A Walk Through The Garden

My routine is stable.  You might even describe it as calcified.

Up early, even if “early” can be as late as sunrise.

That late is rather rare.

At any rate, haul my bulk out of bed, get the dog up, get him out to water the garden, and the walk.

When I get back, there’s Dawdle Time.  Depending on how much time there is I can get a lot done in Dawdle Time.   I’ve said I get more done before sunrise than many people do some days.

But Sunrise varies, and I have to be outside at 7:30 AM every day, unless it is raining.

All of these plants do require care.  Sometimes they require care by others, and I can find homes for the extras, other times, I end up watching for where the water is being irrigated and putting out new plants.

South Florida has a wet and hot tropical climate.  It never freezes here, the USDA freeze line for Coastal Eastern South Florida is 8 miles North of me.  Clint Moore Road in Boca Raton.  Ok, sure that’s a bit silly to be that specific, we know there is little difference whether something is actually “freezing” or thawed at 1/2 degree warmer, but hey, it’s a talking point.  Even if the line could be well north of that on any given year.

But the other thing about this climate is that we get 50 inches of rain per year.  Give or take, Depending on whether a tropical storm deposits itself overhead.  But on average it’s 50 inches or about 125 cm.

Since that is 40 inches or 100 cm in the wet season, and the rest in the other six months of the dry season (December to May),  it’s been described as a part time desert.  It requires irrigation.  Twice a week for certain hours sprinklers may be used, or every day if you have drip feed irrigation.

If you don’t, your flowers die.  This is a very artificial look here that we have.  Those Hibiscus hedges and Palm trees are not native.  The soil is Beach Sand, and now the ground water is suffering from Salt Intrusion because too many people from other places don’t want to freeze in the winter and have settled here.

Like me, guilty.

But for now, the Global Warming that isn’t supposed to exist, hasn’t really hit my specific area too hard.  I’m at High Ground – 15 feet above sea level the charts tell me.  Miami Beach on the other hand has regular floods due to tides.

 

Outside of the ash piles called “Mount Trashmore”, the next natural hill is 200 miles North of me.  Florida is flatter than Kansas.

I putter in the garden and am followed around as I decide what to prune, and what to propagate. Milkweed from cuttings have gravitated to being hidden in the hedges because when they are found, they get eaten to sticks.

Coleus is literally everywhere because they readily go to seed.  Cut the tops off and the seeds are tiny, get flung into pots.

Snapping a bit of Coleus off and tossing it into the garden means the stuff grows where it’s tossed.

There is a story told to me about a groundskeeper in San Jose, Costa Rica.  A wise man who said, “Señor, estamos en las tropicas.  Arrojar una semilla en el suelo y crecerá.”

Sir, we are in the tropics.  Throw a seed on the ground it will grow.

But puttering isn’t always interesting those who don’t have a putter.  You get followed around lost in your thoughts and the noises of the feral Parrots that are having their Call To Flock in that first hour after Sunrise.  The Pigeons call to you “Meh! Meh!” like grey feathered Simpsons characters.

And the Dog.  Rack.  Bored with what you’re doing, and having finished fertilizing the fence posts, tells me it is time to go inside.  Move onto the next task and into the house.  Besides, there’s breakfast to make, and you have already decided which trees to fell five times over.

Time to go in.

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Propagating Croton

When I got this house, we had Litrope in front.  It’s a thick grass that looks rather nice as a ground cover but it had intermingled with the Macho Ferns and a whole host of weeds that were in those spaces.

Yes, it really was called Macho Fern.

No, I don’t know why.

Problem was that it looked like hell warmed over with all that mixing going on so I took it all out with a weedeater over a period of weeks.

I put in some landscape cloth to hold the weeds back and mulched over it but it looked sterile.

We wanted some plants we could grow that did not grow too quickly, gave color, and needed only a little care.

Liking the look of it, we settled on Croton.  They are always colorful with a riot of red, yellow, and orange leaves.  Very slow growing in our beach sand soil here.  And no spines like my bougainvillea.

I swear I give a pint of blood every time I work with bougainvillea.

But most everything else on the property is from cuttings that I took here or there.  Since I live where you vacation, I knew that Screw Palms were easy to propagate, so I put two stands of it in the island in front of the house.  My Podocarpus was propagated into a new hedge to block the trash cans, there’s some variegated Hibiscus that grows just about anywhere from cuttings – just snip and stick into the ground.

