A Farm Grows In Fort Lauderdale

Flagler Village Farm

In the previous post, I mentioned that summer in South Florida was like living in a green desert: day after day of heat made hotter by oppressive humidity and afternoon downpours. It’s for these reasons that many gardeners retreat indoors, contenting themselves to look at their green world from behind glass.

Imagine my surprise — and delight — when I came across an oasis in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, a green space that was not only green but was still producing even in the blistering summer heat.

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Field Trip: Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve

Lakeside Sand Pine Preserve

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.

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The Community That Sandy Built

A community of leaves — perfectly tie-dyed.


It’s a word and a concept that’s been on my mind lately — which is pretty amusing, actually.  I often say the older I get, the more I like to stay in my yard and not deal with people — which is difficult to do, since I’m a school social worker.  In fact, I often joke that I’m an anti-social worker.

The truth, however, is that community is important to me.  I think it’s important to all of us.  As humans, we need to belong, to feel connected — even if only to commiserate about the crazy weather.  (As an aside, I would just like to say that in the past two weeks, my part of the world has endured a hurricane, a nor’easter, snow, and — today — Spring-like temperatures. My heart says, “Go out and start planting.”  My brain says, “Are you crazy?  It’s November!”)

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After Sandy: Let Trees Be Our Teachers

We can learn a lot from trees.  I first realized this after visiting the Survivor Tree at Ground Zero — and now, in the wake of Sandy, trees continue to teach me.

Bradford Pear.

Take a look at this one.  It’s a Bradford Pear — or, rather, what’s left of a Bradford Pear.

It was planted years ago, along with two others, by a local business interested in prettying up a very busy street corner.   I remember when they were all planted.  I was thrilled — at last, a business was taking an interest in beautifying the community.

Besides, at the time, the Bradford Pear was the tree of the moment, planted by towns and homeowners because of its flowering beauty, graceful shape, and instant shade ability.  Their abundance in the landscape — both public and private — turned spring into a flowering tree extravaganza.

The trees planted by this business did what they were expected to do — especially on hot summer days when residents huddled under their cool shade while waiting for the public bus.

But one by one, the trees have disappeared.  One was badly damaged after being hit by a car.  A second came down in a storm.  Now, this is the sole survivor, and I know the story of each of its missing limbs — as if I am telling the tales of the scars on my own body.

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Field Trip: Brooklyn In A Box — And On A Bridge

If you should ever find yourself visiting Brooklyn, do yourselves a favor and walk — down boutique and café-lined avenues, tree-shaded streets and, by all means, across one of New York City’s most beloved landmarks, the Brooklyn Bridge.  The bridge, which links the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn for walkers, bikers and drivers, was, at its opening in 1883, the world’s longest suspension bridge.  Its location provides visitors with spectacular views of the NY skyline. 

Looking from the bridge toward downtown Manhattan. The buildings under construction (just behind the cables) are part of the World Trade Center site. The one on the right (with two cranes on top in a V-shape) is the Freedom Tower.

While there are many people who jog and bike across the bridge, I prefer a slow stroll along the pedestrian promenade.

Visitors insist on leaving their mark. Rather than vandalizing the bridge, they now lock their messages to the bridge.

International visitors also join in.

As you face Manhattan and look right, you can get a view of the Empire State Building.

Look left, and it’s the Statue of Liberty.

Arriving on the Brooklyn side of the bridge, you will be in Brooklyn Heights.  Here is a chance to wander off the main thoroughfare and get lost among the smaller streets and their dazzling show of window boxes.

When it comes to planting in pots or window boxes, I tend to keep the same plant in its own pot – and then group the various pots.  I never mix and match in the same pot – more out of a lack of confidence and fear that I will end up with a mismatched jungle.  Yes, window box planting is a skill of which I am truly in awe, and I am completely surprised by the variety that these Brooklynites have on display. 

There are grasses.

And tropicals.

And ferns.

And boxwoods.

And colorful foliage.

And urns.

And an “A” for effort.

And an entrance that takes my breath away.

Clearly, all of this walking burns a lot of calories — but this is Brooklyn, one of the best boroughs in which to replenish those calories.  Although I didn’t take photos of our food, here is what and where Joe and I ate.

Lunch: Totonno’s in Coney Island for some thin-crusted pizza.  It’s a small place and certainly not fancy — but it is one of the pizza parlors that is always touted as the best among pizza afficionados.  You cannot order by the slice, so Joe and I ate a small pie — that’s four slices each and that kept us quite full.

Dinner: Still full from lunch, we opted for a small bite at Dellarocco’s in Brooklyn Heights.  An order of meatballs was perfect — but the tables around us were overflowing with pizzas and calzones.  Delicious!

