In A Vase on Monday- Trimmings

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I have been renovating the Greyhound Beach in my back yard this holiday weekend. It is Labor Day in the US and Monday is a national holiday. My Greyhounds, Alan and Charles, have been gleefully destroying the turf behind the patio for the past few years. The mini racetrack in the backyard – visible from space.

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Here is Alan, with his favorite toy, Sharky, digging for reasons only dogs know. I flattened out the holes yesterday and installed edging for sod. Alan has been melancholy all day and refused to eat this morning. Later in the afternoon he relented and woofed down his dinner.

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Back to the title, Trimmings. As a part of my reclamation of Greyhound Beach, I decided to trim and tree form a Firebush that has overgrown its space. Trimming off armfuls of flowers. I stopped trimming to contemplate if I could shear the back of the shrub for screening and tree form the front – an Arboricultural dilemma.

This shrub was sold as a Dwarf Firebush, which actually means it gets 10 or 15 feet tall. Only in the Land of the Giants would this plant be considered dwarf. This sort of horticultural nonsense annoys me. One of the first plants installed in my garden to screen the well equipment:

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Firebush Hamelia patens

Here it is, four years later:

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And I have cut four feet off the top for the past couple of years, the Greyhound Beach is visible through the shrubs.

Now, this is where the Firebush trimmings ended up- in my vase. 20170903_114540

The vase itself is an English teapot in the Blue Willow style, one of my favorite flea market finds. There are two kinds of Firebush in the vase. The dark red is the native Hamelia patens var patens. The ones from the gigantic orange Firebush are Hamelia patens, I think, botanists argue about these plants. I thought some purple was in order and added Setcresea, some variegated Dwarf Pineapple foliage and some red weeds, um, native wildflowers. The name escapes me – one of those things you think is pretty until you realize the seedheads are like dandelions and there are 10 million in your yard.

Another wonderful attribute of the Firebush. Butterflies love them. Here is a Black Swallowtail that was passing by:

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And a Zebra Longwing:

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A gigantic Firebush in the garden has some advantages.

Happy Monday.

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In A Vase on Monday – Gardening with Armadillos

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Sunday got off to a bit of a rough start, about 3 a.m. one of my greyhounds started to run around and whine. I got up, thinking he needed to go out and opened the door – only to hear a strange sound crashing around in the garden. Decided to turn on the security lights and low and behold, I spied an Armadillo. The shelled rodent (IMO) digging beside the metal screen enclosure on our porch, bashing his shell against the metal. Driving my poor dog mad and depriving both of us our beauty sleep.

As the dog ran out the door the foolish Armadillo ran into the fenced part of our yard – who knew an Armadillo could out run a greyhound?https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armadillo

Cartoon time 3 a.m. My backyard. Starring Alan the Greyhound. Shown below in his usual state. Alan is the brown dog, the other one has no interest in getting up at 3 a.m.

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A few hours and cups of coffee later, I went to look for vase components in the garden the Armadillo had been digging in. Sure enough, he or she had been overturning Bromeliads, a favorite pastime for some reason made better by overturning burgundy or spotted Bromeliads. By trial and error, I eventually found out cardboard and mulch will keep the armadillos away, needs another application. Sigh.

20170806_100322 Seeking the components of a vase, I noted the Spathoglottis is flowering again. I know this really sounds like a disease, but is actually a lovely little Ground Orchid called Caberet. This is the second round of flowering since I planted it in January. It is the purple flower in the vase. The blue flowers are Porterweed, the jury is still out on which one and today it is really shedding for some reason. The yellow flowers are Lantana, Silvermound would be my guess for variety. The purple spotted foliage is from a Bromeliad the Armadillo overturned ‘Hallelujah’ Billbergia. A sprig of fern finishes the vase.

The Armadillo’s work last night:

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In A Vase on Monday – Back Up Pitcher

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The concept for my Monday vase was to arrange a low bowl of Frangipani with spiky accents. The Bridal Bouquet Frangipani are blooming profusely and I wanted an arrangement for the foyer.  I started with (I found out later) my lowest Blue Willow bowl with a glass frog to hold the white flowers in place. While placing the white Frangipani flowers I decided to pick some spiky red and blue ones to go with the bowl. As I was meandering through the garden one of my greyhounds lost his collar and I had to stop and find it. By the time the collar was found and I got back in the house the red and blue flowers had wilted.

Then, I realized the flowers were too short for the bowl. In search of a lower bowl, I concluded there were none and happened upon the glass pitcher. The Back Up Pitcher. My husband is the baseball fan, Atlanta Braves specifically. The baseball is from the 1995 World Series, signed by Mark Wohlers, a backup pitcher.

