yard beds are planted in nandina (reddish orange leaves in fall), Indian hawthorne (white flowers in spring), fashion azaleas (reddish orange flower from fall thru winter), African irises (white, blue & yellow spring & early summer flowers), bush daisies (yellow flowers year round), blue daze (blue flowers year round), giant evergreen liriope and Aztec grass. I also planted a tabbebuia tree for it’s striking yellow spring color. I’m trying to stay with a color scheme of reddish orange, purple/blue and yellow. That sounds gross but the colors really look nice together. Really, they do!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Real Live Fossil


This skeleton of a leaf in decay looks like it is fossilized into the concrete. It is, however, the lacy remnant of a leaf that was slowly completing its life cycle and returning to the earth.

Tomato Crop - Summer 2007



This year's tomato crop was a good mix of a different variety of tomatoes. Pictured above (from left to right) are White Tomesol, Dr. Wyches Yellow, another White Tomesol, Black Cherry (also pictured on the vine) a roma tomato (don't remember the name) and red and yellow pear tomatoes. The White Tomesol was a sweet tasty tomato but it was hard to get used to the white color in the salad - it looked kind of blah. Dr. Wyches orange tomato has a mild taste, and the petite pear tomatoes are fun and full of a good squirt of tomato juice. But by far, the winner for the season is the Black Cherry tomato. It is an excellent producer and the taste is out of this world. Many times these little jewels did not make it into the house because I couldn't stop popping them into my mouth. Both the Black Cherry and the pear tomatoes are still producing (albeit slower) in the heat and humidity of August. The other tomatoes (most of them heirlooms) succumbed to disease early on, and produced only a couple of fruits each.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Cool Old Man

Our neighbors have a GIANT of an oak tree in their yard. One day as we strolled by it, we noticed it had a face on it. We had actually looked at this tree many times before but never noticed it. It looks so natural that it is not easy to see upon first glance. It makes you wonder how much we miss around us because we don't take the time to really look at something. I've never seen a tree face like this, but it's really cool. The tree actually looks as though it's alive (of course, it's alive - it's a tree), and I want to pull up a chair and listen to his stories of all that he has seen in his long life.

The Lights of Summer

The first night we stayed in our new home I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vacant property next to us (the one with the foot high weeds) was alive with the twinkling light of Fireflies. I haven't seen Fireflies in Florida since I was a kid, and actually hadn't thought much about them since then either. The discovery brought back childhood memories of warm, sticky summer nights and the delight of watching the luminescent little creatures buzz off and on. I quickly yelled for my daughter to come outside. Her mouth fell open with the discovery of such a unique insect. She instantly named them "glitter bugs."

I looked them up on Wikipedia and discovered some interesting facts. Even the eggs and larvae of some species glow, and that's where the name "glow worm" comes from. They are beetles and 90% of the firefly's energy is converted into light. In some areas (including North Carolina) large groups of them synchronize their flashes. Here is a real interesting tidbit of information, especially if you're a male firefly - The male flashes patterns of light to the female. The females signal in response from the ground (they don't fly). When he sees her flash back, he continues to signal and move closer. Some females of different species have become so good at mimicking the right flash in order to prey on the males. As the male flies down to the mimicking female, he is captured and eaten - this process is referred to as "femme fatale." And, they call females the weaker sex!!!

Now, whenever we stay at the new house, I make a point to go out and enjoy the mysterious blinking summer lights.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

HELP! Any Suggestions?


This picture doesn't show clearly the problem in this flower bed. It is a nice bed of azalea plants (about 3 1/2 feet tall) that has a number of unwanted trees (they're the scraggly lookings things on the top) growing up through the bushes. I keep clipping the trees back but that only makes them come back thicker. I've tried to dig them out but many are lodged up against the azalea roots and others I just can't get to. This is an annoying problem that I have to keep addressing, and as you can see by the photo I haven't addressed it in quite some time. Any suggestions on how to rid this bed, once and for all, of these unwanted trees would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks!

