A Gardener's Journal September 2003
See'ya September and so'long summer! I survived another season to celebrate my 53rd birthday on September seventeenth. I scored a new shovel, and my Mom presented me with a dozen bales of pine straw mulch (she really knows what I like - thanks Mom!) Now I'm anticipating a fun and fabulous fall and so far it has been.
September here at Floridune was wet on the ends and dry in the middle. The month began with a hot, humid and rainy Labor Day weekend during which I worked indoors on Floridata. Within a week, the temperatures cooled and we enjoyed a stretch of pre-fall weather which I sadly wasted by staying inside working on the computer doing Floridata. Towards the end of the month we had some gray rainy days so I cheered up because I still had to work on the computer but at least I wasn't wasting pretty weather. By month's end the weather was brilliant and beautiful and I'm missing it at this very second. But despite spending all month banging on a keyboard, September here was almost exciting.
Wildlife At Floridune
In late July I found a dead bunny up on The Hill. When I returned to bury it about a half hour later it was gone. In mid-September I found two more bunnies in the same area. One was dead but the other was still alive and violently thrashing about. I picked it up and held it against my belly so it would get warm and calm down. It slowly relaxed and was calm for a while until I realized that it was dead. I don't actually like rabbits very much because they eat almost as many of my plants as the deer. Still I hope that I provided some comfort to the little guy as he passed on (as opposed to scaring him to death by picking him up in the first place). I laid him next to his sibling and went to get a shovel for the burial (next to a crape myrtle so it could benefit from the remains).
I felt a tinge of guilt for thinking of the dead bunnies as fertilizer and how nice it will be to have 3 less rabbits eating my stuff this winter. Still I was sad, I guess because they were so cute - I don't get bummed-out at all over dead baby armadillos...
When I returned a few minutes later the dead bunnies were gone! Again! Just like in July! I must have startled a predator causing him to drop his lunch. I think it hid and watched as I ministered to the wounded bunny. As soon as I left, he swooped in to reclaim his lunch. It could have been a coyote. A neighbor shot one last spring after it killed his geese so they are known to be in the neighborhood. Maybe it was a hawk, eagle or other bird of prey - there are many species of potential rabbit hunters here.
A few days later, Sam the beagle came limping home with his right front elbow sticking out at an alarming angle to his body and lame in his right rear. Sam is an older (about 14) retired beagle. His vet says that he has arthritis and his joints are very delicate. He must have been hit, kicked or attacked and all of his bones were pushed out of whack and the ligament in his right rear knee busted. He's too old to have reconstructive surgery on one leg much less two and he would hate it anyway. He's recuperating now and taking arthritis medicine but has given up chasing rabbits. I'm nursing him back to health with lots of love and wiener treats. These appear to have a rejuvenating effect on his old beagle body because he is still able to snack with the best of 'em.
I'm worried that Sam was the victim of the same predator that nailed the bunnies. While working near where I found them, I noticed broken stems and crushed vegetation in a clump of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa). Could this be the rabbit's den? Or maybe it belongs to the predator. I intended to clear out this mess last winter but it was too easy to procrastinate - pulling blackberry sticker vines from a cactus patch must be the most miserable (and bloody) garden task imaginable! I'm determined to clean it up now because I want to evict whatever predator it was that beat up my beagle! Besides, I'm certain that it probably has weapons of mass destruction...
Shortly after writing the above paragraph I was sitting up on The Hill watching the sunset. In the fading light a cat walked out of the woods to the middle of the pasture where it sat and looked about. With a start I thought to myself "that is a huge #?#%& cat!" It was three or four times bigger than the typical house cat which meant it must be one of Florida's native bobcats. Wow, what next? Now we have an infestation of bobcats! I hope they're not procreating and I hope they go away. If they must stay, I hope they go after deer, eat a bunch of squirrels and stay away from old Sam the beagle.
In addition to the "predator's burrow" in the cactus, I discovered several others around the place. I haven't seen them yet, but I suspect most of these were made by gopher tortoises. The "gophers" are great hulks with sad eyes that appear resigned to the fact that they are gopher tortoises. These gentle beasts occasionally nibble garden plants (or bulldoze them over) but they're such sweet likable creatures that I would never complain about them (well, yeah I would, but I wouldn't mean it...)
