Wrapping Up For Winter

This is what a cold front – a real cold front – looks like in South Florida. This may not be a Buffalo, NY-worthy cold front and it certainly can’t compare to the wickedness of the weather in California or Alabama, but by South Florida standards, this weekend’s weather was cold. This sort of cold – the kind that comes with wind chills and falling iguana warnings – isn’t very fun.

Having experienced South Florida summers for about eight years, I can honestly say that I live for winter. That’s a sentence I never imagined myself ever saying. For much of my life, I lived for spring and summer and fall.

Winter here, though, means everything to me, because a SoFlo winter is like all of my favorite northern seasons rolled into one. It’s perfect for gardening, taking long walks, and catching up on all of those outdoor chores that simply aren’t enjoyable in the oppressive heat and humidity of a SoFlo summer.

It’s also prime orchid-blooming season.

This cold winter’s tale begins on Christmas weekend, during which forecasters predicted the season’s first major cold front would be strong enough to make it down the entirety of the Florida peninsula. Central and northern parts of the state were issued freeze, frost, and wind chill warnings.

In South Florida, we were told this would be our coldest Christmas in 33 years! Still, there weren’t any warnings or advisories for my local area. In a completely non-scientific study, I learned that several gardening friends were either leaving their gardens be or taking precautions to protect their orchids, bringing potted ones inside and wrapping those attached to trees. One friend even hooked up heat lamps to keep her orchids warm.

I opted to leave my orchids alone, to let them fend for themselves.

After three days of cold temperatures (40s at night; 50s during the day), gray skies, and a mist that stung the skin, the cold front shifted and we heated up. By New Year’s, South Florida had record heat — and in the course of that holiday week, cold damage became evident.

Tropical ginger leaves curled.

Mussaenda flowers and leaves withered and dropped.

Orchid buds — so close to opening (as seen a few pictures up) — fell to the ground.

This brings me to this mid-January weekend and another strong cold front. The same warnings went up for northern and central Florida, but – although this was expected to be a stronger albeit sunnier cold front – my area was advisory free.

I, however, wasn’t taking any chances.

I brought all potted orchids into the garage. Then, Joe and I wrapped the mounted orchids with towels, careful not to break or crush the flower spikes and flowers. The orchid pictured below, the first to bloom this season, is now a towel.

Once wrapped, Joe stapled the towels to the palm tree trunks. For the two vanilla bean orchids I have planted in the ground, I wrapped them in some old shirts, buttoning the buttons and tying the sleeves like a hug to keep the little ones safe and warm.

On Friday afternoon, the front arrived with deepening gray skies and a squall line of wind-whipped rain. That quickly came to an end, but the wind continued and the temperatures steadily fell and forecasters issued a frost warning for South Florida. During the overnight hours, temperatures were in the 40s – but the wind made it feel like it was in the 30s.

Some plants, like these gerbera daisies, seemed to take the temperature change in stride.

I’d like to interrupt this blog post with a quick word about temperatures. I know my northern gardening friends are rolling their eyes at this moment, especially at seeing a gerbera daisy in January. Many would gladly welcome a 40-degree January day. That being said, though, I can assure you that 40 degrees in Florida feels much colder than 40 degrees in New York. Even 50 degrees here can feel bone chilling, with Joe and I wrapped in blankets, while a 50-degree day in New York in January would be a day spent outside. I’m not sure if this is the result of our age or our blood acclimating to Florida heat or. . . Actually, all I know is that each time a cold front happens, Joe and I have this same conversation about how an identical temperature in two locations can feel so different.

Now, back to the post.

Despite the brush with cold and the damage, some plants, like the mussaenda (above) have already started to rebound. Even the bananas are doing well.

As I write this, we are in the fourth day of temperatures cooler/colder than normal – although, temperatures today (Monday) are a few degrees warmer than over the weekend. This warming trend is expected to continue throughout the upcoming week.

In the meantime, I’m eager to unwrap the orchids and bring the potted ones out from their hiding places. That job, though, will have to wait until tomorrow, when temperatures will be more moderate. As before, it may take a few days for the cold damage, if any, to be visible.

I’ll keep you all posted.

Wherever you are, please stay warm and stay safe.

A Coconut Apple A Day . . .

I’m not saying I know everything about coconut palms and coconuts, but I do feel I have a decent working knowledge. This all comes courtesy of being with Joe, a palm enthusiast, for 35 years and gardening with him in South Florida for 8 of those years. Imagine my surprise when I was on a late-night, channel-surfing expedition and discovered “Les Stroud’s Wild Harvest” on my local PBS station and something entirely new about coconuts — at least to Joe and me.

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Does Spring Fever Exist In South Florida?

As I write this, I’m sitting on the patio by the pool, enjoying one of the last cold fronts to reach all the way down the Florida peninsula. The temperature is hovering around 80 degrees and there’s a coolness on the breeze.

It’s delightful! It’s the most perfect spring day in May — make that the most perfect northern spring day in May, because this is March in Florida.

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Sunflowers For Ukraine

This isn’t the post I wanted to share today, the one I was hoping would end my writing slump — but the situation in Ukraine is occupying all of my thoughts and a frivolous post is impossible now.

Like many of you, I am deeply saddened and angered by the Russian invasion, an action that has destabilized a world that still hasn’t shaken off COVID. Quite frankly, hasn’t the world had enough? Haven’t we all had enough?

On Facebook, I’m in a group called “View From My Window.” In the past two weeks, so many people from Kyiv and other areas of Ukraine have shared their city and country window views. What they’ve shared is beautiful. What they’ve shared are their lives.

Equally touching are the comments from around the world, all expressing concern and hope and prayers.  The photos, though, have made the war more personal because these are real people with real lives. Now, I am consumed with thoughts of strangers who shared their photos — ordinary people who are, in so many ways, just like me, just like you, just like us.

In my opinion, the vast majority of people in the world want nothing more than to wake up peacefully, go to work, bring their children to playgrounds, walk their dogs, plant something on their terraces or in their gardens, enjoy a delicious meal, laugh with family and friends, watch some television, and go to sleep with thoughts that tomorrow they will be able to do the same.

They do not want war. No one wants war.

Yet, here we are. Again. It seems the decision to go to war is always made behind closed doors by people — usually men — who have nothing to lose. Those with everything to lose are the innocents in harm’s way.

It’s as journalist Walter Cronkite once said, “War itself is, of course, a form of madness. It’s hardly a civilized pursuit. It’s amazing how we spend so much time inventing devices to kill each other and so little time working on how to achieve peace.”

I’m not sure how to end this post, other than to say I recently learned the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine — and so I have filled this post with some of my sunflower photos. Some were spotted in a field, and others I’ve grown over the years.

I’ve read the sunflower was given this distinction in Ukraine because it represents power, strength, and warmth — three traits that can just as easily describe a people. Each sunflower here is a small token of support for the gardeners and all people of Ukraine.

Please, stay safe. The whole world is with you.

Repost: And So This Is Christmas

I used to love the news. Over the past several years, though, I’ve found that it brings me more stress and anxiety than information. As a result, I’ve done my best to avoid it. Every so often, though, a news story breaks through my wall — and one such item was the recent school shooting in Oxford, MI, which — according to CBS News — was the 28th school shooting of 2021. (There were 10 in 2020. Thank you, COVID.)

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