Bloomin’ Update 61: Seeing Red, White, Purple, & “Green”


I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the arrival of spring than with a display of vibrant colors, a site for eyes sore from the dreary grays of winter. Even South Florida, often accused of not actually having a change of seasons, wants to get in on the spring act.

Perhaps I’ve been here long enough to notice the subtle changes as winter slips into spring. Perhaps I’ve been here long enough to feel that 83 degrees in spring is warmer than 83 degrees in winter and cooler than 83 degrees in summer.  Whatever it is, though, there is something definitely in the air. Orchids and flowering subtropical shrubs and a book that’s perfect for all seasons are all putting on a show.

Since moving to Florida, I’ve noticed other gardens where orchids were tied to trees, their colorful, showy flowers cascading downward. This past year, I gave it a try.

The first step was to choose orchids not in flower. I selected plants given to me by friends or the ones I found after raiding the clearance racks in the garden center of the box store where I worked.

I used floral tape to secure an orchid to the tree, packing some moss around the roots of the plant and making sure the plant would not be in direct sunlight. Then, I had to be patient.

If the orchid is happy, its roots eventually take hold of the trunk — creeping downward and around, absorbing moisture from the air and rain.

This spring, I was rewarded when one of the plants bloomed.

In a nearby tree, another flower spike appeared and a white orchid opened.

On a shepherd’s hook, an epidendrum orchid also decided to send up a flower cluster of miniature flowers.

Orchids, though, were not the only plants putting on a show for spring. In a recent post about my aging green thumbs, I mentioned that I’m using dwarf varieties of flowering shrubs.

Dwarf Jatropha.

Dwarf Chenille.

Dwarf Powderpuff.

And the gout plant also decided to share its waxy cluster of flowers.

Pineapples — both ornamental and edible — all seemed to have the same idea this spring.

Ornamental Pineapple.

Edible Pineapple.

Perhaps the biggest news I have for this first full day of spring is that I have self-published a book of some of my most favorite blog posts and photos, Seeing Green: Life Learned In The Potting Shed

When I first thought about compiling blog posts into book format, my hope was to create a book that I would like to read. I wanted something that could carry a gardener through the frozen days of winter and the sultry days of summer. I wanted a book that could inspire, a book that could make readers laugh and nod along — and I wanted it to have pictures.

For self-publishing, I decided to go with Blurb, a format known for photo books. The quality of Blurb’s print-on-demand service is clearly evident on the 144 pages. The pictures are clear and colorful, and the words are easy on the eyes — and in the end, I think I accomplished what I set out to do.

Now for the fun stuff — the nitty gritty, if you will. There are two ways to get your own copy of Seeing Green, which is available in hardcover and softcover.

To win a copy of Seeing Green, just leave a comment about spring. What do you love about it? What are you looking forward to doing? How do you prep your garden? Do you have a spring gardening hack you would like to share? What is your favorite spring memory? If it’s about spring, just let me know — and you have until April 16 to do it. A winner will be randomly selected.

To purchase a copy (or more) of Seeing Green, please visit my Blurb store.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, your wisdom and comments — and thank you for following me in my New York garden and for joining me on my new adventures in Florida.

Tales Of An Aging Green Thumb


Over the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about aging. It’s not a constant thought — just one of those nagging inner voices that likes to pop up every so often. I think it’s because of my thumbs.

Before I get into that, just let me say that in a few months, I will be 56 years old. While that technically is no longer considered “old,” the everyday aches and pains, creaks and cracks are reminders that I’m just on the other side of middle age.

That sort of stuff I can handle, though. I always knew that as I aged I would naturally get as rusty as the garden tools I photographed for this post. My father has had a bad back for as long as I can remember. My maternal grandfather, his knuckles large and knotted, used to warn me from early on about cracking my own. And just like many of my relatives, eyeglasses are a necessity for me.

No one, though, ever told me about aching thumbs.

Yes, my thumbs hurt — so much so that there are times I don’t trust my grip. I’ve even had to start using some yard tools with fatter handles just to give my thumbs a helping hand. Weeding, a chore I adore, now feels like some kind of sado-masochistic task — and because I don’t know the safe word, I have to take a few days off to relax the strain on my back.

This aging stuff has come up more frequently of late. On New Year’s Eve, Joe brought me to the emergency room of the local hospital because I had chest pains that weren’t quitting. Within a few days, I had my 14th coronary artery stent placed. Thankfully, there was immediate relief and orders from the doctor to lower my LDL through diet and exercise.

Not too long after that, friends hosted their regular gathering of new and vintage friends. As we all sat around in small groups and one larger group, we went through the litany of aches and pains and medical issues each of us was facing. Somewhere over the years, we had all crossed over that threshold to become a cliché of aging Baby Boomers. (For the record, I plan on letting my doctor know I avoided the dessert buffet.)

I think I first became aware of my aging a few years ago. I remember — I don’t know how long ago — standing in a store and catching a glimpse of a graying middle-aged man wearing Dockers, glasses, a sweatshirt, and holding a winter coat over his crossed arms. After a beat, I realized it was my reflection in a store mirror.