Avocado Surprise


My step-dad gave me this avocado from the tree in his yard. I was eager to slice it and enjoy the creamy buttery flavor of it with a salad for dinner that night. When I opened it and saw the seed, I got this "brilliant idea" that I could grow a tree from it and plant it at the new homestead. Then I would have this tree to remind me of him in the future. I called him up and asked if it was possible to grow a good tree from seed. He said I could but it would take about 10 or 12 years to bear a fruit if it didn’t freeze in the meantime. He said I would be better off to buy a grafted one for $10 or $12. So much for that “brilliant idea!" And by the way, I took a bite out of the avocado and almost choked on the bitterness. Yuk! The sharp taste of that bitterness lasted for a good 15 minutes, even after I downed a tall glass of iced tea (southern table wine). Next time I’ll let it fully ripen before I slice it open.

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Bit of Thanks



Some days you just have to count your lucky stars and be grateful for life as it is. It's so easy to breeze through the day without noticing the beauty that surrounds us. How the light filters through the tree branches or the mandevilla vine covered in soft white flowers. It's so easy to walk past people without making eye contact or smiling at them. Then a day comes when you see someone innocently suffering from the uncertainties of life, and your eyes open and, even if, for a short period of time, the world looks different to you - warm, inviting, complete and beautiful. You slow down, count your lucky stars and give thanks.

These bold and colorful flowers for the young woman I crossed paths with this morning. Best wishes!

A Clean Slate


Having just completed building a new home, I now have a clean-slate of a yard in which to begin the fun of landscaping. This is the first time that I won’t have to assume an existing yard full of bushes that need trimming. Trimming bushes is my least favorite thing to do in the yard, and I’m not good at keeping up with the trimming at all. Personally, I like my garden to look a little soft and free-flowing. Yards that look pruned and manicured to the max leave me a little cold.

But now, with such a clean slate, I find myself constanly lost in thought about what to plant. I know I want simple, low maintenance shrubbery around the front of the house, lots of flowering plants and colorful foliage. Pathways with butterfly plants, in the back. Plus plenty of large formosa azaleas, bromeliads, sitting areas and a "real" vegetable garden.

Currently there is only one straggly maple in the front and two nice big Live oaks in the back. Two cabbage palms that came up from seed are a nice size and, fortunately, are located in a good spot alongside the driveway. We had to bring in lots of sand (the builder’s type) to build up the site for the home, so I have soil that is absolutely devoid of any organic matter of any kind. I feel sorry for the plants that will be forced to endure this beach sand (minus the salt) environment.

My dream garden is one that embodies that “old Florida” look with large oaks draped abundantly in Spanish moss, towering palm trees swaying in the breeze, large curvy beds stuffed with tropicals, roses, azaleas, childhood favorites (angel trumpets, 4 o’clock s, yellow-candlesticks, etc.), and blooming butterfly-attracting plants, all outlined with lots of thick robust border grass (liriope).

As you can see by the photo, I have a real challenge ahead of me. Patience will be the name of the game as I wait for my new garden to take on an old established look.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise



Another pretty orchid that I got from my mother's collection. Orchid blooms have a way of sneaking up on you. One day I walked outside and could see something white out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and received a pleasant surprise.

Don't Know What Happened



This interesting looking tomato is called Paul Roberson. It is an heirloom variety that I planted for the first time. The plant grew well and then one day it started to decline very quickly. Fortunately, it lived long enough for two tomatoes to ripen. Yes, the tomato in the second picture is fully ripe. It has a hearty tomato flavor and was delicious, but I must say that if I served it to company they would have thought the tomato was rotten. The inside of it was a mixture of green, dark red and yellow. It did not look appetizing at all. I wish I knew what happened to the plant to cause it to die so quickly.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Caught in the Middle



I relish these last days of spring, knowing that the humid days of summer are slowly creeping up on us. The cool freshness of a new day is invigorating. Even the roses love spring, as their blooms are much larger at this time of year. As I wish for spring to hang around as long as possible, my yard is slowly dehydrating from the lack of rain. With a one-day-a-week watering restriction, sun-parched patches of grass and wilting plants are dreaming of a thirst-quenching summer rain shower. So it is with much longing that I cling to spring, but pray summer arrives soon.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Am I the Only One Who Grows Tomatoes in the Front Yard?


