November 2001 Gardener's Journal
November here started out kinda crappy but improved as the month progressed. I spent the first week germ-ridden with a cold. Mid month found me working overtime two weekends and left me crabby and stressed. Things greatly improved over the Thanksgiving holidays when I drove up to Kentucky to see the family (no, I'm not afraid to fly but I am afraid of waiting in long lines!) So there wasn't much time left to work in the garden, or on Floridata, but I did manage to hack out my November Journal.
Even though I didn't have much time to enjoy it, the growin around here has been close to perfect. Nice rain showers and moderate temperatures sent many of the palms and shrubs into growth spurts (up to 8" increase in height for some!). The evergreens are now greener than ever providing a stunning backdrop for those plants in bloom or in autumn color. Here where I garden, nature plays a mean trick almost every year. Our summer annuals and tender tropicals look their best just before first frost, thanks to more moderate temperatures and (usually) more rain. Then, just when they are at their most handsome, a cold snap barrels through and clobbers them to mush. Every year I know its going to happen and every year I get angry and have a tantrum when it does.
In mid-November temperatures dropped to the low thirties on a couple of nights. Some of the more exposed tender plants got a little frostbit but they've all rebounded superbly in the past two weeks. In last month's Journal I pessimistically predicted we'd get our first frost on December 6th here at Floridune. Now I'm changing my prediction to January 6th because I'm in a better mood (and also because it is December 5th as I write this - late again...)
In Bloom at Floridune
November in North Florida is when some of our showiest native species are in bloom. Dozens of species vie for attention from roadsides, fields and forest. All full o'flowers and ready for your admiration are members of the aster family, gayfeathers and one of my favorites, the blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum). This fellow is an intense true blue and is often encountered in ditches and moist areas. I planted some in a relatively dry, shady spot under an oak where it has thrived for ten years. The plant tends to wilt some during drought in our light sandy soil but always bounces back when better times (moisture) return. I'm very pleased that my mistflower reseeded itself in another dry area about 100 yards away. I think this admirably demonstrates what a durable and adaptable species this is. In fact, it is such a robust grower that it can be downright invasive in a well tended garden. I recommend growing it where it can be conveniently neglected. The big bunch of mistflower that volunteered up on my hill has electric blue flowers that fluoresce against the gray-blue of the deodar cedars it has chosen as neighbors. I love accidental garden designs like this and always tell people that "I planned it this way" so they will think me more clever than I really am.
I'm sure not clever enough to confine my gardening efforts to frost hardy plants. I love growing the tender tropicals and they perform well here in our long hot and humid summers. Inevitably though winter wrecks my tender beauties and sends me into a week's worth of annoyance and depression. Some grow back from the roots, some grow only into memories. Many of the jasmines, begonias, angel's trumpet and princess flower grow back here in Zone 8 so I shouldn't get so bummed. Still it is a shock to see a six foot clump of umbrella plant reduced to a puddled pile of goo overnight. Not as shocking, because it happens so frequently, is the devastation wrought by dining deer upon my formerly fabulous firespike, white mandevilla, skyflower vine and 'Rocket' snapdragons. I hate deer.
One plant that the deer haven't tasted is my Dutchman's pipe vine because it is chock full of poisonous compounds. This toxic beauty disappointed me all summer long by failing to produce a single flower. These exotic calico covered creations are shaped like Sherlock Holmes' curvy pipe and I wanted to take some new pictures - plus I just miss seeing them. Right after Thanksgiving I spied a few of the Dutchman's spent pipes wilting on the ground. I looked up. Then I looked up some more and was delighted to see that the vine had scrambled some seven feet up through a photinia shrub. From there it snagged a tree branch and launched itself into the canopy of an oak tree. Dozens of flowers are dangling twenty-five feet above the ground. They are a sight to behold even as viewed with my squinting eyes through blurry bifocals. A bit of pruning this coming spring will keep the vine down to earth so there'll be blossoms at ground level for me to admire and photograph next summer.
Keeping the flower display where it can be enjoyed is a challenge when growing some of the larger, rowdier vines. The increasingly popular moonflower vine is an example. If planted beneath a tree, for instance, this vine will scramble up into the canopy so it can bloom in the sunlight. Better to plant them where they can scramble along a fence or atop a hedge so you can see the show. I eagerly planted my first moonflowers when I moved to Florida and I remember complaining (for several years) that they weren't blooming. Then one evening as I watched a huge owl fly about, I happen to glance up. There, high in the treetops, huge white blossoms glowed in the dusk like a flock of full moons - they were there just above my head all along! So when planting these large vines remember that you'll want to train them so that they'll bloom where you can see them (and for some like the moonflower vine, where you an enjoy their fragrance).
There wasn't much time for garden projects in November but I did get to witness the armadillos partially destroy last month's project, a new bed of pansies. Every year around this time armadillos take up residence under my house. I have no idea what becomes of them in the summertime but they are not missed. For the past month they've grubbed up pathways and flower beds using their stupid ugly snouts to drill cone shaped craters into the earth. My pansy bed is now as pockmarked as an Afghan hillside after a carpet bomb attack. The good news is that I think one of the armadillos has died of unnatural causes (see next section).
The Lawn Chair
Lately whenever I pass by the chimney a feathery rocket bursts forth from the tangle of creeping fig vine that covers it. I think it's one of the neighborhood owls and it startles the hell out of me every time. It took up residence with us a few months ago when we got satellite TV. In addition my house leaks a lot of heat so the owl feels lucky to have found such a warm and entertaining home for the winter.
I didn't mind sharing my chimney with the owl since I don't use the fireplace any way (I'm too lazy to clean up the ashes). However owls are traditionally associated with bad luck and who needs more of that? I'm finding bits of feather, fur and bone in the area confirming that the owl has indeed brought extreme bad luck to several local critters. Bad luck for me came in the form of animal body parts decomposing in the chimney. Yech, I wish the owl would take care not to spill food because it smells rotten for days and I gag easily. Much more of this and my urge to use the fireplace may return...
A bit more bad luck arrived near the end of the month when Sam the beagle squeezed into the crawl space under my office to take a nap. Shortly thereafter I heard a thump and the floor shook. Sammy barked, there was commotion and then quiet. I guessed immediately that Sam had surprised one of the idiot armadillos. When frightened they jump into the air where they bang their heads on the bottoms of cars and office floors often bringing their lives to abrupt conclusions. So this bad luck was mostly for that cluster-crater-creating armadillo.
The good luck for me was one less armadillo to trash the gardens. The bad luck is that I have a rapidly rotting remains malodorously scenting my space with the sicky-sweet stench of decomposing 'dillo. Perhaps if I get rid of the creeping fig vine the owl will feel exposed and vulnerable and he'd leave and take his bad luck with him! Although, if the owl were to develop a taste for armadillo maybe we could come to an arrangement...
Apologies and Thanks
Again I apologize to those whose wrote last month. I try to respond to as many messages as possible but I have little free time anymore (and you all tend to ask stuff that I don't know anyway :)
But it's great hearing from you and I appreciate receiving your corrections, suggestions and encouragement. I especially want to thank those who bought voluntary subscriptions to Floridata in November. It's this financial support and vote of confidence that keeps us going. Someday when the economy improves I'll find a business partner and transform Floridata into a real company but until then we remain dependent on the kindness of our regular visitors.
I wish you all a safe and enjoyable holiday season. Please visit Floridata when you need a soothing respite from hectic holiday activities and don't forget to tell your friends about us. Be good and grow in the spirit of the season.
John "Jack" Scheper 11/30/01