If I Could Turn Back Time


Now that we’ve just turned back our clocks, it seems like a perfect reason to turn back time on my garden — because if I could, the bed pictured above would have looked like this years ago.

The bed is one of two on either side of my backdoor. Time, it seems, has not been kind to the beds, which were planted in a rush to get the backyard looking like something after the pool was put in several years ago.

Following construction, the dirt in the beds became a mix of sand and nutrient-poor Florida soil.  Eager to cover any hint of construction, I took the easier path.  Rather than dig up the hardscrabble and replace it with new garden soil, I planted, choosing specimens that were easy and could handle the unfriendly mix: variegated arboricola “Trinette,” two large terra cotta pots, a dwarf variety of oyster plant, and lots of bromeliads, including a variety better suited for shady areas. The leaves of these were soft, but the flowers were spectacular — and they seemed to adapt to their location, partially shaded by several sunshine palms.

Arboricola, which was planted along the back of the bed.

In time, the palms grew taller, allowing more sun to reach the shade-loving bromeliads.  Meanwhile, palm trees on the far side of the patio came down as a result of last year’s Hurricane Irma, also bringing in more sun to the bed.  As a result, the shade-loving bromeliads looked beaten and burnt.

Then, there was the mosquito issue and a variety of low-growing bromeliad that holds water in its cup. These acted as a front-of-the-border row.  While I’ve always searched for any sign of larvae in the water — and have never seen one — Joe believed the sitting water had to be the culprit of our mosquito swarm.

This bromeliad becomes . . .

. . . this bromeliad.  Still, I’ve never seen mosquito larvae — just primordial soup.

For peace of mind and peace from scratching, these bros had to go.

The next phase of the garden re-do was to salvage what I could from the burnt, shade-loving bromeliads.  These were lifted and divided.

This, in turn, provided me with a bucketful of bromeliad cuttings to plant in shadier beds around the yard.

Next, there was the issue of soil.  Because I didn’t want to remove and replace soil, I considered using pots as a middle row for the bed, something smaller than the aboricola in the back, but taller than the ground cover in the front.

There was already a large terra cotta pot in the center of each bed.  These had been a home for a large variety of bromeliad.

I removed the bros and transplanted some desert roses that I had grown from seed into the pots.  This not only gave me flowers, but it also rescued them from the far reaches of the yard where iguanas, while not great fans of the plant, nibbled on the leaves.

On either side of the terra cotta pots, I opted for plastic terra cotta-colored troughs.  I thought plastic would be better at retaining moisture and was more cost-effective.   Besides, the ground cover would conceal most of the pot.

I planted these troughs with vinca. I had heard some gardener gossip that iguanas don’t eat them, so this was another way to get some flowers in the backyard.  So far, so good.

The final step was to fill in the blank spaces with a groundcover.  I’m trying to decrease dependency on mulch, and so I chose a dwarf variety of oyster plant because I have plenty of it and it’s incredibly easy to propagate.  I raided my other beds, snipped out some plants, a stuck them in the ground.

In the end, I didn’t exactly turn back time.  I did, though, take some time to address the issues that had built up over time — and that was time well-spent.

We Have A Winner!

I wanted to thank everyone who left a comment on the previous post to win a copy of the The Gardens of Bunny Mellon.  On Halloween, I reached into a plastic pumpkin and the winning entry is Debra, the woman behind the breathelighter blog.  Congratulations and thank you!



10 thoughts on “If I Could Turn Back Time

  1. I am so surprised and pleased, Kevin! Such a beautiful book! Thank you! I love your garden improvements and you’ve given me a new thought. We’ve had a terrible problem with mosquitoes this season and it honestly didn’t occur to me to consider if any plants are collecting water within the plant itself! I have considered the pots, but I have a lot of plants peripheral to the main garden space and I don’t pay a lot of attention. Joe may be on to something. And I hope the Iguanas steer clear of your new areas of beautification! 😊

    • Hi Debra — You are very welcome. I’m excited to send the book to you, but I do need your mailing address. I send a private email to you through your breathelighter Gmail account. As for mosquitoes, I still refuse to believe bromeliads had anything to do with their population, but since removing many of the plants, the numbers of those little buggers seems to have decreased. I think the biggest thing is to look at objects, plants, are topography that might hold water — and some mosquitoes lay eggs that can remain viable until a puddle appears.

  2. It’s interesting to read that you’re trying to decrease dependency on mulch. Here we think the more the better! I am planting Vinca too. They do well here.

    • Hi Jane. When I started the garden, I used plenty of mulch — the price adds up and it can be back-breaking, not to mention that it needs to be replaced and topped off. For me, all I saw was money decomposing in the soil or washing away in heavy rain. The groundcover I’m using is very dense, so much so that it’s impossible to mulch even if I wanted to. I do still use mulch in some beds where I haven’t used groundcover. In Florida, vinca is either hated or loved. Many people consider it weed-like — but since I live in an iguana zone and I need flowers, I really can’t be too choosy. Vinca wins. 🙂

      • I’m sure you get plenty of rain. I use mulch to try and keep the garden from drying out so much. I have a heavy duty mulcher and all my prunings go into it, so that keeps the cost down.

    • Hi Linda. When I moved to this subtropical zone, I had to rethink and relearn some things about gardening. It’s odd to think that as your gardening season is closing, our season is just beginning. Of course, summers are a bit hot and humid, but it’s always green. 🙂

  3. What a timely blog post, just as we usher in Florida’s cooler gardening season! It’s my favorite time of year for working in the yard, and you’ve given me some good ideas. (I garden in Central Florida.)

    • Hi Lynn. So glad I could inspire you. Thanks for thinking of the post as timely — that’s so much kinder than my being lazy and just getting to the project now. 🙂

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