In A Vase on Monday – Zinnias & Veg

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It is a happy Sunday in my garden. The winter vegetables are ripening and the Zinnias are flowering. This is the first week of February and, as a lifelong resident of the Northern Hemisphere, seems a bit odd to me- having Zinnias and vegetables from the garden. We have been eating lettuce, cabbage, herbs, green beans and radishes from my garden; peppers, potatoes and snow peas are coming soon.

 

A major consideration when moving to Florida is the total avoidance of winter and we moved to South Florida for its lack thereof. So far, so good. The Zinnias started to flower a week or two ago, not very impressive so I let them go. Now, I wish I had planted more seed and will go to search for more Cactus Zinnia seed. I admit, to being a (former) Zinnia snob. I grew Mexican Zinnias (Z.linearis or now,angustifolia) in containers for years -always considering the other types, pedestrian.

I announce my love for the pedestrian Zinnia! Who wouldn’t fall in love with these cheerful pink and orange flowers? I have, years too late.

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The pink and orange flowers are Cactus Zinnias. Funky orange and red flowers,  our native Gallardias that have just started back up. Foliage is from the vegetable garden, green leaves from Chinese Cabbage, darker ferny foliage from Copper Fennel. Glass container, an heirloom from my mother- I am certain she would join me in being thrilled with the Zinnias and Winter Veg.

Happy Monday.

Another Lovely Surprise

Liebster Award Logo (2014-12-30)

 

My year end blogging  just gets better everyday, this is the last day – so this is it. I was nominated for a Liebster Award by railwayparade.wordpress.com. Thank you for the nomination and thank everyone for reading. One of the required Liebster questions has totally stumped me so I will get to that part later.

I was just out in the garden with my hounds in the rain thinking I will take pictures of what is blooming to share for the first blog of the new year. 2015. Wow. Seems like just yesterday I was sitting in elementary school thinking about how old (nearly dead!) I was going to be in the year 2000 and here it is 15 years later.

It is really time for some champagne! Happy New Year Everyone

Amy

The Shrub Queen

One Lovely Blog Award

I received a delightful year end gift from one of my favorite bloggers in the UK.

Chloris of thebloominggarden.wordpress.com nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award.

Thank you, Chloris.

One Lovely Blog Award Logo

To accept the award you must share 5 things about yourself, and nominate 5 bloggers for the award, here goes:

1.  I detest frozen precipitation of any kind.

2.  I enjoy cooking. I bake all our bread, make pasta and start thinking about dinner soon after eating lunch.

3.  I love fresh herbs on my food, my husband has begun referring to this as “yard clippings”

4.  I love dogs, Greyhounds, especially and design my gardens to accommodate the dogs.

5. I love the Ginger app because I am lousy at punctuation. I nearly flunked out of the University of Georgia for my inability to use commas (OK, that was overly dramatic – got called to the Dean’s office). If I win an Oscar for writing, I will probably say something vile about my English 101 teacher in my acceptance speech. Oddly enough, I am a good speller and misspelled words offend me.

My five favorite bloggers to nominate for this award are:

railwayparade.wordpress.com

smallhousebiggarden.wordpress.com

deliciousdaydreams.wordpress.com

treasurecoastnatives.wordpress.com

cynthiasreyes.com

Thanks again for the nomination, Chloris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Fruits

Passionflower

Passionflower

Here it is almost December and I walked out into my backyard to find a Passionflower in full bloom and fruiting. Very nice and so typical of the landscape in South Florida. Just when you are wrapping your brain around the fact that the holidays are here and the temperature outside is around 80 degrees – there is a Passionflower.

I was wondering if this was a culinary Passionfruit and apparently it is not. This is called a May Pop in northern climes. My father in law was from Northern Ohio and one of his favorite childhood memories was stomping May Pops on the way home from school. Probably in May and not December.

Passionfruit comes from Passiflora edulis, which is native to South America. The North American version is Passiflora incarnata, the May Pop. There are an additional eight varieties native to North America, the culinary variety is tropical and may be grown in South Florida.

Ponciana Pods

Poinciana Pods

Here is some more interesting fruit. These are the dried pods of the Royal Poinciana tree, a member of the bean family. The pods are about two feet long and I enjoy spray painting them a metallic color and using them in Holiday decorations. I am truly getting in touch with my inner Martha Stewart.

The last bit of strange fruit I spotted at my local library. I have watched these trees bloom for the past couple of years, but had not noticed the fruit (it is strange that I did not notice this fruit)

Golden Shower Fruit

Golden Shower Fruit

My husband was snickering when I showed him this photo. It is pretty strange fruit, the whole thing is around 3 feet long and looks like someone has been making green sausages and hanging them on the tree. The tree is a Golden Shower (Cassia fistula) – in the spring and summer it has chains of yellow flowers that resemble Hawaiian leis hanging down from the branches. Beautiful and kind of peculiar. Like many things in South Florida.

