A Star Is Born

Tray of plants

I know gardeners can be an excitable bunch when it comes to flowers and vegetables, soil and pests. Seed catalogs on a snowy day, bulbs poking up with the first warm breath of spring, an enormous sunflower, and fifty shades of green — all these things and more can get a gardener’s pulse racing.

Still, I thought my neighbor’s excitement over a small bloom was a bit overdone.

It all began when said neighbor — an avid gardener and propagator — offered me some free plants, a full tray’s worth to be exact. In the mix were some cacti, one of which had a small blossom that the neighbor was excited to point out to me.

Very excited.


I’m the first one to admit that I’m very much an even kind of a person. I don’t work well with extreme emotions — but there are those moments when a particular color or a flower or a flower of that particular color can get me revved. It may not appear that way to the outside world, but inside I’m positively giddy.

Still, I thought my neighbor’s reaction to this small bud was a bit much. The bloom size to excitement ratio just didn’t add up.

Perhaps, I thought, it’s because I’m not a cactus fan. Yes, I love the flowers and various structures — I’m just not sure I want to garden with a cactus. It’s stressful enough to worry about bugs that sting, but a plant as well?

Besides, I take a daily dose of aspirin and blood thinning medication, so the idea of being pricked and jabbed and stuck is often a concern. I know gardening requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears — I just don’t think it should risk me losing all of my blood.


Once home, I planted the cactus in a small terracotta pot and waited and waited and waited. With each passing day of waiting, though, the blossom grew larger — and within me, I felt the bubbling surge of excitement. Is this, I wondered, how it began for my neighbor?

I tried to keep myself in check, but the size of the blossom soon rivaled the size of the 7” cactus tower! Each day, I squatted in front of the potted cactus and marveled at the lantern-shaped blossom. I so badly wanted to pop the thing with a pin — as if it were an over-inflated balloon — so that I could somehow accelerate its opening.

Patience won out, until one morning, when I stepped outside . . .


And I thought a starfish had somehow crawled its way out of the ocean, across highways and parking lots, and wrapped itself around the terracotta pot holding the cactus.

I called Joe from the house immediately. I took photos of it from every conceivable angle. I even alerted the neighbors — who then, in turn, brought their friends over to look at my star.




We, each and every one of us, were enthralled by this big thing on a small package. None of us had ever seen anything like it — and we couldn’t get enough of it before it withered away.

Now there’s another small bud, and with each day, it’s growing and I can feel myself skipping inside. I know what’s coming and I now understand my neighbor’s overly enthusiastic reaction to the small bud’s appearance.

In fact, the ratio of his excitement to the size of the blossom was perfect because he knew what he was giving me: a cactus, a bloom, a thrill.

The Plight Of My Petunia



Petunias and I go back. Way back.

Long before I started my own plants in the potting shed in February, petunias were a staple in my parents’ garden. They were often planted in old tires that my father would cut, flip inside out, and paint white — instant, recycled planters.

Petunias were also in the lyric of a song my mother used to sing around the house: “I’m a lonely, little petunia in an onion patch.” I’m not sure if she ever sang the entire song, but the melody was way too chipper for a teary-eyed, solitary petunia in a planting of pungent bulbs.

Nevertheless, when it came time for a Florida garden, I had to decide if I wanted to continue with plants that I used in Zone 7a — or did I want to jump into the Zone 10b pool with both feet.

My first impulse was to go all-tropical — until I walked into a local nursery, filled with annuals for the mild months of a south Florida winter. While many of the tropicals were certainly exotic, there was something comforting — and perhaps even nostalgic — about the flowers I knew from New York.

Besides, I was curious to see how much these plants could tolerate before the Florida heat and humidity did them in. Could it be, I wondered, that plants I had known as annuals could now be perennials?

I began with New Guinea impatiens, now potted on either side of the rear door.

New Guinea Impatiens

And then geraniums.   I love geraniums. You really can’t go wrong with a geranium.


As I wandered through the rear of the nursery, I noticed a TLC section — and on the shelves were wave petunias for 25 cents. Let me say that again. Twenty-five cents — and all that was needed was water and some — well — some TLC.

Two came home with me that day, and I planted each in its own bowl shaped pot. I added water and kept them in a sheltered place until they were strong enough to leave my plant ICU.

