Orchids Against The Shed

I would come down here every year, just like all the other snowbirds.

I actually got to enjoy what many would have seen as foolhardy, or simply difficult.  That drive.  1200 miles of it, one way.  Plus another 200 miles if I were going to Key West.

Or so.

Usually I’d stop off and get some things for people left behind Back Home.  It’s always said like that “Back Home”, in capitals.  I’m not completely sure, but if you listen to a tourist, they’re always stressing things, including themselves.  The people out in California tended to use the phrase Back East in the same way.

Gone, not forgotten, not completely sure what to do about them.

All of that and none of it.  Language, it’s a strange art.

One of my habits was to stop off at a big box store that sells plants, and pick up some Orchids to take back.  Plants that would cost at least $50 if not $100 could sometimes be found on a street corner here if you knew where to look.  Out of the back of a pickup in a scruffy part of town, 4 for $10 as the scrawl would say.

That’s crept up to $4 for 20 more recently.

The plants were never that pricey to begin with.  I also knew they wouldn’t last long once they got where they were going.  Those little seedlings rarely did.

That was because the plants were being put into a climate they didn’t belong in.  Centrally heated air held little of the humidity they needed, and the drafts falling off of a 1950s tract home’s single pane glass would freeze a dish of water if the conditions were right.

This was the same kind of plant. I picked it up in a mesh bag as a seedling.  No more than a few leaves and a stem or two.  I was promised beauty of an exotic flower, if the conditions were right.

Stuck into a wooden frame with some bits of bark, it grew well and put forth flowers.

That was a couple years ago.  I had noticed that that pot was getting sad.  The wood was now riddled with weak spots and there was practically nothing left of the Orchid Bark.

Whatever plants they get to chip up to make Orchid Bark that is

It got re-potted, and it did well.   Some of that mystery bark.  I also got creative with the Spanish Moss.  Great beards of the stuff grow in my nasty bougainvillea and need to be cut back.

The Spanish Moss now could play for ZZ Top, I tell you!

Fist fulls of the packing material like moss went into the Orchid pots as well as that sad lingering staghorn fern that we have back under the giant sea grape tree.

I think it liked it.  It stopped blooming for a while.  Simply paused.  Then it started sending out blossoms like it was going out of style.

All this from a seedling we didn’t expect to survive.  Go fig!


Four and a Half Years Later – M.E. DePalma Park

The South Florida environment that we know, tourists and most locals, is almost entirely artificial.

The green grass that grows as thick as a fine oriental rug under your feet needs fertilizer and constant watering.

The Hibiscus hedges need training and watering.

Palm Trees that grow in long rows down the streets of our cities aren’t from here.  Native Palms don’t tend to be planted locally and are mostly shorter growing.  When the natives grow, it’s because a bird has eaten the seed and dropped it somewhere and it will get pulled from the cultivated garden, just like I did an hour before now.

The point is that it’s also easy to tell when you end up in a natural environment here.  You literally can hear it.  The sounds of life are loud and plentiful.

When the rapacious developers leave some land alone, it’s because forward thinking municipalities have written into their codes that a certain area must be set aside as a preserve or a park. 

Even Natural areas need care here because we’ve made such a mess of things.

When there was a property left over from a developer here in Wilton Manors too small to build anything on it, the City moved to take ownership in part to repair some of the damage done by that developer to native species.  This was to become a vest pocket park devoted to Natives.

I remember sitting at the dedication of the park in February 2010 on a lawn chair in the middle of NE 7th Avenue thinking that this will be beautiful when it grows in.  At that point, it was an open expanse of a few pre-existing slash pine trees and a lot of mulch.

The story of that day is better left to the original tellers at the East Side Neighbor’s Association.

But it was created and cared for by M.E. DePalma, her friends and family, and the City of Wilton Manors.  It slowly grew to become an island of natural beauty.

I have the pleasure of walking past it almost every day.  The singing of birds, flocks of butterflies, and croaking of frogs is a constant companion to anyone who takes the time to walk to the back of that park and sit at the butterfly chair and commune with the place.

Even if you don’t take the time, this is a place where Florida’s wildlife has been allowed to return and it will visit you if you let it.  Just ask the little lizard that lives near the plinth who followed me around that day in September 2014.

