May 2003 - Gardener's Journal
No other month has more to enjoy than magnificent May and I did my best to make the most of it. Here in North Florida we had very dry weather early in the month and I spent my days manhandling hoses and sprinklers about the place. I managed to keep everything alive, if not thriving except for the stuff eaten by demon deer. Happily, at we had some showers for our May flowers. Some big thunderstorms rolled through and dumped more that 2 in (5 cm) of beautiful rain upon us. The welcomed moisture freshened, greened and jolted tired plants into bloom like magic.
mid month Along with the magic though, came the yellow flies for their annual visit. They're dreadful creatures that torment man and beast alike. They relentlessly buzz and bother until either: 1) they bite you and have their fill of blood or 2) you kill them - there is no such thing as peaceful coexistence. Only the dogs are happier than me to see them disappear, usually in mid-June when their loathsome life cycles complete and they die!
While I'm ranting about unsavory varmints I must mention the nasty lubber grasshoppers that hatch in early spring unleashing their own special scourge. They gorge feed all summer on the prettiest and most precious plants and by July they are humongous 4 in (10 cm) long monsters. Even the chickens are leery of them, being one of the few creatures they hesitate to chase and eat. Should you encounter a small shiny black grasshopper with yellow stripes (or a swarm of them) stomp them immediately! This may cause some ugly splattering of internal parts but that is preferable to the mess left after squashing a 4 incher. These things are so heinous and despicable that my revulsion is transformed to gut-lust and I have no qualms about squashing them between my fingers. All through the month I patrol the grounds: squash squash squash STOMP squash... as I stalk my prey STOMP!
Wildlife At Floridune
I mostly prefer creatures with fur or feathers and only a subset of those. However I'm trying to evolve spiritually in order to become serene and wise. When I was in the third grade Sister Mary Mark made us write about our favorite saint. I chose St. Francis of Assisi because he was the patron saint of animals and nature (gardening too, I guess). In our neighborhood half of the yards had little statues of him (the other half had statues of Mary the Madonna). Small 18 in tall plaster St. Francises stood serenely in little wooden houses perched upon posts that as often as not were flanked by arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis)e. My first flower garden was around the post of our St. Francis shrine so I feel a connection. Because so many of God's creatures annoy me so badly I feel I must aspire to be gentle and kind in order to achieve Franciscan serenity - then maybe I won't feel like hitting or cussing so much.
In the spirit of St. Francis, Gandhi and my other nonviolent role models I have ceased whacking creatures like snakes (which freak me out) and armadillos (which incite me to rage with their destructive rooting). I will endeavor to practice tolerance and share my habitat with other creatures even if they are ugly, creepy, annoying or destructive and in this way make myself and (by extension) the world a better place.
There are some exceptions to my fur and feather preferences. I not only tolerate, but actively enjoy, that tiny, shiny little wet jewel of a creature, the tree frog. They hang out on plants eating mosquitoes and other bugs which to me makes them even more adorable. I've adopted them as semi-pets and now have a sizable population.
The tree frogs disappear in the colder months only to suddenly reappear when it warms up. I encourage them to hang out with me by shining a spotlight on a wall near my office window at night. The light attracts insects and the insects attract the frogs. They arrange themselves on the wall like hungry diners at a banquet where they enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet all night long.
I spend a lot of long hours at the computer working on Floridata (yes, I know I need to get a life). Long ago I noticed that swarms of insects are attracted to the window if I position my desk lamp so that part of the beam shines out. Hundreds of bugs representing dozens of species land on the glass to bask euphorically in the 100 watt GE Soft white pleasure light of my desk lamp. It wasn't long before my clever tree frogs discovered this exciting new dinner spot.
It's fun to glance up from my work to see the frogs stalking moths and scarfing mosquitoes. I mark time watching their little white bellies expand over the course of the evening until by midnight they look ready to burst. For the past week there's been only one frog working my window but last night another showed up. At the end of last summer there were often 7 or 8 frogs on the pane at once and another half dozen under the spotlight. Hopefully youngins will be along soon and things will be hopping this summer too!
The toad is another amphibian that I enjoy having around. While not as handsome as the tree frog, Bufo has a nice personality. Each spring hundreds - maybe thousands - of tiny baby toads appear out of nowhere. Each is smaller than a dime and so well camouflaged they can only be seen when they move. I often see great congregations with so many baby toads that the ground motion blurs with their hopping about. It is disturbing to realize that you've walked into a toad hangout and have them squishing underfoot. Although not as flashy looking as the tree frogs, the toads are hideously cute in their own unfortunate way - and eat bugs so what's not to like?
I don't know why I have affection and concern for one ugly creature (the toad) and loath and detest the grasshopper who is not nearly as ugly as the toad? I'm able to emulate St. Francis when it comes to vertebrates like toads and frogs but behave more like Saddam when it comes to grasshoppers. After some thought I concluded that toads eat bugs and so enhance my comfort while grasshoppers eat my plants (like the Crinum asiaticum lily they destroyed last year...) thus detracting from my quality of life. So unlike St. Francis, I'm only tolerant of those creatures that don't piss me off - I guess I really have a way to go in my spiritual evolution...
