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!

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?

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