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!

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.

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