The birds and the tortoises are welcome here but I wish bad fortune upon the obnoxious, destructive and annoying species. Deer have chewed up everything that isn't toxic. Armadillos are plowing up perennials from flower beds and drilling holes in the lawn. Attacking from the dark depths are voles whose underground tunnels transport death-wilt to shallow rooted plants. Then there are the humongous hungry grasshoppers that eat what the bunnies can't reach and the deer don't want. Lower order organisms are plaguing me too - especially fungus which is covering many of the perennials and most of my palm seedlings and both of my feet.
So September was exciting but mostly in a get-on-your-nerves kind of way and I need to find out for certain what's living in all of these burrows!
There weren't many flowers left to take pictures of here at my place after the deer and other pests were done with it (because Sam the beagle is retired and not out there chasing them off). For this month's pictures I had to take a field trip to Steve's where his (better deer protected) yard is exploding with fall flowers.
The sky was overcast when I arrived creating light that was great for taking flower pictures. Pulling in the drive I was immediately dazzled by hundreds (thousands?) of spectacular spidery red hurricane lilies (Lycoris radiata) . He's been propagating them for several years and uses them like border grass (Liriope spp.) to outline his big beds of perennials and shrubs. His whole yard is densely planted and totally ablaze in color and a'shimmer with a beautiful bounty of butterflies.
Steve toured me through his perennial garden where we saw huge firebush (Hamelia patens), firespike (Odontonema strictum), 'Indigo Spires' salvia (Salvia 'Indigo Spires') and Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) - all neatly hemmed in by the fiery hurricane lilies. The whole scene hummed with activity both figuratively with butterflies and wind tossed blossoms, and literally from Steve's bees that he keeps for honey.
A tour of his vegetable garden found me looking at rows of delicate seedlings of exotic kale selections with feathery leaves that are sure to be delicious in a few weeks. Beyond that, gigantic squash leaves threatened passage. Ducking low was the way to go, for just ahead were huge cassava plants (Manihot esculenta) at least 15 ft (4.6 m) tall. Just down from them a big patch of Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) was blooming like crazy and scheming on how to get under the fence and invade the adjacent shrub border
Steve is now outfitting his greenhouse with gas heat just in time for winter (sweet!). His wife Joney has a huge potted plumeria and other tropicals that will now have a warm retreat for the winter. He also has a superb misting system for rooting cuttings and he gave me some really nice starts from some of the new items he grew this year. He grew some gorgeous new Salvias and Cupheas and hopefully we'll profile these for Floridata next year.
Out of battery, memory and energy, my picture-taking field trip was over by early afternoon. I gathered up my plant presents and headed home to look at the new pictures and take a nap. I'm planning to visit again next month when Steve's cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) and yellow elder (Tecoma stans) will be blooming - that'll be something to see!
On the long drive home from Steve's my brain seethed with glorious visions of perennials painting my place in color. Stepping from the car, reality hit me in the head as I surveyed the deer devastated landscape. They had won. I was beaten and I hadn't felt like doing much yard work during the last half of the summer. It had been hot, rainy and buggy so I spent all my time working on Floridata instead. But when I sat down to write this section I realized that I hadn't done anything fascinating to write about. So I spent the last weekend of September at last putting the final touches on a shade garden that has been in the works for the past couple of years.
It's beneath a laurel oak about 30 ft (9 m) from my window. I've been hesitant to plant things near it because I don't really like it and have fantasized about cutting it down. It's roots have wreaked havoc with the septic drain field so it's not much beloved or anything. Last fall I decided to keep it, mainly because I didn't have the energy or money to cut it down. Besides, I rationalized, it would provide a place to do some fun shade gardening and since it was close to the house there's less chance that the deer will defile and dine upon what I plant there.
I began this garden last year when I planted some small divisions of cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)in the deepest shade under the tree. Nearest to the trunk I stuck cuttings of tree ivy (X Fatshedera lizei) that will grow into a sprawling evergreen mass above the rooty area near the trunk. I planted some young hardy bamboo palms (Chamaedorea microspadix) and a blue stem palm (Sabal minor) both of which are shade lovers. To make the place more hummingbird-friendly I put in starts of blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica).
This year, to brighten things up quickly and inexpensively, I transplanted volunteer impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) seedlings that I dug from around the place and pulled some of the "babies" from the variegated spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) in the hanging basket. These are great as a shade-loving fast-growing ground cover (frost tender, grow as annuals in colder Zones). I planted mondo grass sprigs (Ophiopogon japonicus) at the edges of a portion of the bed to add texture and depth and then completed the garden with a nice thick cover of my birthday present (pine straw mulch!)