I don't believe there is any bird that I really dislike. I'm still slightly resentful of pigeons for ruining my new suit one Easter Sunday when I was 10 - but I'm not one to hold a grudge. On the whole birds are excellent creatures so I'm excited that one chose to build her nest in a hanging basket right beside my back door. It's amazing she choose such a busy spot - the dogs and I are in and out of that door at least fifty times a day. Perhaps she knows it safe. No snakes or other predators can reach the basket and it is under the eaves so its nice and dry - it's perfect except for the neighbors (me). I scared her off the nest when I took this picture. I stood about 6 ft away and zoomed in from afar so I wouldn't bother her. I didn't know the flash would go off and it scared the hell out of both of us when she bolted. She did the wounded bird thing to decoy me away from the nest so I apologized and am trying to be a more considerate neighbor. By my next column I should be sharing the place with a nest full of bird babies (don't know what kind they are...)
In May I mulched and weeded and then mulched and weeded some more, mostly up on The Hill where I'm putting the final touches on an area I've been planting for about 12 years. It's sunny and dry up there so I've put in lots of drought resistant plants. Most all of these have interesting shapes and textures or both. My goal is to create a "Dr. Seuss Garden" (my favorite author). It'll be a landscape full of plants with unusual, grotesque and cool shapes and textures that would make the Cat In The Hat feel at home.
I planted spiky plants and pointy ones that have fun in the sun. I have grasses and trees and palms that stand tall and junipers and flowers and shrubs shaped like balls. But for a really super Seussious Scene you need lots of tall yuccas if you know what I mean. I have agaves and aloes making my point with crazy looking cactus all over the joint. If I am patient and things go to plan, I hope to get a visit from Sam I Am!
May's only other major project was a makeover of an old redtip (Photinea x fraseri) hedge that I inherited from the previous owner. It parallels the northeast face of the dog run and is about 45 ft (13.7 m) long. It was infested with weedy vines and full of dead and misshapen branches. The redtip (also called redtop) is a very attractive evergreen shrub that was practically wiped out by a fungus disease here in the Southeastern U.S. so I was eager to get my survivors back into shape and make them pretty while they're still with us. The hedge about 20 ft (6 m) tall so I decided to leave the tops untrimmed and remove only the lower limbs from the 3 or so stems that I left for each plant. This row of small multi-trunked trees forms a canopy over a pathway along the kennel fence and partially screens it from on the other side. Years ago I planted some small camellias (Camellia japonica) and other shrubs on the opposite side of the hedge. When these gained some size my plan was to then remove the hedge which I assumed would be dead or dying anyway. The camellias are now handsome 5 ft (1.5 m) specimens but the redtips are still healthy so I decided to rehabilitate the hedge instead of removing it. Now that there's more more air, light and breezes blowing through plants, people and dogs are happier and we're all enjoying the new look.
Eat'In The Garden
In my Journal I usually write only about the things that are actually growing here in my yard. Though I have no actual gumi fruits at the moment, I am now the proud owner of a small gumi bush. Steve rooted some cuttings from his plant and gave me one when I visited him a few weeks ago. The gumi fruit was ripe when I was there and I got to taste test them right from the tree! Mmmmm, they were warm from the sun and sweet, flavorful and tangy. I practiced my gumi-eating technique: while standing at the shrub, grab gumis by the handful and toss them into the left side of mouth. Bite lightly to crush skin. Use tongue to push gumi to center of mouth, tease the seed from the pulp and push it out between the lips. In a single motion, move the deseeded pulp to the right side of mouth and bite the succulent pulp again pausing to savor the tart tangy taste. Use tongue to push macerated pulp to gullet and swallow. Repeat until you get a belly ache or the gumi supply is exhausted.
My little gumi bush will be 1 year old on July 7 so I plan to upgrade him to a 6 in pot. Maybe next year it'll be large enough to plant in the yard and can begin producing my own supply.
During May there's more things in bloom at my place than at any other time of year which I guess is true of most places (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). Many of my favorites like gardenia (Gardenia augusta) and Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) bloom this month. May is also the month when we transition from spring bloomers to the flowers of summer. Here in North Florida the spring plants are ending and the summer's beginning. This year I planted more annuals and perennials than usual. In years past I spent most of my time away from home on consulting jobs. The garden often had to fend for itself through freezes and droughts so I tended to plant the more durable woody trees and shrubs. Now that I'm home more I'm enjoying filling up the beds with lots of my old favorite garden plants. I having even more fun experimenting with new plants that I've never tried - like the Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile).
I reckon I've blabbed on long enough for one month and I thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Even though we're getting into summer and the weather is getting hot and your beds are overgrown and weedy, don't stop gardening! If its too hot outside come into the nice cool air conditioning and browse the plants on Floridata and plan your next project.
I've received lots of suggestions for adding features to Floridata's "search" function. Although I won't be able to do the upgrade until Floridata is financially stable and I figure out how to pay for the bandwidth and computer time that these enhanced searches require. For the present I must keep things "minimal" (inexpensive). Floridata has managed to stay online for seven years by focusing on "content" while employing a bare minimum of technology and fancy features. In Floridata's lifetime we've watched many gardening sites come and go so it's better for us to stay small and alive than to be big and die!
Good luck to all of you with your spring garden projects and have a fine and fertile June! Visit us often and be good and grow. - Jack
Jack Scheper May 2003