Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot


Sunshine Palm

What’s wrong with me? In a few days, it will be Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, and my inner New York clock is telling me that I should be able to smell the first hints of an approaching autumn. Here in south Florida, however, summer is still the name of the game.

As I realize how much time has passed since my last post, I am aware of how frustrated and edgy I’m feeling. It has been an incredibly long time since I truly gardened.

When Joe and I first left New York as per my doctor’s orders, it was the tale end of a brutal winter and the garden was frozen under snow and ice. Upon arriving in Zone 10, it was the tale end of a delightful subtropical winter, just weeks before the start of the rainy season — which is a nice way of summing up heat, humidity, and sudden downpours.

Adonidia palm seedlings.

Adonidia palm seedlings.

Sure, I’ve tried to do some gardening. I’ve rooted some hibiscus clippings and potted some small Adonidia palm seedlings that had sprouted in the lawn — but by 10 a.m., I must retreat inside to get away from the heat and humidity and to look at the world through a window.

Many of the local nurseries seem to be wilting under the sun’s heat, as well — and the farmer’s market has dwindled considerably for the moment. Even the local garden club has taken a break in August. There just doesn’t seem to be too much happening in the gardening world down here.

So I busy myself by visiting other garden blogs and celebrating the blooms of my northern gardening friends. I only wish I had something to share.

Banana Leaf.

Banana Leaf.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that I have cabin fever — but it seems ridiculous to even say such a thing. That affliction, which I’ve had, is more appropriate for northern gardeners during their snow-bound winter months.  In fact, a local urban farmer, Michael Madfis of Flagler Village Farm, suggested I think of summer in south Florida as my winter, which means — according to this idea — that I now have spring fever, when it isn’t even spring.

It also means that part of me feels I should be gearing up for raking and bagging leaves, while another part of me should be getting ready to start seeds for winter planting. Never mind plants vs. zombies — it’s me vs. me.

Personally, I think I have Multiple Garden Personality Disorder — one gardener with two gardening experiences in two different zones, each wrestling for control of the gardener’s new situation.

Here is the moment when it became very apparent.

One especially hot morning, I was staring through the window at all of the greens — from vibrant green to dusty green to all shades of green in-between. Although there was the occasional dot of color from a hibiscus or bougainvillea, it occurred to me that I was living in a green desert.

The dusty fronds of Bismark palm.

The dusty fronds of Bismark palm.

I so badly wanted to step outside and work in the dirt — but to what end? The yard was a disaster, the result of a major building project. The heat was unbearable; no place for a young plant or someone with a heart condition. So I remained inside and wondered if I was perhaps experiencing a tropical depression.

Just then, the air conditioner clicked on and I felt the cool air hit the back of my neck — and suddenly those greens didn’t look so different from the newly emerging greens of a Long Island spring.

I lowered the thermostat even more and turned on the ceiling fan and — maybe it was a mirage, a figment of my overactive imagination, wishful thinking — but it actually felt as if a refreshing April breeze was blowing through an open window.  I believed that it was spring. Two seasons battled for control of my mind.

Yes, I thought, this was the perfect day to seed, weed, clean, and design. I reached for the doorknob, turned it, and opened the door a small bit. As quickly as my air-conditioned air raced through the opening, so too did my grand plans for the day burst into flames.

Sun

In the time that I imagined that April breeze until now, someone had moved the Earth several thousand miles closer to the sun. I was blinded by the glare, my eyes burning in their sockets. My skin became crispy. My clothes clung to me as they became soaked with perspiration. The air was sucked from my lungs. I was like Claire in Outlander, only I wasn’t falling through time. I was falling from the frying pan into the fire.

Every Florida gardener I meet tells me to be patient. This is the final hurdle and my gardening days will be here. As if to demonstrate that point, a local nursery is getting a fresh coat of paint — and although I sweated just watching the painters, I felt that thrill inside of me — the same sort of thrill I felt in New York when the garden centers began to stock up to get ready for spring.

In the meantime, I keep looking for signs that cooler, gardening friendly weather is coming. In a few days, the forecast is calling for highs no higher than 92 degrees.

And that’s a start.

Look for an upcoming interview with urban farmer, Michael Madfis.

Daytime In The Garden Of Mom & Dad


Me and my sister by the vegetable garden -- a long time ago.

Me and my sister by the vegetable garden — a long time ago.

I have to give credit where credit is due.

My parents were the first ones who introduced me to gardening. There were Mom’s rules about deadheading and weeding and Dad’s lessons on mowing and crop rotation — even if the farm was a tucked away corner of the yard.

Recently, I spent several days in my childhood home and lazed away summer afternoons in the backyard, where the slower pace was marked by the filling of bird feeders and the waiting and watching for feathered arrivals.

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Field Trip: Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve


Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve

There was a time, not too long ago, when this part of South Florida — east of the Everglades and west of the Coast — was nothing but white sand, scrub vegetation, saw palmettos, and sand pines. Development and expansion, with all of its blacktop and gated communities and non-native plants, soon overran the place.

Fortunately, the city of Oakland Park thought to preserve this slice of Florida’s natural history with the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve, a pristine 5.6-acre site nestled between two lakes. This location, in addition to the abundance of native plants, means the park is home to countless birds, anole lizards, and even gopher tortoises, an endangered species.  It’s also a place where the community can come together — volunteers are responsible for the preserve’s upkeep.