And I waited.  The Screw Palms established themselves immediately but that Croton is doing what it does, grow slowly.

The Croton got leggy so I did what they do at any real landscaper would do – I took cuttings of that.  They almost all started to grow – slowly.

So if you are planning on doing this on your own, expect between 80% and 90% success rate on Croton.

Here are the steps I took to propagate:

1) Find a length of branch that is about 8 to 12 inches long (20 to 30cm).  Make sure that there are leaves at the end and no obvious pest infestations.  Trim most of the leaves up the branch.

2) Rooting Hormone.  Yes, this is required for Croton.  Dip the end of the branch to about a half of a thumb length into the powder.  Be generous with it.

3) The planting.  I have had success with simply sticking cuttings into the soil, however my front garden is well watered.  If you use a pot with good potting soil, make sure that it is well drained.

4) The Watering.  Every single day.  Without fail.   For a Month.  Two months is better.

5) The Waiting.  A month should do it, but again, two is better.  This will allow roots to become established and for you to find some green leaves begin to show.  During this time, most if not all of the original leaves will drop off.   The cuttings will look like they are dead after they drop off those leaves but give them time.  The ones in my “nursery pot” only have two wee little leaves at the top on some of those sticks, and the ones in the front garden are younger on the left, the more established on the right of that first picture.

6) Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  That first picture up top is a couple iterations of this process.   I started when the rains started back in April.  Since we have distinct wet/dry seasons, I’ll be able to get one more “crop” in before the rains stop in December.   The ones on the left of the first picture will be joined by the ones in the nursery pot, and I will start more very shortly from that tall leggy beast on either side of the lower growing ones.

None of these plants are really that old, I started this back in spring.  They do take their time getting established but they will grow.

Oh and an aside, if you find any scale insect or any other pests, a good removal spray is a teaspoon of dish soap and a tablespoon of vinegar to about 20 ounces or 600mL of water in a spray bottle.  I had one of those Crotons that was infested with scale that died before I tried the spray.  That was what got me started with all of this

Sure the plants are not all that expensive, but I like a good challenge, and plants that I created is always a good way to make sure that I’ll continue an interest.

Have You Ever Really Looked At A Coleus Flower?

I spend a lot of time in my garden.

At 7:30, every single morning, I have an alarm set.  It tells me that I have to go outside to the yard to inspect the irrigation system.

There’s a ritual here.

I stand up, put some water into the French Press coffee mug I have and call Rack The McNab SuperDog if he isn’t paying attention.

Usually he has beat me to the back door by now.  Only if there is an active thunderstorm will he hold back.

I open the sliding glass door with a “Hi Oscar” to the parrot, and walk outside.

That coffee mug gets emptied into the garden with a chuckle.   I’ve been told “it’s Gardener’s Gold and must not be wasted.  Parts of my garden is more than half coffee grounds and the rest is that beach sand that passes for soil here.

But I do have to go out, inspect the swimming pool and make sure that the pots are getting watered.  They have a short, ten minute time period, where the irrigation pump is dribbling water into the orchids, mangos, various cuttings, onions, and green onions, and all the rest of the things that I have in a little terra cotta prison.

They get drip fed their water, and I walk around and enjoy them.

It also is what the photographers know as the Golden Hour.  The sun is up, now in mid May, but not up so much as to be harsh.  There’s a golden glow on everything.  Shadows are prominent.  Flowers are back-lit to a brilliance that the noon sun’s harshness would overpower.

Everything is burnished in gold.

If you are fortunate, you will get to see this.  Just at the right time, just at the right angle, simple things become amazing.  The forgettable becomes something to remember.

I was fortunate that day.

Inspecting the Milkweed plants that were being turned into stumps by baby Monarch caterpillars, I looked closely at every single pot.  I wanted to know if my green onion was going to be the temporary home for a pupa, as it has happened before.

My showy leaves on my involuntary coleus were shining.  Usually their reds, greens, and yellows were more muted, but this particular morning, at this particular time, they were radiating a glowing show of colors.  My friendly office plants that insist on dropping seeds into pots that I would rather not have them in so thickly were singing a chorus of beauty.

