Bloomin’ Update 15: Greetings from South Florida

Like a good postcard, this one is arriving to you after I made it home.  Joe and I spent the past week in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, where we plan to retire in the near future.  We purchased a small home there almost 20 years ago.  In fact, we made one payment and a low pressure system became Hurricane Andrew.  We also removed all of the shade trees and replaced them with palms.  Since then, the house has been rented and we return several times a year to do yard work.  Yard work?  That’s a vacation?  For us – and probably for most gardeners who have little patience for winter’s dreariness – this is a vacation: the chance to feel the sun, to play in the dirt, and to see all shades of green.

There was some extra fun this time in Florida since I had the chance to play with my Christmas gift, a Canon SX40HS digital camera.  Armed with my new toy, I found every excuse under the Florida sun to snap some garden and vacation photos.   Would you expect anything different from a boy and his new gadget?

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Bloomin’ Update 11: Legends of the Fall

As October comes to a close, an early nor’easter has turned fall into FALL.  As rain pours down, as snow blankets us with a slushy mush, as ice pellets sting our face, and as howling wind tears the leaves from their branches, here a few photos of the colors, the debris, and the faded glory of autumn.

Let the raking begin.


The pink of Autumn Joy has aged and deepened to a dark, dusty rose.


Pee Gee Hydrangea is now parchment-colored.


This bee is probably wishing it had a blanket as it naps on Blanket Flower.


The Maple is on fire.


I'm not sure of the name of this plant, but the leaves are a bright spot in the garden -- until the temperatures really drop an the leaves droop. But with warmth, they rebound.


Liatris "punks" have turned from purple to brown.


Mums and Black Mondo Grass.


Lacecap Hydrangea is a shadow of its summer color.


Maple leaves nestled against a stone wall.


The buds for next spring's blooms are set on the northern growing Magnolia. Something to look forward to!


Book Review: 1493

When children recite, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “From where does your garden grow?”  That’s the question I ‘m asking myself this Columbus Day weekend after reading the best-selling new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.  This meticulously researched book examines the world after Columbus set foot in North America. 

While Columbus certainly has his critics, there can be no mistaking that his arrival in the New World placed the entire world on the globalization frontier.  The author’s position is that much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to what he calls the Columbian Exchange, a means of moving plants and seeds and animals from one part of the world to another part.  It is why, for example, that tomatoes arrived in Italy and citrus arrived in Florida.  So much of what we take for granted wasn’t always so; and much of it would not be if Columbus had not set the process in motion. 

I myself am a bit of a mutt: English, Scottish, German, French, and Italian.  My paternal ancestors arrived in North America in 1675; my maternal great-grandfather entered through Ellis Island.  While this is my gene pool, I wonder just how diverse and worldly is my garden? 

Thanks to the Internet and Google, I learned that what I plant has traveled a long way to be planted.  In fact, my garden could be a lesson for world leaders seeking peace.   Although it heavily favors Asia and Central and South Americas, there is little conflict in plants from many lands successfully sharing common ground.   (Note to self: bring Australia into the mix, but wait until full-out global warming for Antarctica to come into bloom.) 

And to think my melting pot only took 518 years — and still counting — to plant. 

Happy Columbus Day — and enjoy the weekend in the garden.

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: The Last Bouquet

For this Not-So-Wordless Wednesday post, I thought I would share the words of others, words that could somehow capture my feelings as I stand in the garden clipping some of the final blooms.

“Sorrow and scarlet leaf,

Sad thoughts and sunny weather.

Ah me, this glory and this grief

Agree not well together.”

Thomas Parson, 1880, A Song for September

The last page in this summer's garden scrapbook.

“For summer there, bear in mind, is a loitering gossip, that only begins to talk of leaving when September rises to go.” – George Washington Cable

There is a definite chatter as I get to work, selecting what’s left among the flowers.  Looking at the leggy stems, some of them browned, and the leaves dusted with powdery mildew, I can definitely hear a chorus of pleasantries and goodbyes as the summer guests make their way to the garden gate.

 “A late summer garden has a tranquility found no other time of year.” – William Longgood

There is a definite somberness and calmness in the garden today.  Perhaps it’s because plants that I have nurtured for so long, some from seed started in February, are leaving after a full season of delivering what was promised — and paying my respects is the right thing to do.  Maybe it has to do with the color of the sunlight, warm and golden, fading from the brightness of July.  The shadows seem longer, and the colors more muted – and yet, it feels warm and glowing, especially as the sunlight hits the faintest change of color in the leaves overhead.  More likely, though, the overwhelming sense stems from a combination of the two — and a little imagination.

