October 2001 Gardener's Journal
October was a frightfully hectic and challenging month for me as I suspect it was for most Americans. Working overtime on my day job, doing Floridata on weekends and obsessing over current events in the evening left me little time to enjoy the garden this month. What a cruel irony because it's in times like these when the soothing nurture of nature is needed most. Sitting at my desk I've found myself craving the smell of dirt and leaf mold and the organic fragrance of the swamplands. I've fantasized about wandering across dew wetted pastures, kicking clods asunder with my clunky boots and raking mountains of pine needles for mulch. Pretty weird stuff to fantasize about! I wondered if this meant I wasn't sufficiently grounded. So as part of my mental hygiene program, I grounded myself last weekend by planting a bed of blue and white pansies. I put in dozens of them, my back got sore and the puppy stomped on half of them soon after but it was worth the effort. But happily the flattened plants are already bouncing back, no doubt due to the fact they were planted in the lazy compost bed that I made last summer (see July's Journal entry). They're just now starting to bud so I'll have a big bed of happy-faced pansies in about a week. I just wish the puppy wasn't so cute - then I would yell at her more enthusiastically thereby sparing my garden plants much pain and grief...
Fabulous Fragrances @ Floridune
Another therapeutic activity that I enjoy is called "wandering aimlessly about". Last weekend while wandering about the yard, my nose caught hints of several fragrances mingling in the breeze. I traced them to their sources and was surprised to discover just how many fragrant flowers bloom here in autumn.
For a short period last summer I lost my sense of smell and since I've become more aware of odors both good and bad. Perhaps that is why, after growing it for twelve years, I finally noticed the delicate sweet fragrance of the silverthorn shrub (Elaeagnus pungens) for the first time. Pleasantly discernible even from a distance it reminds me somewhat of hyacinth. From fifty feet away, the fragrance drew me towards the shrub for a closer sniff - just like the dozens of hungry bees that were already there!
Calamondin is a tender species in the citrus family. A single plant in bloom produces enough heady fragrance to make you think you're surrounded by orange groves. I keep mine in a pot on the patio except during the coldest months when I bring it into the living room. Come December it's decorated with miniature white lights and does duty as a nontraditional Christmas tree (predecorated with bright orange fruit and waxy white flowers as ornaments). Calamondin is almost constantly in bloom, its alluring citrus scent stimulating the senses with a fruity base that explodes in a crescendo of spicy high notes - ahhhhhh, sweet!
The other tropical is a shrub/vine that I grow outdoors called the night blooming jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum). This creature of the night exudes a flamboyant fragrance that registers as an exotically sensuous floral scent from a distance but closer up the plant begins to smell like funeral home deodorizer. If you take a really big whiff of the jessamine flowers you'll get a head rush and swear it smells like cat pee! Here in Zone eight this tender perennial frosts back to the ground each year but dependably returns in spring. If this happens it will need a few months to recover and then will begin blooming around mid-summer. In the tropics, night blooming jessamine blooms in flushes throughout the year. Plant it away from patio and windows so you can enjoy its charms from a distance.
The last of our fragrant fall flowers is the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) which also produces edible fruit. This attractive evergreen tree is my second favorite evergreen broadleaf tree (my favorite is the southern magnolia). Loquat has distinctive foliage, tartly tasty fruit and these fabulously fragrant flowers. I don't believe there is anything more enjoyable than strolling in the moonlight, on a cool autumn night, intoxicated by the loquat's sweet exotic scent (and whatever else!)
Fabulous Fruits @ Floridune
Except for the pineapple guava, all of the ripe fruits here are "for the birds" (and other assorted creatures). The dogwood (Cornus florida) had an especially prolific year producing huge clusters of scarlet fruits at the tips of each stem. The sight of these brilliant bunches of berries held against a crystal blue October sky is one of my favorite autumn scenes. This in itself is enough to endear the dogwood. Toss in the spectacle of a spring flower show and it is easy to understand why dogwood is the most visited Profile in Floridata's Plant Encyclopedia (click to see the Master Plant List). [Update August 2016: blue plumbago () is the most visited Profile at the moment. ]
Another plant on Floridata's "top ten favorites" list is the American beautyberry whose vibrant purple berries have a metallic sheen not often seen in nature. This flashy fruit is a favorite of some birds and persists on the stems well after the leaves have fallen providing sustenance on into winter while managing to look gorgeous the entire time. I'm lucky that this plant is native to Floridune - I enjoy having volunteers popping up all over the place even if I must exert ongoing effort banishing beautyberry babies from my flower beds!
Another beautiful native, the dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) covers itself with thousands of tiny bright red berries this time of year. Although very attractive, most birds don't find them all that tasty this time of year. However in late winter, when the more delicious stuff is gone, many of birds develop aa sudden appreciation for them.
