Urban Gardening and Help From Little Friends

Somewhere in the city of San Juan, in Costa Rica, there is a man.

He was out in his yard pulling weeds.  He looked up and said something to the effect of:

Estamos en los tropicos.  Si tu pones unas semillas en la tierra, ellos van a viver.

If my memory and my Spanish serve me correctly, it means or should mean that “We are in the tropics.  If you put some seeds in the ground, they are going to live.”.

Bueno.  Great way to kill time.  Seeds.  Ground.  Water.  Sun.

Estamos en los tropicos, indeed.  We are in the tropics here in South Florida.

As we do our weekend shopping, I see plenty of plants on offer at the big box stores.  This happens everywhere, in planting seasons.  Not exactly every time seeing that some areas have something called Winter.  Ours is blissfully short at two weeks long.  We schedule it for the first two weeks of February and are invaded by something called Snowbirds that will clog our skies and our roads and our hotels.  They pay our taxes so I can’t complain too much, just as long as they stay out of my way.

Well never mind that.  I did “Go Into Production” here.  You see, instead of buying those plants in black plastic pots that are designed to break on the way home, I make my own.  I have my own irrigation chain out back that was designed with prominent citizens with parks named after them and people who work in something called Code Enforcement.  We designed my one irrigation chain to be a drip feed waterer that could be used any given day to mist the orchids.

Now under the orchids that hang on the fence are small muddy patches where the water drips.  May as well use that water too.  In some spots, I have three pots deep.  One pot watering the next and so forth until you eventually hit the deck.

All that nonsense gives me the opportunity to plan ahead.

I take cuttings from plants that I like, and follow my friend’s advice.  Stick them in that wet soil and hope they “take”.

It is possible that I am over-watering things in the yard.  My Night Blooming Jasmine is dying off in one spot so I am starting something that is a temporary hedge made of Hibiscus.

If the big hotels can do it, so can I.

Between the Hibiscus and the Podocarpus cuttings I have in pots and in that bare area in the back of the yard, I have easily 50 plants growing that are destined to be moved.

Great.  I have made myself work.

Every morning between 7AM and 7:30AM, I am inspecting that zone.  Making sure that the orchids are getting watered.  Making sure the Podocarpus and Hibiscus cuttings are getting dripped on with the excess.  Inspecting the Rosemary shrub in the corner.  My In Ground area of Podocarpus and Hibiscus way out back.

I am also being a bit overly productive.  My Condo Mango now has its own cutting to create a tree for a good friend in Key West.  That in itself is like taking Coal to Newcastle, but he liked the idea of a 15 foot maximum mango tree.  The last four mango pits from Mango Season, it is an event after all, were dropped into a pot and have all sprouted.

I will have three trees I have to find homes for since the Mother Plant is currently over 40 feet tall – Think 13 meters for the metrically endowed.

Anyone need a Mango Tree Seedling?

But it is a nice hobby and it does attract attention.  My McNab SuperDog (TM), Rack, will come out with me and water the palm trees writing strings of “M’s” on their side.  It gives me a chance to be watched by the creatures in the yard, my friends the wee little Lizards.

In the case of some of them, they seem to enjoy being watched.  I have been followed rather than being avoided more than once.   The little “Cuban Browns” are harmless and seem to hang out catching rays and insects while watching me watch them.  The worst that a Brown has done to me was to once get surprised and climb up my leg.  Luckily I was in the back yard so I dropped Trowel as well as my Shorts and let the little creature have its freedom.

Just can’t hurt them, they’re too comical.

So if you are fortunate enough to have the room, and the need, you may as well start some seedlings.  After all, they don’t all “take” but many do.  Why not, you’ll have the time!

Hibiscus Blossom on the Phone – Picture

I spend a lot of time on the phone.

Calls come, I’ll take the time to do right by who I am speaking with, but I do have my own quirk.  I generally can’t sit still more than a minute or so.

Having a long call, I’ll get up after a minute or three from my chair and start to walk around the room, then the house.

The longer the call, the more I tend to roam.   I’ve planned meals, set out baked goods to thaw, all sorts of strange things. 

Today I was chatting with someone, hopefully giving more than platitudes in return for their gift of time, and realized I had just walked out to my front yard.  There is a tree out there that is slowly being turned into food for termites.  Since it isn’t a native, I’m more concerned for the “Air Plants” that are growing on it than the tree itself.   Once this Bottle Brush tree is finally gone, it will give me a reason to replant that little garden in front of the house once and for all, but for now it just looks scruffy.