Then I spotted it.  The Inflorescence.  Coleus bloom dozens of little pale purple and lavender flowers on a flower spike, called an inflorescence.  This one inflorescence was backlit perfectly.

I had to remind Rack that I had pictures to take, this was too good to miss.

When I got back inside, I looked at the tiny flower.  There were hairs that were radiating as if they were shine lines on a comic drawing.

I had taken the time to smell the Coleus flowers and it showed me a side of it that I have never expected.

Sometimes, the very things that you have in abundance that have faded to become mundane, can be so beautiful you have a new appreciation for them.

They’re all over my yard.  I have been pulling them up and tossing them in the thick tangle that is the utility easement behind the pool.  They taunt me by growing even back there in the shade.

I guess that if they can grow in a ninth floor north facing single pane window in a cold Philadelphia winter, they can gather enough sunlight to grow here in the riverine wetness that is South Florida.

And if you are lucky enough, you just may be treated to their shine.

 

Peanut and Banana Sandwich by Squirrel

To quote a wise man from San Juan, Costa Rica:

We live in the tropics.  If you drop a seed on the ground, it will grow.

I noticed that here years ago when I moved in.  People have plants dripping with plants dripping with more plants.

If you don’t want a giant mess in your yard, if you’re looking for something a bit groomed, don’t blink.  That “clean” look takes a lot of work here in Florida.

I could go a while before weeding my backyard in Philadelphia.  The soil was somewhat fertile, but things took their time to grow.  Sun angle up there is 14 degrees lower at any given moment than it is here so it will be proportionally less effective, proportionally less bright.

I have a yard inspection every morning, on a clear morning, at 7:30.  I have to inspect the irrigation systems, clear out the palm fronds, remove any debris that falls from the trees into the pools, and basically police the perimeters of the yard.

I have help with me.  Mr Dog, my one and only Dingus, Rack the SuperDog (TM)  will follow me around the yard, and go into places that my own nearly two meter height will not fit.

I found out that he will answer to Dingus because when someone does something a bit wrong, a bit silly, and a bit dumb, I have a habit of calling them a Dingus for doing it.

I am not exactly sure that it is even officially a Word according to the O.E.D., or Webster, or anyone else, but I use it.

Frequently.

 

So much so that my Dog adopted it as one of his names.   He figured out that he is Mr Dog early on, so why should I be surprised?

Stepping outside, we hear chattering and rustling in the Utility Easement behind the property.  It is, predictably, very thick with plantings, even though Rack goes back there for relaxation.  Yes, we shall call it Relaxation.  As in Rest Stop at mile marker 108.

I see something grey flash in my right eye and go on about my own business.  Spray the Milkweed for Aphids.  Wiggle the drip-feed water bubblers to clear them from any debris inside that blocks the flow.  Inspecting the pots in the backyard is a daily occurrence.

I get to the banana tree that I have been babying and think “What on earth is going on back there” when I spot that the tree had been planted itself.

 

There was a peanut.  Wedged deeply enough that it would have to be removed or else I’d have a Peanut and Banana sandwich there about chest height.

Then I woke up.  I realized what was going on.  The chattering got more insistent, so I walked to the corner of the yard.  Deep Jungle, or what passes for it here in Florida.

I had Squirrels.  Arguing.  Loudly.  For dominance.  Who knew?  I thought they were a peaceful species.

Squirrels arguing was like a pillow fight with Marshmallows.  Nobody really was going to get hurt but they were really going at it full blast.  It looked like a Cartoon.

I threw that errant peanut into the corner hoping the squirrels would break it up and move on, but it wasn’t enough.  I was within a yard of them as they’re running up and down the telephone pole and the palms and the bamboo back there.

Realizing that I am taller than my banana tree without the peanut, I had to back up.  They were running on the outside of the plants back there instead of back in the brush, and I was concerned that they’d mistake my own self for a tree.

Luckily I was dressed in Blue, not Green.  Squirrels are not terribly smart.

Shrugging, I thought to get involved.   I clapped my hands loudly.

They stopped for a second.  Then I got cursed out in whatever Rodential Squirrelish Language that they use here that I am not aware of.

Back to it they went.  Running up and down the pole when one of them, the smaller of the two, ran back to the other side of the yard, up my banana tree, looked around then ran off into the distance.