Sisal Agave – Agave sisalana

I always enjoy learning a new plant. Especially an interesting one.

Sisal Agave
I see these huge, somewhat unattractive Agaves around and had been wondering what they were. While searching for an ID of another Agave a friend gave me, this one popped up. The Sisal Agave. The photo above is taken on an undeveloped lot. The Agave in nearly 5′ tall and wide and not very sharp, aesthetically or needle wise.

I learned this is the source of sisal; a common fiber used to make rope, twine, rugs, textiles and even dart boards. Sisal is named for the Port of Sisal on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Botanists seem at odds over the origins of the Sisal Agave but Mexico seems the most likely place to me.

Reading further on the Sisal Agave I found that it was brought to the Florida Keys for cultivation in the 1800’s and like many other horticultural oops we have here it escaped and became an invasive plant. Hence its appearance on a vacant lot.

Sisal is picked a leaf at a time stacked and then processed with a device called a raspador, a rotating wheel of knives that beat the fiber out of the plant. This device seems like something that would be used in the plot of a James Bond movie. I can image Goldfinger with the raspador over James Bonds’ head, threatening him at a Sisal plantation hiding a secret Soviet installation.

Of course, James Bond would use the rope to kill Goldfinger and then escape by swinging over the river while saving a nearly naked glamourous nuclear scientist. 

I guess everybody needs a little Sisal.

Yellow Butterfly Ginger – Hedychium flavum

Yellow Butterfly Ginger

 

This is the Yellow Butterfly Ginger as opposed to Ginger Lilies or White Butterfly Ginger. I can’t recall exactly where this came from. I had some Ginger Lilies a very old lady gave me in Atlanta, but I was afraid of importing those to South Florida for fear of being overrun. So, I left the Ginger Lilies in my garden in Atlanta, I think the new owner built a pizza oven over top of them. This particular lady who gifted me the Ginger Lilies identified the plant by the fact that the root looked like an old shoe.

Back to Florida, this very fragrant plant started to bloom last week and to me it smells like a really intense Honeysuckle. Very pleasant. I had to search a bit to figure out what Ginger this is exactly. I finally decided it was Hedychium flavum based on the identifying feature of hairy leaves and yellow flowers. The flowers start out white with yellow centers, then the whole flower turns creamy yellow by the end of the day. I hadn’t realized the leaves were hairy until now.

The plant is about 4-5 feet tall and lives in the shade of a good sized Banyan Tree. Almost everything I have read about these says they require a moist site. I live on a gigantic sand dune so there is no really moist area here, this is the closest thing we have to moist and it is working fine so far. The Ginger has been in the garden for about a year and has probably doubled in size and was evergreen through the winter. The foliage is kind of grassy and makes a nice backdrop for Bromeliads or Ferns. The roots look like reddish culinary ginger, but I have not had the occasion to eat any – they do not remind me of old shoes at all.

Culinary Ginger is a Zingiber as opposed to a Hedychium. This can be grown from roots bought from the grocery store.  I have tried this and ended up with a plant about 18″ tall and enough ginger for my husband to use in a Pumpkin Pie. While I am a devoted herb grower, I find buying ginger at the grocery store is best.

Florida Gardenia – Tabernae montana divaricata

Florida Gardenia

Florida Gardenia

This is the first pleasant fragrance I noted after buying our house in South Florida. The existing landscape (I use that term very loosely) would (and had) sent most people running screaming from our neighborhood. The house had been vacant for 6 or 8 months and I doubt anyone had been in the backyard for several years.

The side and rear property lines were overrun with Brazilian Pepper. For you non-Floridians, this is the weed tree, the bane of South Florida. Cheerfully imported by someone who did not realize they had opened Pandora’s Box. This plant can grow 10 feet in a year and overruns nearly anything in its path.

One very late night I was in the back yard with my ancient greyhound and noticed a delightful smell. I knew it wasn’t the dog so I decided to investigate the next day. I found a plant that looked like a Gardenia with the foliage Xerox enlarged and the white flowers reduced in size a bit and in groups. Very nice dark foliage with a coarse texture and a very nice fragrance, especially at night. 

We have managed to get rid of most of the Pepper trees and I cut the Florida Gardenia back pretty hard after I unearthed it from the Pepper. It is (I think) going to be a 8 or so foot tall tree form shrub. 

It turns out this is not really a Gardenia at all but a member of the Dogbane family from India and a relative of Frangipani. True Gardenias are members of the Coffee family and relatives of the native Wild Coffee in Florida. More fun facts to know and tell.

