Mom Nature Lights My Fire

This plant appeared in my garden a couple of years ago. I thought it was some sort of Amaranthus blown in from across the Atlantic Ocean and decided to leave it to see what happened. Amaranthus can have some interesting flowers (Love Lies Bleeding, etc.) The foliage started getting red around the edges, confirming my thoughts, then the stems started getting woody. Maybe it wasn’t Amaranthus at all.

Then it flowered.


Definitely not an Amaranth. Not a clue what it was. So, I took this to the Native Plant Society meeting and they said Firebush. Hamelia patens var patens? I said no, it couldn’t be, this is my Firebush, Hamelia patens. Orange flowers and the leaves are half as big.


Firebush and Friend

Then it dawned on me, there is a great deal of arguing about the true native Firebush. I  usually ignore this kind of argument being more designer than botanist, but think I am agreeing with the Hamelia patens var patens crowd. The orange flowering one is supposed to be from the Caribbean somewhere instead of Florida. Given the seemingly magical appearance of the patens var patens in my garden, I think that the red one is the native.

Mother Nature really is a good designer, she placed the Native Red Firebush in a bed of red and yellow Heliconias behind some yellow Beach Sunflowers and across from some red Bromeliads. Perfect.


Now if everything would just grow together. And be happy.


Bromeliads for the Treasure Coast- Divide and Conquer

I have learned a great deal about Bromeliads since starting my garden four years ago. Prior to moving to Florida, I only knew a few varieties of Bromeliads and this was from designing shopping mall interiors in the eighties. Guzmanias were (and still are) a great plant for interiorscape. Oddly enough, while they will grow here, I have no Guzmanias. I think they are kind of boring. I like the kind of indestructible, passalong, highly reproductive Bromeliads. The kinds you don’t see in shopping malls. The more unusual the Bromeliad, the better. This could prove to be a bad idea in the long run. I could grow really old here and end up with Martian Planet landscape.

Bromeliads above are: the flower of a Painted Fingernail Aechmea, a common passalong in South Florida, the spotted one is a common Neoregelia (from a garage sale) of some sort, the burgundy one is Burgundy Aechmea. The below Bromeliad is a ‘Blanchetiana’, another Aechmea passed along to me from a neighbor. All thrive here with little care.

My latest venture in the garden has been to add swirling patterns of shells and rocks weaving through the garden. First, I like shells and rocks and second, I detest mulch, not for looks, but for me having to schlep bags of bark through the yard – usually when the weather is tropical steaming. I really just won’t do it and go back inside and plot some other indoor task. The result of this is weedy unkempt beds. So the strands of rocks and shells are being woven through the garden and ribbons of groundcover and tightly planted perennials are going to be installed to hopefully cut down on the maintenance (weeding) and the mulching. I have placed cardboard boxes under all of it to hopefully break the weed cycle.

The correct time of year to divide Bromeliads is the beginning of the growing season, which in South Florida is Fall/ Winter. I have been working on doing this and have divided several and (here’s a surprise) bought some pups last week at the botanical garden. Neoregelia Martin and the popular Blanchtiana Aechmeas have been divided and installed in their shell garden. Both these Bromeliads flourish in full sun, the Blanchetianas are available in Orange, Lemon and Raspberry. I have an Orange and Lemon, I am not quite sure about the Raspberry. The divided Bromeliads are in the left picture; here is a close up of Martin, who is a Neoregelia – doesn’t flower, but the foliage and sun tolerance make Martin worthwhile to have in the garden.


I am trudging onward in dividing, but have yet to conquer.

Proper Attire for H***strip Gardening

I learned a new term this week: Hellstrip. Hellstrip refers to the baking hot area between the street and sidewalk or driveway. A book has been published about these gardens and there is a Facebook page. Hellstrip has hit social media! Usually narrow and not easily watered these areas require some special consideration and are difficult for gardeners to conquer.

I had not realized I even had a HELLSTRIP and the truth is I kind of like it. When my husband and I bought our house there was a Jacaranda in the strip that could literally be seen through. The top of the tree had been blown out and the crotch had rotted to the point you could catch glimpses of the house through the trunk from the street. Fearing an unstructurally sound tree, I had the Jacaranda removed. What grew under the tree might kindly be referred to as sand spurs.

The sand spurs took a bit of work to get rid of as nothing really kills them except removal and they reseed heavily. Gallons of vinegar later and with the construction of a new driveway, I had a blank palette.

With a bit of research and observation I determined the plant list and began to install.

First, a native and very drought tolerant tree, The Gumbo Limbo. Gumbo Limbos are wonderful Shade Trees but pretty basic. Then to the underplantings, I searched native beach plants and looked for extremely tolerant passalongs, here is what I found:

The Sunflowers and Muhly Grass are native, the rest are imports that are very drought tolerant. Worst comes to worst, I can make some tequila from the Agave..

Dune Sunflower Helianthus debilis

Dune Sunflower
Helianthus debilis

Painted Fingernail Bromeliad

Painted Fingernail

Blue Agave

Blue Agave

Martin Bromeliad

Martin Bromeliad

Muhly Grass

Muhly Grass

The composition might seem a bit weird, but I have color year round and throw some water around every now and again. All the plants are doing well, with no irrigation whatsoever and growing in the poorest excuse for soil I have ever encountered.

Now, the question, the attire for Hellstrip Gardening, I propose this:

Animal Print Bustiers

Animal Print Bustiers

Maybe worn with Combat boots? I’ve been meaning to get a tattoo, maybe of my favorite Bromeliad….