Argument was over.  It was now about time for the drip-feed irrigation to stop for the day.  Today’s Squirrel War had ended.  Who knows who was victorious, whether it was about a Peanut and Banana Sandwich, or whether anyone really cared.

Peace was once again supreme in my strange little yard full of constrained banana trees, Bonsai, and cultivated plants.  Rack got to my side, leaned into my right leg, and looked up.

“Yes, boy, it’s time to go inside.  Coffee is calling.”

Growing Ginger in Containers or How We Stumbled Upon A Thing

I say Stumbled Upon because like a lot of my ideas, it was due to a rapid fire exchange of ideas with a good friend of mine up in the Atlanta suburbs, Craig.

800px-ingwer_2_fcm
Picture from https://en.wikipedia.com/wiki/ginger

You see Craig and I have been exchanging ideas on what to plant for a while.  The Climate there is about the same as I had in Philadelphia, Zone 7a or 7b depending on whether you live on the East or West of Philly.

When I lived there, I would fill my back deck with dozens of pots that would all march their way indoors by Halloween or whenever the first cold snap into the mid 30s would happen.

That would be a low of 2 or 3 C for the Fahrenheit Impaired.

Apparently with Ginger, you don’t have to be so concerned.  The plants will die back in colder areas and Zone 8 should be fine – that’s 10F or about -7C.  Colder than that and it’s a container plant.

I had mentioned that we were given a pot of Variegated Ginger and wondered if it was the same “stuff” that I use when I stir fry chicken.  He said No, but you can grow that stuff from the stores.

We banged it back and forth and the method we put together was this.

  • First, get yourself a piece of ginger with a lot of “fingers” on it.
  • Select a finger about the length and size of the first joint of your thumb to the length of your thumb.
  • Wash all the pieces you wish to plant in Dish Soap thoroughly.
  • Don’t bruise the skin while washing the pieces.
  • No, you didn’t wash it enough, repeat the wash another two or three times.
  • Plant in well drained soil, or a pot, and wait.
  • Water periodically and hope that the Squirrels don’t put peanuts in the pot.

The reason why I mention those damn Squirrels is my neighbors feed them raw peanuts.  They grab the peanuts and bury them in my pots.  I have peanuts growing in about a quarter of the pots I have out back.

It is the same thing with me, I guess.  I’m the kind of guy that throws pieces of tomato or fruit that is past its prime in the garden and watches to see if it grows.  Win-win, if it doesn’t I get fertilizer for this beach sand we call soil here.

I had actually forgotten that I put those thumbs in the ground in my front garden because when I walked out there one afternoon, I noticed that two ginger plants were mixed in with all the other confusion that I have out front.

I dug them up and then put into a pot, minus the peanut plants, so I could watch over them.

Ginger does not seem to mind being crowded in a pot, so you can plant it and grow it “Up North”.

Now, if you live in a zone that is on the edge, like my sister does in Zone 7b Cherry Hill, NJ, you may be able to “get away with it” in the ground.  Find a south facing wall of your house.  Plant close to the foundation because the sun hitting your walls will warm the soil just a few degrees, and it may be just enough.

Here, 8 miles south of the freezing temp lines, I don’t have to worry at all.  But as always, your mileage may vary.

Why would you bother?

My friend Craig got further along than I did with this.  Of course you can go to your favorite market and buy ginger root, that’s not the point.  The point is that the flavor of absolutely fresh Ginger Root is much more complex than some that has been shipped, treated with anti-growing chemicals, and sitting in the store waiting for you to use it.  Any natural product will taste different depending on where it grows.  In fact, certain plantings in certain fields in certain farms will yield different results.

Oh and the green parts of the plant?  You won’t find those in stores, but Ginger Greens and Stems are edible as well.  They can be tough, so you may limit that to tea or used in soups or stirfry but it’s worth a shot.  You may find a new favorite. Chop fine until you realize your own way of using them.  You will have a lot since the plant grows waist high.

That is called the “Terroir” by the French and is used to describe the effect of the environment on the grapes that go into the wine.  Similar effects happen with Coffee where one specific estate on one specific mountain will taste different than the adjacent field because there’s just a tiny difference in the amount of water or sunlight or …

Well you get the idea. 

So give it a shot, the worst thing that could happen is that you get a “pretty plant” and a great story to tell the nosy neighbors.

