For Canada. . .


Canada

Like much of the world, I am deeply saddened by the recent events in Canada.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who were lost, as well as for the spirit and strength of the Canadian people — some of whom are followers and readers of this blog.  As your national anthem proclaims:

“With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!”

My First Spring Day In Autumn


Leaves from my northern autumn.

Leaves from my northern autumn.

Part of my education process as a northern gardener living in southern Florida is trying to understand the subtle changes of the seasons. In a subtropical world, where seasons are marked as warm and hot, wet and dry, that is no easy task. Seasonal changes are much — MUCH — more subtle.

In the months that have passed, I have witnessed trees blooming in late winter and briefly deciduous trees dropping their leaves in spring and a forecast that has gone from all sun and no rain to all sun and daily rain. Even at this autumnal time of year, I’m watching a neighbor’s tree in full springtime bloom — although it’s flowers are falling into the canal and drifting away.

Spring-like blooms floating on an autumn day.

Spring-like blooms floating on an autumn day.

This past week, though, I’ve witnessed another subtle seasonal change as the rainy season of summer slides into the calmer weather of autumn: the pure and absolute giddiness of the weather forecasters as they announced the arrival of the season’s first cold front for South Florida.

To use the word “cold” and “Florida” in the same sentence is a bit odd — never mind that some of my winter visits to zone 10 have seen frost on the windshield, even if said frost melted as soon as the sun peeked over the horizon.

This approaching cold front, though, was a special one, the first of the season, the first break in humidity, the first breeze of refreshing northern air.  Could this be the change that my inner climate clock has been craving?  The calendar, after all, says October and my body thinks it should be wearing a sweater.  My arms feel as if they should be raking.  These were my thoughts as Joe and I, in an attempt to get a sense of autumn, walked around a local Oktoberfest.

Evening temperatures, however, had another holiday in mind.  The thermometer was more Sousa than Oompah, more hot dog than bratwurst, more bathing suit than Lederhosen.

Still, there was a breeze — an electricity and excitement in the air, and not just from children running from carnival ride to carnival ride.  Perhaps I wasn’t the only person longing for a break, albeit a brief one.  There were others out there just as eager for our long, hot summer to come to an end, if even for a few days.

Croton.

Northern nurseries sell Croton for its autumn colors, which will perish at the first frost. In South Florida, it’s a landscape staple.

So when I went to bed that night, it was with incredible anticipation. “Please,” I thought to myself in the same voice I used on Christmas Eve to beg Santa Claus to not forget my house, “please, let the forecasters be right.”

In the morning, it was true. The humidity was gone and the morning temperature was 70 degrees — and a high predicted to reach 84. It was the most perfect spring day in autumn.

It occurred to me as I filled my lungs with air, that this feeling was the same as that which comes with any seasonal first. The first smell of autumn leaves. The first snow falling on barren branches. The first spring day to work in the garden and inhale the soil’s freshness.  I was, it seems, as giddy as a Florida forecaster in October.

Bougainvilla is a treat for any season.

Bougainvilla is a treat for any season.

Our first taste of autumn lasted a full day and most of a second. Then that front slid north again, bringing with it the heat and humidity of the Caribbean.

Nevertheless, I’ve noticed other subtle changes.  At a time when northern nurseries are stocked with mums or closing down for a long winter’s nap, nurseries here are adding more and more plants and color.

There’s also the steady building of traffic and the opening of shuttered homes and condos. The snowbirds are returning, as random and as plentiful as the crocus in my northern garden — a reminder that a spring-like autumn is on its way.

As sure as crocus appears in spring, so too do snowbirds return in autumn.

As sure as crocus appears in spring, so too do snowbirds return in autumn.

Field Trip: Key West Garden Club


 

A toast to all gardeners.

A toast to all gardeners.

Someone once said, “Good things come in small packages.” I may not be positive about who should get credit for the phrase, but I’m pretty sure he or she must have been referring to Key West.

Measuring just 7.4 square miles, there’s a lot crammed onto this legendary Florida paradise — from Ernest Hemingway’s house to Fantasy Fest to the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens to the daily sunsets, often met with a liquid toast.

Tucked away among the touristy attractions is one of the last free admissions on the island: the Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower. Since 1955, the garden club, through strokes of luck and vision, dedication and hardwork in the tropical sun, transformed a Civil War-era fort into a walled garden filled with native and exotic trees and plants.

Key West Garden Club

The entrance to the garden.

An area of the old fort now used for greener purposes.

An area of the old fort now used for greener purposes.

As visitors step outside of the entrance area, they’re in a world that is lush, silent, peaceful — and alien.  It almost feels as if we are all Dorothy as she steps into Oz for the first time.

