Bird of Paradise Progression


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This winter I finally indulged my desire for a Bird of Paradise (Strelizia reginae), debated with myself about placement of the plant, read all sorts of conflicting recommendations, ignored most of them and planted it in a morning sun location that I pass on the daily dog walk. The greyhounds remain unimpressed.

The above picture is full bloom on the first flower. The bud teased me for about two weeks sending a straight stem up that I wasn’t sure if it was a leaf or flower bud, until it started to bend and turn orange and blue.

Thinking these were long lasting flowers I was disappointed when the flower only lasted four or five days. Much to my surprise it bloomed again on the same stem

A curious plant to begin with- I am wondering what it will do next. It seems to be shooting up another something. Stay tuned. Here is the show thus far:


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Pineapples and their Cousins


A common element in South Florida gardens is the pineapple patch. Almost everybody has one, from a northern perspective, it seems kind of weird. Grow your own pineapples? Why not? Even one of our neighbors, his yard could be described as nouveau retch, is seen regularly hand watering his pineapples.


Pineapples are in fact a Bromeliad, which are currently my favorite tropical perennial. Among the many Bromeliads I have planted that are purely ornamental I am afraid I have fallen prey to the trend and now have a pineapple patch between my citrus trees. I eat pineapple just about year round and the tops kept rooting in the compost heap. Unfortunately, the above is my patch, not too pretty.

Pineapples have an interesting history. Originally from the area where modern day Brazil is located, they moved via canoes paddled by traveling natives north to the Caribbean Islands where sea captains picked up on them and carried them home. One early accounting of the discovery of pineapple recounts a meal served by the Caribe tribe where a plate of pineapple rested next to a cauldron of boiling cannibalized humans. I think I would have asked for the fruit plate.

A status symbol on the dining tables of colonial America, pineapples were often rented for centerpieces and then sold after a few uses for eating. Thus the pineapple as a symbol of lush hospitality was born. The prevalence of pineapples as a decorative element may be explained by its being cheaper to carve decorative pineapples into bed posts or garden ornaments instead of renting them by the hour.

The Treasure Coast of Florida, the area I currently call home was once home to a large pineapple plantation. In 1895, Jensen Beach, Florida was named the Pineapple Capital of the World, shipping a million boxes of pineapples a year during the summer season. Later that year a devastating freeze decimated the crop, followed by a few tragic fires and fungal diseases that finished off the pineapple industry by 1920. Agricultural pursuits were redirected towards citrus. Wild Pineapple plants can still be seen on Hutchinson Island and are attributed to the original owner of the plantation, John Jensen.

Like many other popular plants, pineapples have also been bred for Ornamental use. Here are two prettier pineapple plants.


Gardening in the Rain


One day this week I was waiting for the rain to start so I could go work in the garden. I stopped to think – this seems really stupid, do other gardeners do this? And then went out into a gentle rain to move some Beach Sunflower around. It has been so dry lately the sandy soil has tightened its grip on roots to the point it is difficult to pry things out of the ground. Soil is an overstatement in my garden – I should face the facts, it is Sugar Sand, white, infertile and oddly capable of growing many things. I pried some intractable Johnsonsgrass out (and threw it away) then went looking for more beautiful things.

Here is what I found:


This is a Bromeliad, Billbergia pyramidalis, I think, bought as a cutting in February. I was told it would grow up the trunk of a tree. As a planted it, I was scoffing. Well, whoever told me that was absolutely correct – it is growing up the tree and much to my surprise, flowering at the same time.

This made my time in the rain worthwhile and hopefully the skies will open again soon.



In a Vase on Monday -Natives Tea Party



The copper tea kettle is one of my favorite things. I bought at a flea market on a weekend trip to the Appalachian Mountains many years ago. I am relatively certain it won’t hold water as it was repaired on the bottom and you can see through the repair. What is lovely about this kettle is the patina of many years of use with dents and hand crafted solder joints adding to its beauty. I can only speculate how many souls have been warmed by the contents of this vessel. The Blue Willow teacups are English and belonged to my grandmother, the saucers are too cracked to use and are kept for their patina as well.

As neither the cups or the kettle can be used for tea, this is a party for the natives. The native flowers in the kettle, of course. The arrangement is primarily native plants of South Florida, the yellow flowers are Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis), the orange tubular flowers are Firebush (Hamelia patens), Boston Fern, the purple foliage is Purple Hearts (Setcresea pallida), native to North America says the Florida plant database, and joining the party some Painted Fingernail Bromeliad foliage with the cerise tips, from somewhere south of the border.