Safflower and Milkweed

Why do you want to grow those things again?

Because they’re DIFFERENT!

But they look like weeds, the thorns on the leaves pinch, and then the flowers dry up and …

I said they’re different.  Besides, we’ve got the seeds.  Why not grow weird plants?

I have basil growing in my garden so I can make pizza.  Green onion in pots make so much that even I can’t eat it all.  My Rosemary has grown into a carpet of green.  I have banana plants in a pot that are taller than I am by a solid two feet that I need to break into separate pots for gifts. I can’t give away my spare coleus or mango trees.  There are peanuts growing all over the place…

Yes, PEANUTS!  As in Jimmy Carter’s pride

And the conversation petered off at the end.  People let their artichokes grow all the time and they end up with a big purple poof that looks like the yellow safflower blossoms.

Beauty is where you find it.  No, I mean YOU find it.  I may not agree, so don’t let that hold you back.  Be creative.  Grow what you like, especially if you like it on a pizza.

Gardening here is simple, drop a seed, it grows.  It may grow out of control.  Up North, that hardy Asparagus Fern you grow in your bathroom.  Down here, it is a noxious and invasive weed.  I can’t understand why someone wants all those thorns growing inside their house anyway.

But they like it.  *sigh*

So I’ll grow a few more oil seeds in my garden.  The flower bloomed, and stayed intact. I put the dried flower in a plastic bag, rolled it between my hands, and got more seeds.

You might ask where I get safflower seeds?  We ordered something electronic online.  It showed up saying that it was shipped from Bahrain of all places.

Bahrain?  Don’t they usually sell products in barrels?  Crude Oil?  Safflower oil too I guess.  There has to be a reason why you live where you do for centuries, so enjoy.

I put some seeds in the front garden and watched.  Landscapers came by and raked them up.  I put more seeds down and will “box” them off with old roof tiles.  They are good at figuring that all out.

I hope.

As for the Milkweed, well it was in the pot first.  It made it to the seed pod because the Monarchs never discovered it.  I carpet bombed the neighborhood with milkweed seeds where ever they were left to grow from the last time I did that.  The butterflies will enjoy that,  they’re back already eating the daylights out of what is in my yard.

Now, if I can only figure out how to squeeze inside my hedge so I can plant that variegated hibiscus to fill in some bare spots, I may be getting my flowers back!

Snail on Tree

In the yard, there is a little garden.

The little garden is an island afloat on a sea of grassy green.

In the middle of that island is an old snag of a tree.

I can’t bring myself to cut it down.  It’s old, it’s moth-eaten, and it’s partly dead.  But the parts of that old snag are quite thoroughly alive.

The old snag is a bottle brush tree.  It puts out red flowers that look like a bottle brush from time to time.  So I cut the dead spots off and leave the thing be.  I’m overdue for cutting more dead spots off that tree.  Because of those dead branches, I also have lots of air plants, Tillandsia, growing on the bark.

It is its own little ecosystem.

Spanish Moss, ants, birds.  It’s full of life even if the tree can’t decide what to do.

After a rain, much of that life is forced to the surface.  You can go out there and watch the lizards crawl over it and poach a few insects.  That is their place in life, to keep the pests down.

They don’t seem to mind being watched anyway.

But on the bark this one day was a snail.  They usually are seen stuck to a window or a post or some other vertical object.  When they are there, normally, they are not alive.  In fact it is rare that I see one out in the open like this particular day.

A little piece of Escargot trailing a shell that looks like a fancy chocolate, right there in the open, on my half alive tree.

Sure, I could cut it all down but what is the point.  I already have a palm tree next to it.  I did not plant that palm.  It ‘involuntarily’ grew in my pot in the back yard, and took it over.  Most likely thanks to some errant bird that left the seed when it was getting ready to fly from my Sea Grape tree in the back yard.  I did not weed the palm until I realized it was too late so I cut the pot away from the plant and dragged the root ball to the front yard where I figured I would need it.

The blasted palm tree is now more than 15 feet tall.

So it’s all a nice little family.  Half dead bottle brush tree.  Out sized palm tree.  Some red screw palms and another clump of green ones on the other side.

And the chocolate shelled snail lives there happily as well.

We will just call it a garden, uplight the palm, and call it done.  May as well.  You get some interesting visitors from time to time, you know.