Due to lack of sun in my backyard, I'm forced to plant some of my tomato bushes in the front yard. I know in Europe they have beautiful little kitchen gardens in their front yards. So, in order to plant a few more varieties, I planted two tomato bushes and a couple of green bean plants amongst the landscaping, and I don't think they are too noticeable. Of course, when the fruit turns red, the neighbors may wonder what kind of flower it is! :-)

An Elusive Bloomer



Oh, how lucky I was this morning to get a good look at this elusive cactus flower. This particular cactus (don't know the name of it) blooms only at night. I noticed the bud looked ready to burst into bloom yesterday evening, and told my husband to remind me to go outside after dark to see it. Naturally, we both forgot! But, this morning as I was backing the car out of the garage, my daughter said, "Look mom, your flower!" I got so excited that I put the car in park, jumped out and ran inside to get the camera. I knew that if I didn't snap it right then and there, it would be closing up before I returned home.
As you can see by the second photo, the flower was half-way closed when I returned home. Whew, so glad I didn't miss it!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Time for Ti!


This is a snapshot of a flowerbed in my neighbor's backyard. He is quite good at using colorful foliage plants for adding color. In fact, he has a minimum amount of flowers. Most of the color comes from this hot pink stand of ti (pronounced like "tea") plants and crotons around his yard. He creates huge displays of one type of plant (such as this one), which definitely makes a statement in the garden. When the late afternoon sun hits these plants, the color is outstanding.

One FIERY Bromeliad!


This bromeliad is one of my favorites. With a couple of pups from my mother's garden, I planted it right off the back deck. At this time of year the center flares up into a fiery red/orange color whch is striking against the crisp green apple-colored leaves. You can't walk down the garden path and miss this hot tamale - she refuses to be ignored!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Flamingos are Back....


I just mentioned in a post or two ago, that it just isn't proper to have a garden in Florida that doesn't include a "flamingo sp. plastic" or two, and how I had forgotten that the two I had, faded and cracked some time ago. Well, what do you know, "ask and you shall receive."
I was eager to attend today's annual plant show in the park downtown so that I could purchase a rain barrel and 'lo and behold, the first one I laid my eyes on was this one. I knew it was a message from above. So the decision of which one to purchase was an easy one!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Vanilla Surprise!



This beautiful fuschia-color flower is dangling from - believe it or not - an orchid plant. This Malaysian orchid, Medinilla sp., is a member of the vanilla family.
It is growing in a pot in my mom's garden and is quite large. I didn't think about it at the time, but I should have smelled the flower or the large leaves (you can see them pictured above the flower) to see if they have a scent of vanilla.
Hey mom, Smell them for me and post the results on my blog. Thanks!!!

Little Backyard Oasis



This little oasis is in my mom's backyard. It's a small pond surrounded by bromeliads, cast-iron plants, orchids, irises and, of course, a couple of plastic pink flamingos. You can't live in Florida without having a couple of pink flamingos in your garden. It just wouldn't be proper!! Now that I think about it, I lost my pink flamingos a couple of years back - guess I better head to the store and buy some new ones!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring Seed Starting



This weekend I'll be busy planting these tomato seedlings in my garden. We'll be testing these heirloom tomato varieties: black cherry, white tomesol, Paul Robeson purple and Dr. Wyches yellow.
They sounded interesting in the catalog and I'm anxious to get them in the ground.

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