Catch Me, I’m Falling


I think I have fall envy.

That thought first occurred to me as September 21 was approaching and all of the local and chain coffee shops and microbreweries started touting their pumpkin donuts, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer, pumpkin everything.

Even my Facebook friends jumped on the pumpkin wagon, sharing photos of their steaming pumpkin creations and fall crafts, as well as their excitement for cooler weather, colorful leaves, and sweaters in earthy tones.

When that first day of autumn arrived, the temperature in South Florida was 87 degrees — hardly weather that called for turtlenecks and pumpkin lattes. If not for the commercials about pumpkin-stuff’s return, I wouldn’t have known it was fall at all. It could have been the Fourth of July for all I and the newest bunch of bananas knew.

Since arriving in South Florida, I’ve been on a quest to discover an actual change in seasons. While I’ve found some floral clues to denote spring, for the most part, as the joke goes, there are only two seasons here: hot and hotter, also known as summer and summer. This lack of seasons is a big reason why many people can’t imagine living in South Florida — seasonal change is important to them.

And I get that. I too reach a moment in the year when I want the heat to stop. I want Mother Nature to throw me a bone, or in this case, some cooler weather — a reminder that winter is coming. (In South Florida, winter is a good thing.)

Now, I’m wrestling with fall envy and wondering — just because I and so many others live in South Florida, does that mean we don’t have a fall? In this part of the country, is fall a season or simply a season of mind? And if there is a fall, how will I know when it arrives?

Surely, I thought, there must be a seasonal sign letting me know the planet has moved into a whole new realm. Native tribes and Caribbean peoples, I figure, must have been able to mark their calendars with something to indicate when it was better to plant this crop or that. I asked a co-worker from Jamaica about this. After giving it some thought, she shook her head and said, “No. It’s always one long season. We never made a big deal about fall.”

Never made a big deal about fall? When I lived in New York, I made a big deal about fall. It meant cleaning the garden, prepping for winter, and enjoying the cornucopia of fall delights.

I’m glad to have this blog so I can look back at photos of autumns past, some of which I’ve thrown into this post. Leaves don’t really change much here, although the frangipani leaves are looking a little tired and worn and brown. These will eventually drop off. I won’t need to rake them, though. I‘ll be able to pick them up like scattered playing cards.

Retailers — especially the national ones — don’t help much. If autumn is a drug, they are the pushers and their commercials have to sell fall to the greatest number of consumers, most of whom live in zones where leaves change color, where temperatures cool, where warm pumpkin drinks make sense.

In South Florida, it seems as if they’re trying to create an illusion that South Florida is part of New England. Store windows, filled with fake fallen leaves and mannequins draped in scarves and sweaters, are autumnal temptations for shoppers in shorts and sandals.

Nurseries, as well, push classic fall with racks and tables filled with mums, dried cornstalks, and, of course, pumpkins. (For the record, mums will not last in South Florida, unless kept as a houseplant or in the shade; cornstalks smell terrible when wet, as often happens after a rainstorm here; and pumpkins become a rotting pile of orange mush because of the heat. Autumn supplements should be discarded accordingly.)

 At the moment, it hardly feels like autumn. The weather alert today proclaimed: “The calendar says November, but it’s going to feel like summer.” In other words, if I wanted to feel fall, I’d have to step inside and lower the air conditioning.

Looking around my own garden, I search for signs that we are now well beyond the autumnal equinox. The crotons in the front yard have all the markings of fall color, but they always look like that. Their colorful leaves have enough colors appropriate for any season, but it’s because of fall that northern nurseries have them available for the autumn displays of northern gardeners. Sadly, the plant will die with the first frost up there.

I also noticed the copperleaf, which comes in a variety of colors, changing color. I have “Louisiana Red,” and the bronze tint of summer is becoming variegated red, which I guess can be a kind of marker for the season. The shrimp plant in full bloom in front of it, though, is a giveaway that autumn is still summer.

By accident, I discovered the moment when the calendar, the weather, and the feel of fall all come together — and I had to look no further than the local news and the giddiness of the forecasters because of the season’s first cold front.

Here, “cold” is a relative term. It doesn’t involve frost or snow, just cooler temperatures and a great decrease in humidity. When a cold front makes it all the way down the Florida peninsula, it’s news.

That happened just recently — and Joe and I welcomed the cold front with delight. The front moved in while we were sleeping, like Santa Claus. In the morning, I stepped outside to feel the chill — 60 degrees! We opened windows to enjoy the breeze and lower humidity; at dinner, we made meals to warm us; at night, we wore sweatshirts for our walk and stopped at Dunkin Donuts for hot pumpkin something; at bedtime, we used a blanket. Daytime was like a northern spring; nighttime was like a northern daytime in the fall.