“Spring flowers are long since gone.  Summer’s bloom hangs limp on every terrace.  The gardener’s feet drag a bit on the dusty path and the hinge in his back is full of creaks.” – Louise Seymour Jones

Oh, yes, there’s a lot of dragging and creaking happening by this time of year.  I do feel the energy of summer leaving me — or maybe it’s just sympathy pains for the plants.  Gardeners, I think, develop a kind of symbiotic (or co-dependent) relationship with their charges.  When they sprout, I sprout.  When they bloom, I bloom.  And when they wither away, a piece of me goes with them also . . .

Until the process starts all over again.



These Squirrels Are Making Me Nuts

8:00 am: Swept clean.

It’s 8:00 am, and I have swept the walk to my door for the buh-zillionth time, thanks to the squirrels who are ransacking my oak tree for acorns.

They’re also not the neatest nor efficient of eaters. As I sweep, I notice there’s a lot of waste. Mixed in with shards of shells are whole acorns — perfect for tucking away into the nether regions of your cheeks. So I wonder, just what are the squirrels getting so squirrely about?

First, there is the coming winter.  There is a belief that you can predict what sort of winter you will have by observing the nuttiness of the squirrel population.  It’s as if they are our very own Farmers’ Almanac.  If that’s the case, then we are in for an Arctic blast of snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures — and judging by the acorn debris that is littering my walkway, we may never thaw out.  Either that, or my yard will be buried

24 hours later: Not so much.

in an avalanche of acorn shells — Long Island’s very own Pompeii.

Second, I’m concerned about the frenzy.  This particular squirrel colony is in hyperactive mode, running and racing up and down trunks, onto branches, nibbling here, nibbling there.  The squirrels are not just eating acorns; they are stockpiling them like a cult of the-world-is-ending believers.  If they are like this now, what will they be like in December 2012, the notorious date when the Aztecs predicted the world would really end.  There may not be enough nuts to satisfy their craving.

Third, and I am completely serious here, I think the squirrels have declared war on us.  This nut stuff is just the opening volley.  At this time of year, I cannot even stand and have a conversation with my neighbor on the walkway.  If I do, I will be

Debris field.

pelted by not only debris, but whole acorns, as well.  In fact, I think they are intentionally hurling these whole acorns at me. 

You think I’m kidding.  Just listen to the sound of a whole acorn falling from the tree and hitting the roof of your car parked on the driveway.  It’s like the acorn shot heard ’round the world — and I find it difficult to believe that the velocity is the result of gravity alone.  There has to be some squirrel strength behind that acorn.  Perhaps the squirrel soldiers have fashioned a sling shot in the upper branches of the tree.  Then, “Ready.  Aim.  Fire.”  And each time they hit me or the car, I swear I can hear them giggling.

What to do with my furry frenemies?  Trap them and release them to another location?  Nah.  That only encourages replacements to take up their positions.  Cut down the oak tree?  Absolutely not.  I

Come on, Squirrels. How about a day off?

love the tree more than I dislike the squirrels.  For, now I will have to be contented with a broom and a hard hat — and if  the neighbors think I’m the nut case . . . Well, we’ll just see who’ll be laughing when the squirrels chase us up into the trees.

 In the meantime, a friend found an abandoned baby squirrel and is now rehabilitating it.  In addition to sweeping the walkway, I offered to  gather acorns to feed this foster squirrel.  I must be nuts.


10 Reasons I Love Elephant Ears

Have you ever sat under an Elephant Ear leaf?  I’m not sure what made me even think to do this, other than my curiosity to see one of my favorite plants from a whole other perspective, but as I looked at the leaf’s underbelly, I reflected on all of the reasons that make me love Elephant Ears.

1. Well, there’s the simple fact that I can lay on the ground and look up at the leaf.  It’s a great place to take an afternoon nap, enjoy the shade, and look at the play of sunlight hitting the leaf’s upper surface.  From below, it glows, much like stained glass does when its illuminated.

2. The color.  Look carefully at an Elephant Ear leaf, top or bottom, and see the swirls of shades of green.  It looks as if it’s painted, and the greens always look refreshing.

