For several nights, I kept my phone close by, waiting for a tonight’s-the-night text message from Neil, a neighbor who lives a few streets away. He was expecting, you see, and he hoped — as Joe and I hoped — that we could be there for the big moment when his night-blooming Cereus flowered.
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.
There was a time, not too long ago, when this part of South Florida — east of the Everglades and west of the Coast — was nothing but white sand, scrub vegetation, saw palmettos, and sand pines. Development and expansion, with all of its blacktop and gated communities and non-native plants, soon overran the place.
Fortunately, the city of Oakland Park thought to preserve this slice of Florida’s natural history with the Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve, a pristine 5.6-acre site nestled between two lakes. This location, in addition to the abundance of native plants, means the park is home to countless birds, anole lizards, and even gopher tortoises, an endangered species. It’s also a place where the community can come together — volunteers are responsible for the preserve’s upkeep.
I arrived at the preserve after a brief morning shower. As I stepped from my car, I was struck by the silence and solitude in a place that is literally just down the street and over the fence from the trappings of the modern world.
As a general garden rule, I do not like — and so steer away from — plants that can hurt me. Roses are about as close as I get to this thorny issue, which has less to do with the plant and more to do with me. I know me. I know that I can be careless and klutzy — and that combination, along with some blood thinners, means I can easily become a human pin cushion.
A few years ago, Joe and I asked a neighbor if he would like our cactus. It was tall, only one stalk, and never really did anything. It was just there, slightly askew — a leaning tower of needles, so to speak.
The neighbor gladly accepted the offer, digging up the cactus and replanting it along the property line between him and us — far enough and close enough at the same time. Since then, that single stalk has expanded to about seven towering stems — and it’s now in bloom, giving a whole new definition to vertical gardening.
Look quickly, though, the flowers — which bees love — only last a day.