Laughing at myself and telling the person with whom I am speaking what I had just done, I came back into the house.  Rack, my dog, hadn’t come out for a visit, but since there were large trucks rolling around the neighborhood I had not been surprised.

When the conversation had ended I was again outside of the house, looking around the backyard at things.  Rack, this time, followed me out to His Spot next to the Meyer Lemon Tree and parked himself.  I, on the other hand, had camera at hand.   There is always something beautiful in the gardens here.  Even if you hadn’t planted, Mother Nature is generous here and even the weeds can be beautiful.

Barring a weed, a passing bird or squirrel may grace your yard with a seed and you never know what will grow from a forgotten corner of the yard or a pot not well tended. 

My own gardening skills are indifferent.   I go in fits and starts in the yard, tearing up vines just enough that my trees and hedges aren’t completely draped in Virginia Creeper.  Battling Iguanas here means that if they like it, you may as well not plant them.  In the case of my pots, everything looks like it had been chewed at some level other than the Mango.  They don’t like Mango, which is fine because I do.

Even if my pots are chewed up, they do flower.  The Hibiscus here, both varieties that I have, are doing well which is strange because they are Iguana Crack.  They’re trimmed back, and the cuttings are stuck indifferently in the soil in the scruffy little pots and sometimes they root.  When they do, they give some perfect little flowers a time to bloom.  One of them will end up in the front yard where that Bottle Brush tree is struggling to stay alive, relieved of the burden of the indifferent gardener’s scruffy little pot. 

It will find a new place to thrive and bloom just in time for a phone call.

A Yellow Hibiscus Blossom – Picture

If for no reason other than I think it’s a beautiful flower.

I’ve had Hibiscus plants around me since the mid 1980s.  You can get them to grow in Pennsylvania.  Obviously they have to come indoors for the cold weather, they simply won’t tolerate freezing or near-freezing weather.

I had a red hibiscus given to me in the 1980s and it flourished until the late 90s when it got infested with White Fly.  By that time, it had survived a couple cross state line moves, an annual onslaught of Japanese Beetles, and quite a few colder than it would like winters.

The yellow one was a plant that I had gotten right after moving here to Florida.   Hibiscus aren’t native here, but they are well loved and showy plants.   This one isn’t too happy living in a prison, also known as a fiberglass pot, but it does put out flowers, usually when I need a little beauty.

Some day I’ll take it out of its prison, but for now it’s a beautiful illustration of the old saying:

Bloom where you are planted.

Pink Hibiscus Blossoms Picture

If you are going to post pictures of a land named after Flowers, this sort of flower would be the one to post.

Or would it?

When I was a Snowbird, I saw the Hibiscus hedges all over the place here and thought it was wonderful.  I didn’t realize that they were considered an exotic species.  On the other hand since they don’t tend to seed and propagate easily, they aren’t a very threatening one.  

I had one all through the 80s and 90s in my homes in Philadelphia, and it only died just before I moved down to South Florida.   White Fly took it out.   Or rather my trying to clean out the infestation did because I didn’t like having clouds of insects in my house. 

I went through a lot of trials to keep that thing alive in Philadelphia.  Every winter, I’d move it into the warmest window of the house and hope that it was enough light for it.   There was, but it was heroic efforts that kept it alive. 

Here I have a yellow Hibiscus that is coming back from the iguanas, and these particular pink ones are at a shopping center very close to my home.   Walking around the neighborhood, I get to see a lot of this sort of thing.  Rather nice to have the privilege to be around this sort of beauty.

Iguana on a tree

Iguana on a tree?  Yes, in South Florida we have Iguanas running hot and cold all over the place.   In fact anywhere south of the I-4 line you can see them, especially near water and vegetation.

In winter we have “Iguana Season”.   That’s meant cynically because in Cold Weather (under 50F/10C) their muscles get less efficient, they slow down and they fall from the sky.  Like apples (or oranges) in a grove, these prehistoric looking things simply drop out of the trees.   Believe me, finding a 6 foot long (nose to tail tip) Dragon of an Iguana looking stoned on the Pool Deck was a bit of a shock to me.   I picked that particular one up and dropped him in the trash bin and when he thawed out he came back alive and quite unhappy!

Now that I know what they do to my Bouganvillea, Hibiscus, and Gardenia, I wish he hadn’t survived.  They do not share, and will denude your plants.   Since there are no natural predators, you’re sunk if you don’t plant things they dislike.  If they shared I wouldn’t mind but literally they strip things down to sticks!