The butterfly garden.

The butterfly garden.

A spiky ground cover seems quite content under the shade of the Cinnecord tree.

A spiky ground cover seems quite content under the shade of a Cinnecord Tree.

Canna.

Canna.

The water feature.

The water feature.

The orchid house.

The orchid house.

The other water feature.

The other water feature.

A piece of the old wall is able to support the weight of a massive tree.

A piece of the old wall is able to support the weight of a massive tree.

A closeup.

A closeup.

The Strangler Fig, so named because the seeds germinate in the canopy of neighboring trees.    Once its roots reach the ground, it grows and strangles its host.

The Strangler Fig, so named because the seeds germinate in the canopy of neighboring trees.
Once its roots reach the ground, it grows and strangles its host.

The blooms of the aptly named Powder Puff Tree.

The blooms of the aptly named Powder Puff Tree.

 By the end of the tour, I was melted

The bloom of desert rose.

The bloom of desert rose.

By the end of the visit, it was time to return to the conveniences of our modern world — an air conditioned car — but not before one last smile.

Gardener humor knows no climate zone.

Gardener humor knows no climate zone.

Field Trip: Audubon House & Tropical Gardens


Key West

Something strange happens to Florida as you drive toward the Keys. It begins to break apart.

At some point along US 1, the southern tip of the peninsula becomes a mosaic of land and water until it eventually becomes the Keys, a stretch of islands that geologists say are the visible portions of an ancient coral reef. A handful of these islands are linked together by a single highway — and the road leads to Key West.

It’s been twenty years since Joe and I last visited Key West, so we thought Joe’s birthday was a good reason to see what’s changed. While areas of the island do seem more developed to accommodate cruise ships and the crowds, it remains a place where locals and tourists can “waste away in Margaritaville.”

It’s also a place where things aren’t always what they appear to be — and gardens are no exception.

Take, for example, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, a restored mid-19th century residence. Although John James Audubon may have illustrated his share of birds, he never struck me as a parrothead — and so I never realized that he had lived on Key West.

The front yard at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens.

The front yard at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens.

That’s because he never did. Instead, it’s believed that Audubon spent time at this home when he visited Key West to paint 22 local birds for The Birds of America, including the white-crowned pigeon in the branches of a Geiger tree, a Key West native.

In other words, Audubon slept here.  Maybe.

Still, that fact does nothing to take away from the tropical garden that surrounds the Audubon House. Although we arrived after the house had closed, we were still able to look over the fence like a couple of nosy neighbors. There, brick paths disappeared into the jungle . . .

The backyard.

The backyard.

Brick paths bring visitors everywhere.

Brick paths bring visitors everywhere.

. . . and leaves and orchids were illuminated by the setting sun.

Ginger.

Ginger.

Orchid.

Orchid.

Orchid.

Orchid.

This Audubon visit was at sunset — and on Key West, that means it was time to make our way to Mallory Square with the other tourists and street performers and colorful characters to witness the end of the day.  Even clouds on the horizon couldn’t dampen the sense of calm and peace.

Sunset on Key West.

Sunset on Key West.

Who knew that an island this small would result in a two-part post?

Up next, a visit with the Key West Garden Club.

Repost: Lessons Learned From A 9/11 Survivor


IMG_2364

I think it’s safe to say that we all feel the world is falling apart.  By now, we’ve been bombarded with news stories of crime and climate change, disrespect and disillusionment, violence and epidemics, extremism and fanaticism, terrorism and war.  And now we have to come to grips with beheadings and crucifixions.  Our 21st-century life has been turned back hundreds and hundreds of years.

At moments like this, I want to retreat into my garden.  I feel safe there.

The sad truth, though, is that the world has always been a crazy place.  Just look at the history that isn’t too far in the past.  The Holocaust.  JFK’s assassination.  And MLK.  And RFK.  Son of Sam.  AIDS.  Oklahoma City.  9-11.

Yet, it is during these times of evil that so many people rise to the challenge to remind us that there is goodness in the world.  

As we approach another September 11 anniversary, I would like to revisit a post that I wrote several years ago.  It speaks of tremendous sadness, inspiration, and, most importantly, hope.  Hang in there, everyone.

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A Farm Grows In Fort Lauderdale


Flagler Village Farm

In the previous post, I mentioned that summer in South Florida was like living in a green desert: day after day of heat made hotter by oppressive humidity and afternoon downpours. It’s for these reasons that many gardeners retreat indoors, contenting themselves to look at their green world from behind glass.

Imagine my surprise — and delight — when I came across an oasis in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, a green space that was not only green but was still producing even in the blistering summer heat.

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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.

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