But cared for it was.  In fact, I’m shocked just how beautiful the place has become over the years. 

It has become a riot of colors.  Flowers beyond my own knowledge nod their heads in the sun.  Spider webs dance on the breezes.  A chorus of Tree Frogs chip their greetings. 

This is a small reminder of the Florida that once was, and could be again.  In some areas, it has returned because some well educated people have allowed it.  Besides, it takes much less effort to allow Nature to reclaim what belongs than to force endless carpets of St. Augustine Grass to suck up the waters from the aquifers.

I am just fortunate enough to have this near me so that I can visit when I need to.

Vandas in Bloom

I have a lot of plants in the yard.  In fact the yard is “over planted”.

Most of what is there was there before we moved in.  I tend to plant things from the “Drop a seed and it will grow there” school of agriculture.  If it’s fussy, I’m not too interested.

In South Florida, it’s more that it’s too easy for things to grow than not easy enough. 

I have coleus all over the yard.  Probably 4 varieties. When I mulched the side garden around the orange tree, I used the evil synthetic stuff to keep out plants.  Landscape cloth and Rubber Mulch made out of old car tires dyed chocolate brown.  Still the plants return.  I have one maroon coleus growing there, under the carport and the orange tree.  I don’t have the heart to uproot the thing and move it on.

Orchids were always my challenge.  I had a microclimate in my house in Philadelphia for Phalaeonopsis Orchids.  Moth Orchids.  The window got about an hour of direct sunlight a day.  It was a leaky ancient pane of 1860s glass.  In the winter there was always a little frost inside.  The plants thrived there and I would have beautiful flowers for 10 or 11 months of the year.  They would drop off in August but always return shortly after.

Maybe they needed a rest.

Here, I have more variety.  Anything that would grow in a greenhouse or microclimate window in Philly grows with very little care here.  Two separate drip feed lines of Orchids here that my friends in Philly would be amazed at.  The reality is that other than a little water, they’re care free. 

We went to the KMart in Oakland Park every trip down to Florida, pick up a few, and take them back.  “Seed Orchids” I have heard them called.  Baby plants that you would tie to a tree and ignore in Florida would wither away in the drier and colder Mid-Atlantic climate.  USDA Zone 6B I believe.  The same zone as Atlanta and the South side of  Providence, RI.

The only tropical plants you can grow outside are Needle Palms and Saw Palmettos, and then only on the South side of a building for the extra heat it provides.

Some day, I’ll find a small one and send it to my sister in New Jersey.  That should completely confuse her!

The KMart is closing this month, soon they’ll put in a Walmart.  I won’t go to the Walmart.  I know I’m not alone in that, even if they do have Seed Orchids.

But for now, my Orchids are happy.  They should be.  The one that came into bloom last week is about 4 feet off the ground.  A little above waist high.  It’s also grown into the fence.  Orchids are strange plants.  They don’t need soil as much as tree bark and “waste”.  Humus they called it.

My Vanda with the purple blooms sent out a feeder root when I put it there and it found the fence behind it.  Since it is wood, the rain and irrigation will send food for the plant.  It liked that so it grew more feeders and basically glued itself to the fence.  So much for fertilizing it since I can’t remove it from the fence at all.  If some storm thing were to come this way, that Orchid will remain outside through the weather.  Rain or clear, no matter what.

But it’s happy in that spot.  Plants won’t bloom if they aren’t happy, and seeing those blooms?  Well, they make me happy.  So enjoy a happy purple flower.  They don’t last forever after all!

Bee, Buttercup, and Mimosa

There is a duplex near me.  Two apartments separated by a “party wall”.

Nondescript building set on a nondescript lot with indifferent landscaping done by an indifferent landlord.

Run of the mill place for anywhere here in South Florida, you could drive past dozens of them and not really think twice about them.

But this is Florida, The Land of Flowers “en espanol”.

Everywhere you look there are flowers.  Wildlife is drawn to places where flowers bloom.  Even the weeds here have their own flowers.  It helps to break up a lawn from the insanity of growing turf grass in a place that gets 50 inches of rain a year, 40 of them in six months,  10 in the other six.

Feast or famine.
Flood or Desert.