Our fall lasted two days and two nights, and then summer returned — but more cold fronts will come. None of them, though, will be as special as the first fall. It was the bone I needed from Mother Nature. It was the feel of fall I craved.

Just One Word: Plastics


There’s a famous scene from the classic Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate. It’s also one of the most quoted moments in the film, and often makes the list of most-quotable lines in all of film history.

Hoffman portrays Benjamin, a recent college graduate without any direction. At a party, a family friend with career advice approaches him.

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Dollarweed Makes No Sense


Dollarweed

When it comes to my lawn, I’m pretty much a live and let live kind of guy. If it’s green, it stays — and for decades my policy has worked.

I haven’t had to use poisons. Insects and wildlife seem to appreciate the blend of greens and flowering weeds. Most importantly, it’s the one aspect of gardening and home ownership that has remained stress-free.

I refuse to be a suburban slave to my lawn — at least that’s what I said until dollarweed entered my life.

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The Best Laid Plans


Agave

This post was planned months ago. The local garden club had scheduled its plant and craft sale for November, and as secretary, there’s a bit of pressure to contribute plants.

My initial thought was to document my clipping and dividing, rooting and potting — all very Martha-like, with photos and plant details.

At least that was my plan in September.

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Aloe, ‘ow Are You?


Aloe

I always wanted to be a deejay. When I was younger, I had two turntables, a mixer, and crates and crates of vinyl records.

There was one small problem, though.  I never wanted to get fingerprints or scratches on any of the records — which was why my vinyl collection remained in pristine condition, and the only deejaying was in my own mind.

Still, when it comes to thinking up headlines for posts, I often turn to music for inspiration — and this post about my aloe was no different. I began with “Aloe, I Love You,” courtesy of The Doors — because, I do love this plant.

Mine was a gift from Joe’s sister, Donna. She gave it to me years and years ago — and for those years and years, it was a typical northern houseplant, a solitary presence in a clay pot, brought outside in summer and over-wintered indoors.

I was thrilled to have an aloe — practical and beautiful, medicinal and magical. Each day seems to bring about new wondrous uses for the gel inside each of its pointy, succulent leaves.

The problem is that snapping off an aloe leaf to soothe a burn or an abrasion was never my first thought. No, I’d rather run for a bandage or even a store-bought “aloe” lotion than risk damaging the plant.

It was my deejaying debacle all over again — although this time I knew my being a gardener wasn’t an imaginary mind game. I just didn’t want to take advantage of a plant. I wanted it to be pristine.

But something exciting happened after bringing the aloe to Florida, where this houseplant could stay out all year long. Of course, there was the initial shock, but in time, the green became more vibrant and smaller aloes began to pop up all around the mother plant.

Aloe

My clay pot for one had become my clay pot for many, and I wondered: Is this what aloe is supposed to do?  It actually makes more plants on its own?

Then, Adele arrived with this lyric, “Hello, from the other side” — and I began to contemplate what was happening beneath the soil of said clay pot. In other words: Aloe, from the underside.

Aloe

Just like removing a vinyl disc from its sleeve, I gently tapped the aloe from the only home it has ever known. And just like holding a record by its edges and turning it over to examine it for any imperfections, I observed and marveled at what was hidden by the clay pot.

The houseplant I had always counted on to be a solo artist was more like a member of a band.   Once unpotted, the lead singer — for want of a better term — had developed a lengthy root system, each one traveling in a circle to match the shape of the clay pot.

Aloe

It’s at this point that all record and deejaying analogies come to an end. While I may be a deejay in my mind, in reality, I’m a gardener —- and unlike my treatment of vinyl, I wanted to scratch at the soil, to separate the roots and smaller plants a bit, to clip and cut and leave my mark.

As I began, I first noticed that the thicker roots were actually runners, some of them ending with a small aloe plant — and each of these had its own set of roots and runners.

Aloe

Aloe

The larger of the small aloes were easily separated from the main plant, but the smaller ones needed some clipping.

Aloe

Aloe

Aloe

I lined up pots of all sizes, as well as some hollowed out coconuts, for planting — so that each of the aloes could be a star in their own right — and, in time, fill out and make more plants.

Aloe

Aloe

The aloe that started it all was returned to its clay pot, now a bit roomier, so that it too could once again produce more plants.

Aloe

At the end of the day, when it came time to reflect on what I had learned about aloe propagation and a headline, it seemed to make sense to name this post: “Aloe, ‘ow are you?” It’s really the question I asked myself — with a cockney accent, because a name like aloe kind of begs for that — whenever I looked at the clay pot filled with plants.

That being said, it’s time to bring my tale of aloe to a close — and in the sort-of words written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney: “You say goodbye, and I say aloe.”