And lastly, the pineapple guava Feijoa sellowiana) is pretty much past its prime by the time October rolls around. I should have eaten them weeks ago when they were at their peak but the blue-green fruits blend in so well with the blue-green leaves that I fail to notice them. By October they have grown huge and are hard to miss but their juicy sweet-tart flesh is now corky and dry - blah... Actually I like eating the pineapple guava flowers better than the fruit. These are sweet and have a slightly crunchy texture. They are supposedly good on salads but I wouldn't know. This is because I usually just stand by the shrubs, both hands a'pickin the pink petals and shoveling them into my mouth. But even without tasty body parts, I'd still grow the feijoa (as it is also called) for its beauty and drought resistance.
In Bloom at Floridune
Here in North Florida, October brings a moderating of temperatures and occasional showers that resuscitate the summer annuals for an encore bloom that will last until the first frost reduces them to black mush. It is also the time when many of the tropical species that I grow "out of zone" finally begin to flower having at last recovered from the previous winter's frosty kiss. The tropical sky flower vines (Thunbergia battiscombei) recover quickly and put forth scores of blue trumpet flowers from mid-summer to present as do the firebush and plumbago.
A less-than-success story is my old purple bougainvillea (B. glabra). I've had it growing near a utility pole guy wire for the past decade. I imagined it scrambling up the wire to great heights where it would burst forth in a purple haze of papery petal-like bracts. The sorry truth is that the stupid thing only bloomed once - a sporadic and sparse display of fewer than a dozen flowers. Apparently bougainvillea is slow to recover from frost bite. Just as the plant is finally ready to produce its pretty purple display, Jack Frost shows up and clobbers it with a freeze - every year. And every year I resolve to pot it up and bring it into protective custody and every year I fail in my resolution. I hope this year I get around to it because if I do: 1) it will bloom next summer and 2) bougainvillea grows (and looks) great in containers.
Besides planting the aforementioned pansies this month I also managed to stick in a few verbenas which I never have success with in the summer. They always fall prey to some sort of fungus disease a problem that also limits my success with many of the more temperate climate grasses like eulalia (Miscanthus sinensis) varieties (which I don't want to grow anyway).
Fungus attack is an ongoing problem for many of my palms especially for the less cold hardy varieties and those from dry climate regions. Here in the winter when it gets cool and damp, the Nanorhopps ritchiana, Chamaedorea spp., Trithrinax spp. and the more tender Sabal species (like Puerto Rican hat palm and Bermuda sabal are affected. I've lost about a half dozen date palms (Phoenix dactylifera and P. canariensis) in the past year and have just about given up on them (Update 2015: did give up on them). Last winter we had record cold stretches of weather and even many of the hardier palms like pindo (Butia capitata ), European fan (Chamaerops humilis) and the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera)were attacked. So this year I resolve to be more attentive and provide weekly treatment with fungicide (so far Daconil® seems to be effective). Many of my specimens are very young and therefore most susceptible to fungus diseases. So I'll continue using fungicide to keep them healthy until they are more mature at which point they'll be able to fend for themselves.
If you recall from my August Journal that I planted some Jubaea palm seeds. So far nothing is happening with them. At the same time, however, I planted a bunch of Trachycarpus wagnerianus and Butia paraguayensis palm seeds too. Yesterday I was very happy to see that one of the T. wagnerianus had germinated! [Update 2015: over time all of the seedlings were munched on by deer after which they died from fungus (the palms not the deer)]. This one is sometimes called the dwarf Chinese windmill palm because it looks like a compact form of T. fortunei. So I'm pleased to announce that in a couple of decades I'll have a beautiful grove of dozens of dwarf windmill palms - I can't wait!
The Lawn Chair
Before I head to the lawn chair for a nap I want to apologize that I am not able to respond to the messages sent to Floridata from our visitors. As much as I would like to help, I am not in a position to recommend plants, diagnose problems or locate vendors and plant sources (sorry!) [2006 update: Floridata2.0's new features like Forums, Business Directory are being developed to help in these areas] [2015 update: I closed it all down due to spammer and hacker attacks. Working on an updated version for 2016 -maybe...] I wish I could, but Floridata is a part time activity for me and I simply don't have the time to respond to all the email (but I DO enjoy hearing from you). Eventually Floridata will transform into a "real" business whereupon we intend to become more helpful in these areas [2015 update: um, maybe...] Please don't give up on us as we're soon to grow bigger and better! Visit often and tell your friends about us.
I wish us all a safe, secure and uneventful November. Please take care of yourself and one another and always be good and grow.
John Scheper 10/31/01