Or so I have been told.

It is the same place no matter what you call it.  The native plants here have evolved to thrive under these conditions.  The same flower that grows in the Wet Season disappears or at least slows growth when it cools down and the dry season takes hold.

I had taken this picture because these flowers are beautiful to me.  They’re simple, they’re common since they are pretty much everywhere, and they are native.  I was told that they were Mimosa, but after two hours of research I was unable to prove what this specific flower was.  The leaf under it looks like a mimosa but it didn’t fold up when I touched it.  The closest I could find to the flower was a picture of something called a Cuban Buttercup but that is a bush and not a low slung plant.  If I hold this flower under your chin it will show whether you like butter or not, if you’re sitting in my friend Karen’s yard back when I grew up.  This flower is larger than Karen’s buttercups, probably twice as broad across.

The thing that I saw that was called a Powderpuff Mimosa kept coming up with a different flower and that

they spread fast.  Native species that will fill your yard if you let them.  Pretty plant too, something I will definitely consider when I finally fill in my garden.  Perhaps in the backyard under the hedges.  Since I am an expert at growing stinkweed and other noxious plants, this would be a pleasant change of pace.

I’m perfectly happy to chalk it all up to my own confusion and enjoy nature when it presents its sunny self to me.

Knowing that they were there and in bloom, that morning I had grabbed the camera, walked over to the yard and took the pictures.  They hunt the sun so to keep their blooms pointing at the light and warmth.  That makes it trivial to get a bright yellow picture.

While I was there, this bee visited.   Bees are my kryptonite.  I can handle snakes and frogs.  I’m amused by lizards.  I live in a house with a parrot and a dog, and none of them care about the lizards when they get in, but I can catch the little creatures and release them into my garden to go on their lizard-y way.

Bees on the other hand send me running and screaming.  I know that they have a very beneficial purpose but I just don’t like them.  Maybe if they ate mosquitoes and didn’t sting I could handle them better.  Having been stung twice in all my days I probably should handle it all better, but no.  I can do without them in my presence.

This one landed on the buttercup while I was taking pictures and I realized that the picture was much better with the creature on it than without it.  Wildlife photography in the urban environment!  Always take your camera!  You never know what you may find!

All that.  Veni, Camera, Vici – I came, I took the picture, I conquered.

Or some such.

Betty’s Vinca Returns

Wandering through the wilds of the suburban back yard, the exotics sprout up in the strangest places.
A couple years back, I paid my last visit to my Aunt Betty’s condo.  She was at Century Village, which is in itself a bit of a stereotype.  You know, your senior Aunt living in a condo in Deerfield Beach?   Actually not a bad place, if a bit sterile like most settled condos.
We were talking about the sorts of things that family who have become friends have to talk about when they know time will be short.  This was to be my last visit, and shortly after this, Betty moved back to New York.
She was proudly pointing out the flowers that were growing in front of the little condo.  Some of her favorite white Vinca flowers were growing there, and I decided to take a bit with me.  Like Betty said, nobody will miss it, and she put it there to begin with.  Bloom where you are planted.  If things are a bit sterile, brighten it up with a wee bit of color, or even white.  The flowers were an eye catching touch.
I grabbed a few cuttings and as soon as I got home, I stuck it in a pot in the backyard next to the pool.  I didn’t completely expect it to grow, but it did.  I guess that if I ever want the thing to thrive, I should put it in the ground out back, but it’s fine in the pot.  After all, it grows well in the pot, by the pool, under the sea grape tree. 
That all was a couple years ago.  Three, maybe four.  It’s still there.  It’s supposed to be a mild invasive in places like California, but in a pot it’s fine.  Besides, the little plant, in the little pot, next to the little shed isn’t there to invade.  It gives me pause to think of a little lady who insisted that I take some home to remember her by.

Gardening with Spit and Bailing Wires

When I was a kid, a wee precocious brat, in Mrs White’s Kindergarten, we used to play with modeling clay.

I remember the stuff was a brick red color, and always soft to work with. 

We used to roll the clay out into snakes and build all sorts of “constructions” with it.  It eventually progressed into a bunch of us building marble raceways with clay that would be balled up at the end of the play period.  The clay was never stiff enough to make long bridges with it, so we were constantly patching it to keep it in place.  