I arrived at the preserve after a brief morning shower. As I stepped from my car, I was struck by the silence and solitude in a place that is literally just down the street and over the fence from the trappings of the modern world.

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Confessions Of A Binge Gardener


Hibiscus

Hibiscus.

Summertime in South Florida, I’m told, is not the best time to plant or to garden. Locals often cite the high heat and high humidity — which leads to an abundance of pests and mildews.

So while gardens — and gardeners — in this hot area cool off, I’ve spent the time researching plants, dreaming up garden plans, and binge-watching television series. “Breaking Bad.” Done. “Orange Is The New Black.” Check.  “Downton Abbey.” Finito.

Everything was moving along nicely until “Downton” introduced a gardener into Violet Crawley’s world, and I found myself hoping for a larger storyline for the young fellow or — even better — a spin-off. “Downton Gardens,” perhaps?

Nevertheless, as I pondered the idea of beginning a gardening program for the inmates on “Orange,” it occurred to me that I had had my fill of fictional gardens. I missed real gardening. There was a burning inside of me — as feverish as those felt by any of Walter White’s meth heads — to dig in the dirt, plant seeds, and root clippings.

So the other day, I caved in to my cravings and embarked on a binge of my very own. A garden binge, if you will.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus.

I had been eyeing this hibiscus in the neighbor’s yard, blooming in the gap between our two houses. Each day, I’d walk by and that flower would wink its stamen at me.  And since I’ve been looking for a Florida plant to take the place of hydrangeas, I wondered if I could root hibiscus the same way I was able to root my favorite shrub in my northern garden.

Out came the clippers, some cell packs, a shovel, and the rooting hormone. I did my best to clip non-bud branches, and then removed the lower leaves. The clippings were immediately placed in water to keep the stems moist.

Rooting

I had also prepared the cell packs with basic garden soil and made holes in the center of each. After dipping the stems in rooting hormone, I slipped them into the pre-made holes, careful to not loosen the powdery rooting hormone. This was followed with a gentle watering, and then the small plants were placed out of direct sunlight.

Once started, though, I couldn’t get enough. I had merely had a sip of gardening and I was still achingly thirsty.

Croton

Croton

From the corner of my eye, I spotted the neighbor’s croton, a shrub with brightly colored foliage. There are many varieties of the plant, but I’m always drawn to the thin, slightly-curled leaf kind, each branch sharing green and red mottled leaves.

I again used the same rooting technique, planting up four small cuttings.

Not quite sated, I thought to myself, “If only I could dig up an actual plant, an off-shoot from a mother plant.” I crouched and crawled across the ground, lifting branches and looking beneath, sending small anoles scurrying.

Chinese Fan Palm

Eventually, I found two small Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis) that had sprouted from seeds at the base of the mother tree. In time, this palm, with tiny hooks along the stems of the fronds, will reach up to 50’.  Because of its slow growing habit, however, it’s often used as an understory planting.

I found the jackpot at the base of a Sunshine palm (Veitchia montgomeryana). There, seven smaller palms — resembling tall blades of grass — had sprouted. I carefully pried each one up and gave them a pot of their own.

Sunshine Palm.

Sunshine Palm.

By the end of the day, my hands and fingernails caked with dirt, my clothes and forehead soaked with sweat, I took a look at all I had done to satisfy my gardening hunger.  I had quite the tally: eight hibiscus, four crotons, two Chinese fan palms, and seven Sunshine palms.

At this point, I’m not sure if any of my treasures will survive — and if they do, I’m not sure if I’ll actually use them in the landscape or give them away. I don’t think I’d sell them, though.  I’m not a plant pusher.  I’m a binger.

A Box To Build A Dream On


Birdhouse

A box arrived in the mail the other day — and this is the story of that box and all that it holds.

On Monday nights, I participate in a Twitter conversation called Garden Chat — a very large, hour-long cyber get-together with gardeners from all over. Usually someone hosts the chat, which means that person organizes a theme and related gardening questions. Those questions are tweeted and answered, and those answers are read and retweeted and favorited by all of the participants.

At the same time, there are smaller side conversations — sharing new flower and harvest photos, tweeting tips and words of encouragement, and, of course, laughing.

It’s not unusual for there to be a giveaway during these chats — simply leave a comment attached to the giveaway tweet and you’re entered.  At the end of the chat, a winner is randomly selected and announced.

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When Doves Fly


Dove

Exhibit A.

I have a long history with birds — and even though my head has been a target for wings and talons, I still love having them in the yard. Despite the amount of documentation about their intelligence (check out this fascinating documentary on crows), it’s still safe to say that birds can be — well — bird-brained.

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Bloomin’ Update 52: Cactus Up Close & Personal


Cactus

As a general garden rule, I do not like — and so steer away from — plants that can hurt me.  Roses are about as close as I get to this thorny issue, which has less to do with the plant and more to do with me.  I know me.  I know that I can be careless and klutzy — and that combination, along with some blood thinners, means I can easily become a human pin cushion.

A few years ago, Joe and I asked a neighbor if he would like our cactus.  It was tall, only one stalk, and never really did anything.  It was just there, slightly askew — a leaning tower of needles, so to speak.

The neighbor gladly accepted the offer, digging up the cactus and replanting it along the property line between him and us — far enough and close enough at the same time.   Since then, that single stalk has expanded to about seven towering stems — and it’s now in bloom, giving a whole new definition to vertical gardening.

Look quickly, though, the flowers — which bees love — only last a day.

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