At the time, my thumbs felt great. Perhaps because I wasn’t experiencing physical pain, it was easy for me to forget that I was, in fact, getting older. If not for my reflection, I was still very much a youngster on the inside. I think that’s the reason I love a postcard from my friend Cathey. It’s an illustration of a young boy in overalls and a straw hat and he’s planting. Not only is this how I see myself, but it’s also how I like to think I’ll be in later years.

Until this something called a thumb thing started. Now, I worry that my older years will be more like Vito Corleone in the opening scene of The Godfather. You know the one — he’s heavy, out of breath, wheezing, and playing with his grandson in the tomato garden. For a film about an organized crime family, it’s actually a very nostalgic and sentimental moment, until Vito collapses and dies. While I can think of worse ways to go, heavy, out of breath, and wheezing doesn’t sound anything like the boy on the postcard.

All of this brings me to the garden — or more accurately, to me as an aging gardener with aging green thumbs in a garden. I find myself looking around, wondering if there are steps to take today so my garden and I can both age gracefully tomorrow. For guidance and inspiration, I look to Sydney Eddison, gardener and author.

I was first introduced to Ms. Eddison in 2000, when she was profiled on an episode of Martha Stewart’s early television show. I remember being so impressed with her passion for gardening, her energy, and her knowledge.

Now that I’m all thumbs, I am reminded of one of her books, Gardening for a Lifetime: How To Garden Wiser As You Grow Older. It’s filled with advice — based on her experiences — on how to bring your garden along with you as you age. I think that’s probably a topic most of us never consider as we design beds and plant borders.

Among her recommendations are:

  • Embrace shade. In South Florida, that’s already a given, but shade gardening requires less work than sun gardening.
  • Perennials tend to require more labor, so switch to shrubs. In my own garden, I’ve started to add flowering shrubs. I’m going with dwarf varieties for two reasons. Proportionately, they seem to fit better in my small yard — and in my mind, they seem to require less heavy pruning than full-size varieties. When I gardened up north, hydrangeas were my favorite.
  • If perennials are a must, choose those that are low maintenance. In Florida, my go-to plant — if you can ignore the razor-edged leaves — are bromeliads. Lately, though, I’m having fun with orchids tied onto trees. Up north, bulbs and Autumn Joy sedum were old reliables.
  • Don’t forget container gardening. Because of their height, it’s easier on the back when planting and caring for whatever’s growing in them — and they can be changed up each season just to keep the garden interesting.

I’d also like to add my own bit of advice. If you can, start riding a bicycle. Joe and I recently purchased two, and we try to ride each day to help lower our LDL.

Beyond that, though, I suggest this because when I approach an incline, I stand on the pedals and pump to get up to speed and then coast on the downside. In that brief pedaling/coasting moment, I’m a 10-year-old again — an invigorated and exhilarated 10-year-old with some rust and an aching thumb that’s poised to ring the handlebar bell.

Field Trip: Tree Tops Park


When I first heard of Tree Tops Park, I imagined a public park with treehouses and tree walkways to give visitors a bird’s-eye view among the branches and canopy. In reality, the only thing to climb is an observation tower — otherwise, visitors keep their feet on the ground and look upward. No matter how you look at them, though, the trees at Tree Tops Park are tops.

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A Cure For The Wintertime Blues


This is the time of year when I feel the most out of step with my fellow gardeners and the readers of this blog. You see, this is the start of South Florida’s growing season — the orchids (above) are currently blooming in my garden. Nurseries are overflowing with plant selections and cold fronts bring delightful weather rather than snow and ice.

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Field Trip: Fern Forest Nature Center


Hidden beneath the asphalt and manicured communities, the condo towers and man-made canals of southeastern Florida, there is Old Florida — very, very Old Florida.  It’s the Florida that existed long before Henry Flagler built the railroad that opened this region of the state to developers.  It is, perhaps, the Florida that greeted the first settlers.

That idea is what inspired a group of scientists from Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College.  It was 1979, and their article, “A Tropical Fern Grotto In Broward County,” was published in the American Fern Journal.  That 247-acre grotto was actually a remnant of how Broward County once looked.  More than 30 species of ferns were found living among  200+ species of other plants, all of which inhabited swamp forests, hammocks, pinelands, and prairie ecosystems.

As a result, the land was made a Designated Urban Wilderness Area and named Fern Forest Nature Center.  Walking through the habitat, on both boardwalks and natural paths, allows visitors to take a step back in Florida history.

Much of Florida sits on limestone. Here, large moss-covered chunks make up the floor of the habitat.

The prairie habitat is adjacent to . . .

. . . the swamp habitat, where the leaves of swamp plants resemble leaves on the reflected branches.

Just about ready to bloom.

A convict caterpillar, which will eventually become a Spanish moth.

Cypress trees make up a large number of the plants growing in the swamp forest. They’re easy to identify because of their “knees.”

A close-up of cypress knees.

Air plant colonies are well established along the branches of many of the trees.

More air plants.

The habitat provides food and shelter for wildlife, either alone . . .

. . . or the whole family.

Fern spores on the underside of a frond.

Marlberry.

Vines are quite happy here.

I’m not sure of this plant’s identity (it could be the invasive Brazilian Pepper Tree) — I just thought it looked like it was ready for the holidays.

Fern Forest Nature Center is located at 201 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek, FL 33063. It’s open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., seven days a week, except for some holidays. Check out their calendar for various events.