If we were lucky we’d get something stout enough to take a little ball of clay and roll down to the bottom with a lot of help.

Then it was time for story time, milk, and quiet time. 

That same kind of pasting things together to “just work for now” has been replaced.  There’s a lot of engineering, in the best sense of the word, done in a property to keep things going. 

When we moved into this little house, a 2/1 with generous yard and a pool, we set to making things work better for us.  One of us got the “bright idea” to set up an irrigation line with very low flow water bubblers to water the plants needed, and only those plants.  1 gallon per hour is a lot of water for a single plant but my Orchids like it.

I am an indifferent gardener, not really enjoying visiting my pets the mosquitoes in the yard.  I’m a great food source for them, and all those bubblers create wet spots.

Since it’s all on well water, there are some impurities in the water.   It has a sulfurous scent to it, and the formerly-white-now-red paint on the shed will tell you there is iron in the water.  Add a little grit that gets soaked up from time to time, and it gives me plenty of things to putter with.

I can tell it needs some putter time because one plant or another will wilt from a lack of water.  We do get 50 inches of rain, but most of that is in the six months of the wet season.  Also known as the Hurricane season, it can be a bit much.  A Sunday Afternoon can go from sun to Monsoon in an eye blink.

When I notice that the Mango tree is wilting, or I have lost a flower on an orchid, it’s time to act.  A trip to the hardware store for more bubblers because I can’t really be sure where they got to in the shed.  More black licorice sized tubing for the lines.  Every so often, just open up the end of the line and blow out the sand in the feeder pipes.

I’ll wander slowly through the yard with the pump humming.  Rack will follow around, smiling and sniffing the air, then adding his own water to my plants. 

The process is a cycle.  I’ll forget about it all now that the bubblers are mostly in place.  The fractal net of bifurcated licorice tubing along the East side of the pool feeding the many pots are now happy.  The same low flow lines are feeding my front side of the house and the Orange Tree there.  My pet palm tree that sprouted in a pot in the backyard and refused to be pulled is now almost six feet tall and moved to the island in front.  They’re all watered through a spur line from the backyard to the front.  Most of these plants are established and in the ground where they belong.  The palm tree insisted on living so I gave it a home, and all the rest of the oddball plants in the yard are cuttings. 

All of those cuttings, trees, and random weeds are fed by bubblers and no more than a gallon at a time.  All on little licorice lines that don’t last very long.  Just long enough to roll a ball of clay to the bottom and…

OK, Mrs. White!  It’s time for the stories!  My favorite red rug to sit on once I put the clay away.

I guess times don’t really change all that much.

February Flowers in April

Lets see what is wrong with my doing this today?

It’s April and the picture is from February.

Today is the last day of life for Windows XP and I should be doing a Rant about that. 

Never mind that, I’m bored with Windows XP and all my machines that had it are running Linux or Windows 7.

Actually the thing is that I do take a lot of pictures.  A friend who got me into photography back in the days of the Film Camera, said always take two pictures so you can choose the best.   Sometimes I take many more than that on one subject then use Photoshop or just a judicious crop to get the best view.

It may look like a bunch of colorful weeds, but it is a bunch of Florida Native Flowers plus one butterfly.  I did take the picture back in early February in M.E. DePalma Park here in Wilton Manors and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

I set that picture aside and put up more traditional ones.  Took more to illustrate something else like baking or computer repair.  But this one kept saying “Send Me In Coach”. 

That’s me.  Coach.  So, today it spoke.

One afternoon over the weekend I brought it up and made it go full screen.  Immersed in the view on the big monitor I waited.  Played with the crop.  I exposed and underexposed the picture.   I left it sit in Photoshop overnight and returned the next day.  Then I looked at just the butterfly.  Maybe the red flowers.

I realized it made me content just to look at the flowers over the last two months so I thought I would just share it as is.  Contentment is important.  Anyone who has ever taken yoga understands that well, and it is so fleeting in this society where people think it is normal to be driving a car over the yellow line of the road while texting.

Luckily it’s nearby and available.  Even with my old and banged-up “Hobby Grade” camera, I can get results when you have models like this little butterfly to pose for you.