Dessert:  Yes, there is always room for dessert — so we returned to Joe’s childhood neighborhood for some spumoni, which is an Italian ice cream, at L&B Spumoni Gardens.  YUM!

Yes, this was definitely a day worthy of an all-capital YUM.

The Illuminating Blogger Award Goes To . . .

Illuminating.  The dictionary tells me that this has to do with supplying or brightening with light, making understandable, enlightening.  What I have learned in the past year is that there are so many bloggers out there who do the same for me – and to whom I continually return to for illumination.

One of these bloggers is Helene, of Graphicality UK, who nominated this site for the Illuminating Blogger Award.  It’s not enough to say that I’m honored or humbled.  The fact that this came from Helene means so much more, because I would use the same word to define her.  She is absolutely illuminating.

As you know, there are rules to rewards, and the rules here are a little different than other awards.

  1. 1. The nominee should visit the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/) and leave a comment that they have been nominated and by whom.  (They keep a blogroll of winners, so this is a very important step.)  This will be a check as soon as I click “publish,” I promise.
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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Pressing News

Like a garden, a blog needs its own share of TLC.  There’s watering (to nurture it along), weeding (to keep out the spam), some deadheading (to keep it fresh), and a fair amount of manure (to encourage growth).  The real reward comes when blooms appear – as flowers, vegetables, or readers.  This week, Nitty Gritty Dirt Man has seen a bountiful harvest.

My usual routine in the garden is to take a walk, check on what’s growing, what needs trimming, what needs weeding – that sort of thing.  I keep a similar routine for the blog, where I try to post at least two times a week, usually on Sundays and Wednesdays.  The structure helps keep me focused and organized.

I also check on the stats that WordPress tracks – mostly out of curiosity to gauge what readers seem to like and when their interest peaks and fades. 

That was the case on Monday morning when I checked the stats from Sunday’s Super Bowl post.  There were maybe 50 hits on Sunday night and one on Monday morning.  That same afternoon, I checked in again, but the visitors’ number had surged to well over 200.  Surely, I thought, there had to be a problem.  I had never, ever had that many hits.  Was there a glitch?  A prank?  A virus?

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Not-So-Wordlesss Wednesday: A Tale Of 3 Bloggers

A funny thing happened on the way to this post. 

I thought I would write about my Christmas wish list — you know, wishing it was warmer, wishing I could plant some seeds — that sort of thing.  At least, that was my plan until I opened up my comments awaiting approval, where I read the urgent request of The Last Leaf Gardener (TLLG), a gardener based in New York City.  She was worried about the health and well-being of another blogger, Patrick of Patrick’s Garden

TLLG had posted a comment on Patrick’s site but hadn’t heard from him.  When she tried to phone him, she learned that the phone was not in service.  Concerned, she contacted me because I was the last person to have posted a comment on Patrick’s Garden and to have him respond to me. 

I wrote back to TLLG.  No, I typed, I don’t know anything about Patrick — but if I do hear of anything, I will contact her. 

The truth is, I did know a bit about Patrick because of his posts — but that was it.  I had never met him or spoken to him.  All we shared were a handful of comments on one another’s blogs.  So why was I now so worried?  Why should I worry about someone I’ve never met, about someone where our only interaction had been type-written words?  And that’s when the lightbulb lit up.   I’ve read his words — not only about gardening, but about his life and all that he does.  He’s in Kansas and I’m in New York — but once we learn so much about each other in this personal-but-impersonal blogosphere, doesn’t that make us neighbors of a sort?   As gardeners, as bloggers, as people — aren’t we members of a community?

I too called the number on his blog, but it was out of service, just like TLLG indicated.  Next stop, Google.  I managed to find another number.   

“Hello,” I said.  “I’m hoping you can help me.  I’m calling from New York, and I’m trying to reach someone named Patrick. . . His last name?  No, I don’t know a last name, but he gardens and he’s a blogger.”  For a moment, I think I sounded a bit looney.  For another moment, I worried that I was completely overstepping some sort of boundary of appropriateness.

Within a few moments, I was connected to the man behind Patrick’s Garden.  The truth is, he’s doing fine — but some technical issues kept him from his blog.  And as for my believing I was out of bounds, nothing could have been further from the truth.  Patrick was impressed/flattered that a stranger had checked on him — but once we have read about each other, are we truly strangers?

It was a great conversation.   Suddenly, we were real.  We were the voices behind the typed words, talking about the weather and gardening and garden centers and gardening pet peeves — you know, shop talk.  Gardener to gardener.  Blogger to blogger. 

Neighbor to neighbor.