It worked, and the stems and leaves stood taller and healthier and I moved them to a spot near the patio, overlooking the canal and where their little bells could spill over and fill an area around the base of a sundial. It was Long Island gardening in Fort Lauderdale.

Except for the iguanas.


Iguanas run free here. They’re an invasive species, most likely released by people who no longer wanted them as pets. Add a subtropical climate and a never-ending vegetarian food source, and you’ve got a population explosion.

I think of them as my reptilian squirrels.

When I placed my petunias in their new canal-side home, it was as if I had sounded the dinner bell. Salad was now being served. Bored with the abundant weeds in my lawn and the briny vegetation in the canal, the iguanas nibbled and noshed on each and every leaf and stem, reducing my petunias to ragged remains.


These iguanas, though, were slick — as if they knew they didn’t want to lose their sweet treat. Rather than chew the petunias into oblivion, they left just enough life in the plants for them to rebound. Left alone, the petunias returned once again from the brink. They were full and green and there were even some tightly wrapped blossoms nestled in deep.

I don’t know if it was a smell that only iguanas can sniff or if it was word of mouth among the creatures that live in and around the canal — but those rascally reptiles descended on my petunias as if the plants were an early-bird special.

My lonely, little petunias would have been better off in an onion patch.

I moved the pots back to my ICU, once again nursing them back to horticultural health. Fortunately for the petunias, the iguanas never explore beyond the backyard and the canal. My little plants were safe.

In time, I was I was able to discharge them and their pots to an iguana-free zone, also known as the front yard. Everything seemed fine until one of the petunias began to deteriorate. It was different this time. The leaves and stems were wilting, and the whole plant looked mushy.

At first I thought I had given the plant too much water, then not enough — but neither seemed to make sense. The other petunia looked amazing — and I cared for each equally.


Perhaps, I thought, it was bacterial — something in the pot. And then I wondered if this particular petunia had experienced one too many traumas. That’s what I was pondering as I gave the plant some water and moved it back to the ICU. As I lifted my poor petunia, it was closer to my nose and I smelled that odor.

To make a comparison, I smelled the healthier plant and inhaled the scent of fresh soil. Then back to the sicker plant — not fresh at all. It smelled as if I had traded my backyard iguana problem for a front yard feral cat problem.

There comes a time in every gardener’s life when he or she knows when it’s time to pull the plug on a plant that’s not going to make it. Despite my 25 cents and all of the TLC I could muster, this was that moment for my petunia.

Just like in that song, I now really do have a lonely, little petunia.


I try to keep it less lonely by moving my cheap-but-priceless plant to wherever I happen to be in the yard. It may not be in an onion patch, but it’s certainly under my ever-watchful eyes.

Once Upon A Tomato

Tomato Seeds

If seeds could talk, I wonder what tales they would tell.

I’m sure they would recite their perfect equation of soil, light, and water for their optimum germination. They wouldn’t even wait for us to ask. They would just offer that info up at the start of the conversation. Seeds are funny that way.

I wonder, though, if they would be willing to share with us their story? That perhaps their great-great-great-great grandfather hitched a ride on Paul Revere’s coat on his famous midnight ride? Or that they, in fact, escaped from a research lab looking to build a better seed?

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Bloomin’ Update 53: New Year, New Look, New Plants



It’s been some time since I posted a “Bloomin’ Update,” because — well — I had nothing bloomin’ in my garden because I didn’t have a garden in zone 10.

But as 2014 changed into 2015, so too did the garden change. Where there was once only lawn, there are now beds. Where there are beds, there are now plants and pots and paths. (Speaking of paths, I’ll describe the path I took to create this garden in a future post.)

With all of the changes happening around me, I decided to make some changes to this blog. For a while, I’ve considered purchasing my own domain — which I have now done. It’s official, I am now Nitty Gritty Dirt Man dot com.

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It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas



A local weather forecaster reminded me that in a few days it will be winter. The predicted high in Zone 10 for the day is 80 degrees, and I have to ask myself: “This is Christmas?”

It’s a lot like the question most people ask whenever I tell them I’m spending the holidays in south Florida. “Does it even feel like Christmas there?” they wonder. “I don’t think I would enjoy Christmas down there. How can it even feel like Christmas?”

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