Muhly Grass – Muhlenbergia capillaris or filipes

Muhly Grass

Muhly Grass

I planted Muhly Grass recently for its interesting pink mist fall flowers and reputation for indestructibility. The Grass started blooming nearly as soon as I planted it in September and has been slowly filling out with misty pink plumes. This is an interesting grass – it grows as far north as Massachusetts west to Kansas and south to Florida. A huge range, at least 5 USDA hardiness zones, apparently with a native habitat on the edges of marshes. I found in previous attempts that it is virtually impossible to grow in heavy clay soil. So, it should be really happy in my front yard atop a sand dune.

I am getting a feeling I might have to water it a bit. Plants that are designated drought tolerant with conditions usually are not as drought tolerant as you would like.

Another common name for this is Sweetgrass, supposedly when dried it has a sweet fragrance like hay. I haven’t noticed the smell, but I haven’t dried any either. I think I prefer the Sweetgrass name to Muhly Grass. Muhly sounds like beer or something. Muhly Ale?!

This grass is the source of material for basketry by the Seminole Indians in Florida and the famous Sweetgrass baskets of the Low Country of South Carolina. The Low Country basketry tradition was started by slaves from West Africa imported to the American South to work in the rice plantations in the 1800s. The tradition continues and to this day sweetgrass baskets are made and sold in the Low Country. The grass is sewn in ropes, then coiled to make a basket – a time consuming task that produces a beautiful basket.

According to the Seminole tribe website they started making sweetgrass baskets 60 years ago. Their baskets are based on grass from the Everglades, which is dried and constructed in a similar way to the Low Country baskets.

Given that I now possess a mass of Muhly I might try a basket. I suspect this is a lot harder than I think it is.. and my backyard has been blessed with an overabundance of Muscadines (a native grape) – the local wildlife population eats all the fruit, but I have such a large amount of grapevine I may take up basketweaving or wreathmaking..

Garden Paradise

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I think the ancient Persians were the original purveyors of the term paradise. It translates to something along the lines of walled enclosure. I agree that a walled enclosure can be a garden paradise, but I find my idea of garden paradise has changed over time.

My first garden was about 100 square feet behind an urban townhouse my husband and I had when we first married. My husband had bought the townhouse when he was single. The garden consisted of a 8 x 8 foot slab of concrete with a telephone pole in the middle and dirt around the sides; he used it as motorcycle parking. There were french doors that looked out on this not very scenic view.

I built a garage for the motorcycle incorporating the telephone pole, bricked the slab of concrete and put 2 tree form roses in big pots at the back of the spaceparadise found. Unfortunately, the tree roses only looked beautiful maybe two months out of the year. But those two months were spectacular. This also cured my desire to grow roses for the most part. The townhouse was sold and we moved to the suburbs for space and quiet.

My next garden was more ambitious a – 1/3 acre suburban lot with a vegetable parterre, water garden, a waterfall and perennial beds. I enjoyed creating the garden, but, after 17 years, it was just too much work. The couple who bought the house were 10 or 15 years younger, had 5 kids were excited about the garden and planned to add a pizza oven.  Paradise found and lost again..

The Vegetable Parterre

The Vegetable Parterre

The Vegetable Parterre was another one of those things that looked great two months out of the year – but had the added bonus of providing vegetables and herbs. Eventually the parterre disappeared and it was mostly a kitchen garden with herbs.

The Fish Pond

The Fish Pond

I enjoyed the fish pond for a number of years, but it leaked, and leaked and I fixed it and fixed itthis cured me of water features, in the ground anyway.

My current garden paradise is a work in progress. My goal is more hardscape, more perennials and less maintenance. Still working on it…



Winter Containers for South Florida

Here comes the Work Shop

Here comes the Work Shop

My husband likes to work with his hands, when we moved to South Florida there wasn’t enough room in our house for a workshop so we had one craned it. The picture is the shop being lifted over the house..I’ll get to the containers in a minute.

The shop ends up looking a bit like a trailer but with some landscaping and a porch it fits in. These sheds are fairly common in South Florida, I have never seen them before – they are even built and attached to the ground to resist hurricanes.

The whole adventure left me feeling a bit like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Maybe in reverse.

After all this, my husband who has clearly been living with me too long decided he wanted some flower pots (containers if you are a landscape professional) on his shop porch. I put some containers together with the usual suspects last year sometime – yes, the annuals last that long here. It seems crazy to me as well. They last so long you get tired of them. When I lived further north I always did the containers twice a year, changed the colors with the seasons and enjoyed the variety.

Imagine my surprise when the old summer reliables, Bronzeleaf Begonias, rolled over and died in the summer heat. Time to revise thinking to plants that live in say, the Sahara. Pentas and Lantanas. I had gotten bored with Lantanas in Atlanta and really still am, they just smell funny. If I want fragrance, that is so not it.

The Lantana and Pentas were pooping out so I was trolling around in our yard to see what I could find to replace the spent annuals. One of the fun things about living in Florida is you never know what you might find growing in the yard. Boston Fern grows wild in the side yard so I dug a start of that and then found some Purple Wandering Jew (Zebrina), a Burgundy Bromeliad and an unknown groundcover Bromeliad (from a garage sale) that needed to be divided  and added them to the ‘Florida Friendly’ (this is a Florida Extension Service sort of approved plant) chartreuse Sedum that was already in the pots. As an aside, who ever heard of a sedum that does well in partial shade – this does. Whatever it is.

Groundcover Bromeliad and Sedum

Groundcover Bromeliad and Sedum

Voila, a purple and chartreuse themed container garden. The Bromeliads seem to be perennial in containers – the big Burgundy one was divided from a container I have had on my front porch for a year or so – I started with one and now there are three in there. You just never know what you will find growing outside…

Newly planted containers

Newly planted containers