As I was arranging the flowers in a pickle jar to place inside the kettle, it occurred to me I should go antiquing to see if I could find some copper friends to join the kettle.

In A Vase on Monday – Spring Renovations



Here is the Spring part. I put this vase together and thought ‘wow, that really looks like a fresh spring arrangement’. The bright pink flowers with baby Boston fern fronds and some bits of cream Begonias and foliage spoke to me of new beginnings in the garden.

The pink flowers are a new beginning. They are from a Coral Vine (Antigon leptopus) on a nearby fence. This vine is native to Mexico and considered invasive in South Florida, the owners of the fence are snowbirds, winter visitors from the frozen north, and come to Florida for the winter. This vine is unapologetically immolated annually and I have never seen another one around. To the owner’s delight, I cut it back for the flowers. It started to flower just about the time the owners went back north, to my delight.

The rest of the arrangement is comprised of – in white and chartreuse, the flowers and seeds of the Sweet Begonia (Begonia odorata ‘Alba’). The foliage is my ever present Boston Fern, the new spring growth, some culinary Fennel and the variegated is from Hawaiian Snow Bush (Breynia nivosa)


And now the renovations part. Last week I had Orchid Tree branches in this vase and they lasted precisely 50 hours. The flowers wilted despite my best efforts. The buds looked promising so I plucked the offending flowers and left the budded branches to hopefully reflower. After a couple of days I figured out this was not happening. The foliage was in such good shape I cut some Heliconias with long stems and added them to the vase, here is the result.


I like this arrangement as well, it seems like the tropical version. Below is last week’s arrangement. Hopefully this one lasts longer.


Springtime in Tropic Florida


This is a Tabebuia in the parking lot of my grocery store. To me, Tabebuias are the Forsythias of spring in South Florida. Bright, cheerful yellow flowers on a semi gnarly trunked tree with corky bark. This tree will soon be covered in yellow trumpets.

Tropic Florida, to the best of my knowledge is a term coined by Frederic Stresau to describe South Florida, he is a fellow Landscape Architect who wrote the book on Florida. The book is unfortunately titled Florida, My Eden, making it sound more like romance than shrubbery. Mr. Stresau has been gone for many years and I think his book could use a little updating and really a new title.


Onward, I do like the sound of Tropic Florida vs. South Florida. Whereas it never gets really cold here winter has its cold fronts and they are finally passing into warmer cold fronts. It is late March and here are the actual signs of spring from the garden:

The fruit trees are blooming and the bees are out in full force:

On the left, we have a Rose Apple, Syzgium jambos, a rather weird fruit common in the Caribbean, it has a rose scent with a slightly sweet taste and the texture of a water chestnut. We keep meaning to make a pie from the fruit.

On the right is a Mango in bloom, I think this is a Haden Mango, nice fruit for eating or baking a Mango Rum Cake. I have had fruit from this particular tree and it is highly recommended.

Other harbingers of Spring from Tropic Florida


On the left, Shell Ginger, Alpinia zerumbet, a true sign of Spring peeking out from its foliage and to the right flowers from the Hong Kong Orchid tree. I have cut these for flower arrangements these past couple of weeks.

I am trying to get everything in place for the hot summer weather and feel time slipping away for working outside. My tomatoes have set fruit and I think the Armadillos ate it! Tomato season really ends about Memorial Day here, although it can be pushed to July 4th. I have seen people use umbrellas over tomato plants to extend the season.

Time for me to get back to the garden.

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.

Not Summer is almost here

Fall, Not Summer

Fall, Not Summer

Snowbird season is fast approaching; the first cold front of the year has not made it this far south. (Snowbirds are people who leave their northern homes to spend the winter in the gentler Florida climate) It seems October 15 is the typical cool down date. Snowbird season is fall everywhere else. I used to hate fall because I knew winter followed and the leaf color was rarely spectacular enough to make me happy about it. South Florida is pretty well-known for its lack of seasons. That said, I have come to think that there are actually two seasons here, Summer and Not Summer.

My Girl, at the beach in Summer

My Girl, at the beach in Summer

Summer is defined by the potential for development of Hurricanes, rain and general tropical sogginess. It is considered an emergency if your air conditioning breaks. People are nervous about the weather. On the other hand, I have read that summer in Florida is a great secret not to be shared. That is also true.  The crowds thin, it doesn’t take very long to get a sandwich at the deli and you can take your dogs to the beach after dinner for a walk.