In mid-September I stepped out the back door and the most spectacular scent slipped up my nose. The fragrance was light and spicy and a little fruity and had it been a flavor it would have been delicious to eat. Sniffing for the source, my nose led me to the big loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica ) that's out behind the shed. This is a beautiful broadleaf evergreen whose fragrant flowers begin to appear in late summer and throughout autumn. These will be followed by small (but tasty) smooth skinned yellow fruits with large seeds. The loquat is one of my favorite trees and I have about a half dozen of them scattered around in small groves. Some are seedlings that a neighbor gave me and a couple others are selected varieties (name long forgotten) that have superior, less fibrous fruit. If the first frost holds off until January the loquats will have time to ripen although here in Zone 8 they often get zapped. Even fruitless, though, the loquat is a handsome small evergreen tree of many talents and to catch its scent adrift in a cool breeze a treat.
Other favorites of the season that we're enjoying now include the brilliant orange firebush (Hamelia patens), and the power-pink Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). The Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is dripping with sulfur butterflies (dogface and cloudless!) as is the blazing red firespike (Odontonema strictum) which is also hugely admired by hummingbirds. All of these species in fact attract butterflies and there's nothing prettier than when the garden is awash in multicolored swirly motions.
The beautiful but evil yellow rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata ) is blooming and it's driving both me and the local bees insane (see photo). This tree produces volunteer seedlings by the thousands choking flower beds and requiring more pull for removal than I care to do. Some even germinated on the roof in piles of leaves where their roots grew under the shingles and created a leak! If the chain saw wasn't broken this handsome but messy slob would already be gone. Now it must go, one way or the other, before it unleashes another generation into the world. This tree is a gonner. Even though it is very showy, do not plant this invasive thug in Florida. This tree is often sold in discount garden centers, so before you buy one check locally to insure that the yellow rain tree is not a pest in your area too.
On the last evening of the month my nose detected another sweet scent - it was the night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) at last in bloom! The night cestrum, as it is also called, is a tropical evergreen that is killed back to the ground each winter here in Zone 8. It is root hardy though and returns year after year but typically takes six or seven months after cold weather has passed before it will bloom. From now until the first frost I'll make it a point to enjoy my cestrum, one of the most fragrant plants on the planet!
There's not much in the way of tasty things for me to harvest this year. Squirrels ate every one of the Japanese persimmons (Diospyros kaki) on my tree (grrrrrr). The pomegranate (Punica granatum) down by the Catfish Pond is still recovering from a late freeze that killed it back two years ago. It did bloom this year - but not until this month so there's no way we'll have pomegranates this year.
The figs (Ficus carica) ended production this month and I sacrificed some Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) that was destined for a pasta salad to some hungry caterpillars. The "wildlives" are having a much more abundant harvest than I. The flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) set a heavy crop of fruit this year and I've observed squirrels going berserk harvesting, eating and hiding the bright red fruits. Stems of American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) are leaning under the weight of their shiny loads of lavender berries.
Steve has his beautyberries growing co-mingled with hearts-a-burstin (with-love!) (Euonymus americanus) in a woodsy part of the garden where they combine in a burst of bright color that is complemented by a nearby trio of arrow-wood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum). These are loaded with big black berries that sparkling against bright yellowish-green foliage that will eventually make a delicious dish for one critter or another.
This month's deer damage was really discouraging so it was nice to have Floridata to work on to distract my attention from the devastation. The other nice things about working on Floridata is that there's air conditioning, no bugs biting, no sunburn and no snakes sneaking up freaking me out. The bad thing is that we're just starting up as a "real" business so there's not much money resulting in poverty. [Update 2015 - still poor, still "starting up"! ]
Just like the gopher tortoise though, Floridata will forge on with determination growing bigger and better. In October I'll continue upgrading our oldest Profiles with new photos and information. We have some new Plant Profiles on the way too. [Update 2015 - we upgraded all of the old Profiles and have added hundreds of new Profiles since 2003! ]
Visit often this fall and please bring your friends with you. Thanks for your time and for visiting Floridata. If you come back I promise to not be so grumpy! Thank you for your support and encouragement. Be good and grow! - October 5, 2003 Jack