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.
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.)
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget it’s autumn. That has become my annual thought the longer I live and garden in South Florida. I know many plants, even down here, have a season, but it’s not until I see the national weather forecast for the Dakotas, my friend’s pictures of her New England view of painted leaves, and other garden blogs filled with photos of gardens in seasonal transition that I truly realize that the times, they are a-changin’.
It’s at this moment, in a land where most feel there are only two seasons — hot and hotter — that I become more aware of the later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and of the shimmering, golden hue of the sunlight in the late, late afternoon. We were even given a small tease as a weak “cold” front made its down the Florida peninsula for a day, delivering — at the very least — a drop in humidity. Other than that, though, autumn here is pretty much summer.
On the other hand, the combination of these subtle changes and a pandemic that’s kept me firmly planted at home has given me a reason to not only harvest bananas (above), but to also collect seeds and start new plants.
Pride of Barbados
This small flowering tree or tall flowering shrub began as a gift from friends. As hard as I prune it to keep it short, it seems happiest when it’s allowed to fully grow upward. Then, at the top of its stems, clusters of orchid-like flowers bloom. In turn, these are followed by dangling seed pods, which I quickly collect before they pop open so I don’t have a forest of Pride.
One pod I let dry on my potting bench. When I cut it open, I was surprised to find the seeds in an alternating pattern. I’m not sure if this is typical or a quirk of this particular pod. Either way, I was still impressed that nature could produce something so perfect and symmetrical.
I planted some of the seeds. Within days, they sprouted and now I have a pot of seedlings that need to be potted up. I’m still not sure if I’ll plant these when they’re a little older or if I’ll give them away.
Mexican Cotton Plant
One of my favorite plants that I’ve grown is Mexican Cotton Plant. I have mine in a pot, and I’ve always been able to keep it pruned to encourage branching and stronger growth. This year, though, something happened. After flowering, it produced the buds that would eventually open to reveal cotton. That’s when I noticed the leaves dying. My hope was for the plant to live long enough for these buds to mature, but that wasn’t the case.
I harvested the buds and let them dry. In a matter of days, they popped open, revealing the cotton balls. I pulled out the cotton, each piece of fluff covering a seed. These are now planted and I’m waiting for them to sprout.
White African Iris
Last year, a friend gave me some seed pods from his White African Iris. I dried the pod, removed the seeds, and planted them. They are now flowering for the first time.
One of my favorite plants is the Crinum Lily. Large and tropical, the plant is related to amaryllis rather than lilies — and it can easily fill a bed with its sword-like leaves. The treat is when they send up a flower spike (above). Within a day, the flower cluster opens even more (below).
They also spread. One way is for the mother bulb to produce pups. These can be separated and then planted. I tend to do this on a regular basis to keep the mother plants looking clean and neat.
The other method is fascinating. When a flower is pollinated, a bulblet forms on the flower spike. As it matures, its weight will either help bend the flower stalk to the ground or it will simply fall off. Recently, while cleaning the Crinums, separating pups, and weeding, I found a bulblet that had fallen to the ground, where it had germinated. At first glance, I thought the withered bulblet was a stone.
Normally, when palm trees produce their inflorescence, Joe cuts them off to prevent becoming overrun with sprouting palm trees everywhere — except this time. I was interested in harvesting seeds from the King Palm, so we let the hull-like structure (peduncular bract) that contains the small flowers remain attached to the tree. The photo above is of another peduncular bract that we cut in half to see how tightly packed the inflorescence is.
After a few weeks, the bract popped open, revealing its multi-branched inflorescence.
In time, the inflorescence branches spread and bees are drawn to the hundreds of small beige flowers.
Back To The Bananas
I realize bananas may not be everyone’s idea of a fall fruit. That title usually belongs to apples and pears and pumpkins. This year, though, the banana plant happened to produce just in time for a fall harvest — and there were lots of bananas. I added them to cereal, shared them with neighbors, froze some for future use, and tried my hand at banana bread for the first time.
My neighbor’s recipe called for loaf pans, but all I had was a Bundt pan — so that’s what it had to be. Not as tasty as my neighbor’s — but all in all, a delicious way to celebrate the season in a SoFlo way.
Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon Giveaway
I wanted to take a few moments to thank everyone who participated in the recent giveaway of Garden Secrets of Bunny Mellon, by Linda Jane Holden, and to congratulate Carol H. for being the lucky winner!
This is the dilemma that’s been staring at me for some time, now. I have two orchids — one in a terra cotta pot and one in a plastic pot — and they have each made themselves very comfortable in their respective homes. In fact, they’re almost too comfortable, with their roots bursting out and over the pots.
In the overnight hours before landscape designer Victor Lazzari opened his English-style garden to members of a local garden club, a cold front made its way down the entire length of the Florida peninsula. Wind and light rain arrived in the darkness, but by morning, a cool breeze had pushed away any lingering clouds, unveiling a brilliantly blue sky. The typical South Florida humidity was yesterday’s memory.
It’s interesting to watch Victor Lazzari in his South Florida garden. At 6’1” and 290 lbs. of muscle and tattoos, he’s certainly a looming presence. It’s also where he happens to be the most comfortable, walking along the garden’s hidden paths, gently cupping roses in hands that are just as capable of lifting 350 lbs. at the gym, and inhaling each bloom’s sweet or subtle scent.
Most strikingly, though, Lazzari’s garden is done in the English style. Yes, an English garden is growing in South Florida.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. For me, they create too much pressure — and within a week, they’ll be in the trash heap and I’ll be spending the rest of the year beating myself up because I didn’t go to the gym or lose weight or learn a new craft. Besides, in my world, each day gives us a chance to get a fresh start — hence, the sunrise photo at the top of this post.
This year, though, is different.
I long for hydrangea days.
As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.
I’m not sure when my gardening mind turned to — for want of a better term — composted manure, but I’m pretty positive I know the exact moment I realized it. I was mowing the lawn, daydreaming while I worked, and an idea — one that was already well known to me, you, and everyone else, but seemed like a fresh discovery — popped into my head.
Trees can be grown from seeds.
This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.