The Flamboyant Tree

The Flamboyant Tree

For a gardener Summer features some of our gaudiest flowers, Ponciana trees sport sprays of bright red orchids to announce the season. Brightly colored Hibiscus burst out as do the Crinums and Copperpod trees. Frangipani and the Big Bromeliads flower spikes give us a taste of the Rainforest.

Crotons for Winter Color

Crotons for Winter Color

Not Summer has its advantages as well. The first being, of course, you are not in New Jersey. Go to any liquor store in late October and you can feel the party in the air. People asking “Does Grandma have any Vodka?, well, let’s get some anyway.” Getting a sandwich at the deli now means that you must wait behind what appears to be most of the cast from the Sopranos before you can eat.

Not Summer is the gardening season here. Walk into any Garden Center and the plants displayed look like late Spring most everywhere else. But it is Halloween, kind of spooky. I planted my summer vegetable garden Christmas week last year. We had fabulous tomatoes until the Summer Solstice. Deeply meaningful if you are a hater of frozen precipitation and faux winter tomatoes, as I am.

Our Not Summer Garden features, of all things, Winter Starburst, a magnificent plant. Then, we have “good snowbird” plants. Some are year round  reliable shrubs; Firebush, Hibiscus, and Jatropha.  Trees include Tabebuia and the Silk Floss Tree (beautiful, but weird, covered in pink flowers in December or so and covered in humongous sticker thorn things on the trunk – I have mixed feelings about this tree)

Summer or Not Summer; the plant life here in South Florida is outstanding. If you are looking for Winter you are in the wrong place.




Tropical Ranch

I went on a mini garden tour yesterday to the Tropical Ranch Botanical Garden in nearby Stuart, Florida. This is a two acre garden owned by a local couple who are Master Gardeners; they live in the garden and open it every month or so.

The garden is beautifully maintained and available for events. Here are a few plants from my meander through the garden:

'Queen Emma' Crinum

This is a ‘Queen Emma’ Crinum – this plant is 5 or 6 feet tall.

Blanchietta Aechmea Bromeliad

Blanchetiana Aechmea Bromeliad

Another enormous tropical in bloom,  these are very popular around town and are available in Lemon, Orange and Raspberry. I am not sure which one this is but, I am guessing Lemon as the leaves have a yellow cast. The flower is almost 5 feet tall and out of this world. I have had these for a couple of years and mine refuse to bloom. One of the owners told me they used to have cows – maybe that is the secret.




Hawaiians call this Hala, it is used for everything from hats to huts, not native to Florida it will grow here. Floridians tend to call this Screw Pine, not sure why, it seems odd – when I first heard the term I thought it was some weird tropical version of a Japanese Black Pine, not so. I have one in my garden, it is about 12″ tall, unlike this beauty.

And last but not least, another favorite, the Heliconia. I think it is some variety of Lobsterclaw. Another thing I am waiting for a flower from; I read the other day these shouldn’t be pruned or you cut the flowers off. That could be my problem – excessive pruning. But, the plant is seven feet tall. Gardening teaches patience, right?



Spider Lilies – Hymenocallis latifolia


There was this clump of what I thought was overcrowded Amaryllis in a planter in my front yard that the landscaper dug up for me. The bulbs were so crammed in I couldn’t dig them out. So after Jon gave me a bucket full of bulbs, I separated them and spaced them out at 2′ on center in the front of a long bed in my backyard sometime last summer. There are probably at least 50 of these now.

I have been waiting for two years to see what kind of Amaryllis I had found in my front yard; come to find out it is not an Amaryllis at all! This spring I kept going out to check because I was waiting for a gigantic mass of color from the Amaryllis. Then June came around and I decided maybe the bulbs hadn’t been in the ground long enough. When I spotted this flower in my backyard, I recognized the genus from having Peruvian Daffodils in Atlanta. They were not quite cold hardy there, but similar to this with a creamy yellow color. Not quite sure what I had blooming, research was started on the plant, I found that this is a Florida native hardy in Zone 10 and 11. The advice was given to plant a single bulb 3 or even 5 feet apart so the clump would grow together. The next bit of advice I encountered was that the Dreaded Lubber Grasshoppers loved to eat them:


The Lubber was dispatched shortly after the picture was taken – 5 of his friends had been in the Lilies before and had eaten the first flowers..I may be having a Spider Lily sale soon as I planted at least twice as many as I should have.