Having suffered alongside Gardenias and Dwarf Gardenias in my garden in Atlanta, Death and puniness by cold, fungus, mold, flies and sheer perversity. I am doubtful I would have planted any on the Treasure Coast. Given the area this shrub is growing in (no irrigation and overrun with Pepper) and all I have done is cut this back; I am thinking this is a pretty tough shrub; I have decided to work on the pruning a bit, maybe feed it and see what happens

The Dreaded Lubber Grasshopper

 

Lubber on a Cross Tie

Lubber on a Cross Tie

 

Here is another joy of living on the peninsula known as Florida. The Lubber Grasshoppers. The first one of these I saw was another one of those “What the hell is that?” moments. Grasshoppers, in my experience were about maybe 3″ long. These things are biblical plague sized and seemingly armored with orange and yellow warpaint as well. Scary looking and they can eat an astonishing number of holes in your favorite plants to boot.

Eventually, even if you hate to, you will squish these things. I was walking my spotted hound, Charles, the other night and one of my neighbors was throwing things in the shrubbery whilst loudly apologizing to God. I knew what she was doing immediately. Squashing Lubbers, the crunch gives it away. Another neighbor’s theory is that karma gets you instantly when you squish one of the grasshoppers because of the smell they exude when crushed.

My curiosity aroused, I checked into this. It seems Lubbers have a gland that exudes a toxin that is poisonous to most things that might eat them. One bird, a Loggerhead Shrike, bites their heads off, (the poison is in the middle) impales them on something thorny or a fence, lets the poison dry out and then eats the grasshopper. This explained the decapitated grasshopper I found in my Pygmy Date Palm. Unfortunately, the bird never came back to finish his or her lunch.

To the misfortune of my Heliconias the Lubbers have found them apparently Heliconia leaves are a gourmet treat. When I first read about these bugs it was recommended to drown them in a bucket of soapy water. I tried that, but it seemed unnecessarily cruel and I ended up with a bucket of dead, soapy grasshoppers that I had to figure out what to do with. Ugh. A better solution is an old pair of tongs, crunch and throw them in the bushes. Maybe a Shrike will find them.

 

Tabebuia – Tabebuia caraiba

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The harbinger of spring in South Florida is, in my  opinion, the Tabebuia. There are several types of Tabebuia, this is the one I associate with spring. Sometimes called the Yellow Trumpet Tree, this may remind you of Forsythia up north, which also blooms in late March. Prior to blooming, the tree drops most of its foliage and then produces buds. The Tabebuia is letting you know the show is about to begin and will last a month or so.  Bright yellow tubular flowers unfurl on gnarly, corky branches when contrasted with the cerulean blue sky overhead it is an exhilarating sight. Yellow Tabebuias reach 25 -30 feet height and width and are a good small ornamental tree for homeowners. They are sometimes available in multi trunks, which is my favorite form. Drought tolerant once established and mostly evergreen this is a great addition to your sunny landscape.

Tabebuias have an interesting family history. The Yellow version is popular in South Florida as an ornamental tree. It is native to South America where it lives in the Rain Forest. A near relative, the Ipe Tabebuia or Brazilian Walnut (Tabebuia impetiginosa) is the source of Ipe lumber and the national tree of Paraguay. The lumber is a tropical hardwood that is super resistant to the elements and lasts a long, long time outside. The weather resistance of this wood has made it very popular and its harvest is one of the elements causing deforestation in the Amazon. The Ipe Tabebuia is also the source of Pau D’Arco, an herbal medicine used for many ailments by rainforest indigenous people and was once researched as a possible cure for cancer. The Ipe is a pink flowering version that will also grow in South Florida, but is somewhat less cold hardy and taller than the Yellow Tabebuia.

In Praise of Cabbage Palms

Looking up

Looking up to the Heart of the Palm

One of the pleasures of living in Florida is waking up almost any morning, walking out into my backyard to watch the soft yellow sunlight illuminate the canopy of the Cabbage Palm rendering its shadows almost russet. The much maligned but indestructible Cabbage Palm.  I have no idea how old this palm is but I am certain no one planted it. A native of the peninsula, the state tree of Florida and perhaps the most common Palm in the state it will always have a place in my heart.

I have always referred to these as Sabal Palms; because of their botanical name – Palmetto sabal. They are called Cabbage Palms in reference to Swamp Cabbage, which in culinary terms is Hearts of Palm. I love Hearts of Palm but rarely eat it as a Palm tree gave its life for my salad. Palms are monocots, more closely related to grass than trees and only have one growing point, the apical meristem, botanically speaking. If this is removed the entire tree dies. The growing point is in the middle of the fronds, hence the name Hearts of Palm. Have a heart, save a Palm tree’s life and go for the artichokes instead.

These Palms usually attain a height of 30 feet, but can grow up to 60 feet tall. Cabbage Palms are not self cleaning and need trimming to maintain a neat appearance. Or just leave it untrimmed and say it is a bat habitat to control the mosquito population. That would be true. Just stay in the house during high winds.

Native Americans used these Palms for many things, roof thatch from the fronds, brooms and brushes from the sisally parts of the boot, the trunks were used for pilings in the water and bread was made from the seeds.  However , they did not eat the hearts..until Europeans arrived with metal tools. If you had been eating palm seed bread, I am betting the Hearts of Palm seemed really tasty.