3. They’re waterproof.  Each morning it’s a treat to see pearls of dew gathered in the folds of the leaves, or perhaps what’s left from an overnight rain.  When the morning light hits the beads, they look like drops of mercury or silver.  I often think that if I find myself on “Survivor,” I would roof my shelter with Elephant Ear leaves, or at least use one as an umbrella.

4. Size matters.  As the season progresses, leaves unfold larger and larger.  One leaf can measure 3 feet.  I have found that when I keep the plants in a pot, they remain stunted.  Plant them in the ground, and they let their presence be known.  Similarly, one large leaf placed in a vase can be just as dramatic in the house.


5. Taste of the tropics.  As a Zone 6 or 7 gardener, depending on the specifics of the Cold Hardiness map, I like to create a tropical feel in the yard.  Elephant Ears are more than able to create the illusion that my Long Island garden is in South Florida.

6. Easy care.  As much as I dislike fall clean-up, it’s necessary when it comes to Elephant Ears.  Right around the first frost, I’ll cut back the leaves, dig up the bulbs, and let them cure for a few days.  I’ll try to shake out much of the excess dirt.  The dug bulbs are then placed in paper bags and covered with peat moss.  Lately, I’ve also tried plastic bags, and this also seems to work, as long as I keep the bag open.  Either way, I place the bag in a cool, dry place, such as the cement bunker that is behind a bedroom closet and under the front steps.  In the spring, I’ll bring out the bulbs, pull off the dead roots and tops, plant them in pots with the tip just below the soil (maybe even peaking out slightly), place them in a sunny location, and give them lots of water.  Once they sprout, in the ground they go.  Elephant Ears are slow to start, but with water and heat and humidity, they take off. 

7. They bleed.  I learned this the hard way during my first fall clean-up of Elephant Ears.  After cutting the stalks, I noticed that my clothes became stained with a rusty red color.  I then noticed the ends of the stalks with the same color.  The stains are permanent, which means that I now have work clothes specifically for Elephant Ear cutting, and they are stained with memories of previous prunings.

8. They multiply.  I started with a single bulb, and now I have enough to fill one bed, and more to intersperse with hydrangeas that have not reached full height.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed with babies, that I brought the extras to work and shared some Elephant Ear love.

9. They’re fun.  The leaves almost bounce in the wind.  I will often walk by them and tap each leaf like a drum to make them bounce.  Besides, visitors will always smile when they see them, especially the larger leaves.

10. Have you ever seen a new leaf?  They emerge from the stalk of an older leaf, like a tightly wound sword.  And then they open, like a sail unfurling.  The larger the leaf, the greater the opening.

 That’s it for now.  Happy Gardening!

Angst In August

“What’s wrong?” 

That was the first question Joe, my partner, asked me the other day.  At first, I didn’t think anything was wrong, other than I felt a little sluggish and unmotivated to do anything.  Then I looked at the calendar.  August. 

I’m quite conflicted when it comes to the 8th month of the year.  I know it’s still summer, which I’m thrilled about, but inside I feel dread and sadness, as if the clock has begun ticking on the garden around me.   And once that thought takes hold, all other melancholic ideas start to sprout.  To put it simply, I’m summer saturated.

For starters, everything in the yard looks overgrown.  The Sunflowers can’t stretch any higher, and they are so crowded and top heavy that they are all falling over at odd slants.  The leaves on the trees are dull green.  Most of the annuals look tired.  The grass is burnt.   The Hydrangea flower heads have started to fade away.  Everything looks sloppy.  My impulse is to go out there and rip everything out of the ground and start all over again with new seedlings.  But that would be ridiculous.  As it is, the days of these plants are already numbered.

Then there is the change in shadow.  As the Earth and Sun have done their celestial dance on the way to the autumnal equinox, I have noticed that where there once was sun, there is now shade.  Just ask the Gazanias.  A week ago, they basked in hours and hours of summer sun.  Now, the shadow of the house lingers a little longer over their bed.

And let’s not forget about the quiet changes in weather.  While the days are still warm, nighttime temperatures have begun their subtle decline.  On some mornings, I can smell the faintest whisp of fall in the air. 

That is, perhaps, where most of my hostility toward August stems from: I know what’s coming.  Leaves will start to change, tropicals will have to be dug and stored for the winter, terracotta pots will need to be cleaned and packed away,  nights will become longer.  I can practically feel Light Deprivation Disorder bubbling up.

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