Here is another view:

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I left the spiky flowers soaking in the abandoned bowl, hoping for rejuvenation. Oddly enough, this worked. At this point a return trip to the garden was needed for some taller flowers.

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The players in my Back Up Pitcher: in white, Bridal Bouquet Frangipani (Plumeria pudica), in orange, Firebush (Hamelia patens var patens), in rosy red, Red Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana), in blue, Porterweed, in red spikes, Tropical Red Salvia (Salvia coccinea), in red and yellow Parrotflowers (Heliconia psittacorum). Foliage accents are Asparagus Fern and Split Leaf Philodendron. Practically as many players as a baseball team.

Is the arrangement a home run?

Happy Monday.

Turtle Thursday

Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle

My greyhounds have been sniffing around a corner of the back yard for the past couple of days, I didn’t think too much about this as, well, they are dogs. This afternoon, my younger and most curious dog, Fuzzy’s Alan Alda (no idea why, this is his racing name – we call him Alan) came upon this turtle cruising back to his corner of the yard and felt compelled to observe from a safe distance the moving decorated rock.

The turtle was not too fascinated with Alan and proceeded to try and climb the BBQ grill cover. I thought ‘Wow, I did not know turtles could climb’

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The climbing wasn’t going very well so I put the turtle back where he came from – outside the fence away from Alan, who was and is still fascinated – about this time my other dog came out to assist with the investigation.

I brought the dogs back in the house and continued the investigation (they went to sleep). Based on the markings, I thought this was a painted turtle which is fairly common further north. Upon closer examination I realized it wasn’t and looked it up.

This is a Florida Box Turtle endemic to Florida and an endangered species (overdevelopment of habitat?) Hopefully, he or she is tucked safely away in their corner and eating mosquitoes.

Hurricanes and Tequila

It just dawned on me that Hurricanes are a cocktail, but they don’t contain Tequila. The Hurricane cocktail contains enough rum that if you drink one you won’t care about the Hurricane and the next morning you will feel like you were hit by one.

The first Atlantic Hurricane of the season may or may not be forming in the Tropical Atlantic. There must be a special language school for the weather forecasters that work on these storms. It’s making statements without really stating any facts. Danny is the name of the storm brewing – he has already been designated a Tropical Storm and might possibly turn into a Hurricane. However, the key however is there is a lot of dry Saharan sand and air floating around out there and we are in an El Nino weather pattern. I could ask my Greyhounds for their storm predictions, but they are clearly too busy. So, we wait. To spare myself drama, I only read the Weather Underground.

Canines occupied

Canines occupied, they’ve put their car magazines on the Ottoman so they can nap

Agave americana

Agave americana

On to the tequila, I have discovered I have an Agave americana shooting up a bloom spike. I thought this was interesting as some of these are called Century Plants because they bloom every hundred years and this one has been around my garden for three years or so. Research has informed me that the bloom spike could be 15 feet tall (!) and indeed tequila is made from this plant. I love the color and texture of the Agave, a glaucous blue green with chocolate brown spines. A friend of mine grew this Agave and gave it to me with a warning ‘some people are allergic to the spines so be sure and cut them off the tips of the leaves’. Well, I decided to move the thing having put it in the wrong place and thought I had cut off all the spines. Later I found myself in the doctor’s office drawing a picture of the plant for her (she couldn’t figure out what could cause such a horrible bruise and reaction) and getting a prescription for Steroids. Yes, I am one of the allergic.

Given my lack of fondness for steroids and the fact that after the Agave americana flowers it dies – I believe it will be asked to leave the garden and I will replace it with a similar sized Bromeliad or Crinum or something lacking chocolate brown spines.

Interesting native plants currently doing their thing in my garden:

Sea Grapes - Coccoloba uvifera

Sea Grapes – Coccoloba uvifera

These are Sea Grapes, native to the beach and a bit beyond. The natives like to eat them, the bottom two are nearly ripe but, I haven’t really developed a taste for them and the seed is big. Mine go to the raccoons and birds.

Hymenocallis latifolia

Hymenocallis latifolia

Natives of Florida call these Spider Lilies, I have seen other Hymenocallis called Peruvian Daffodils, clearly I am not in Peru. This is another Florida beachside native- these are easy to grow, but difficult to photograph. The anthers are very like Oriental Lilies, but hard to see. White flowers bloom in clusters, timing is staggered. These are interesting flowers and nearly indestructible.

My plan is to relax with the Greyhounds and await storm news, not eat any Sea Grapes or get stabbed by an Agave. A glass of Chardonnay, no Hurricanes or Tequila in my future, hopefully.

Throw the books away

The sunsets and the dogs on the beach are great reasons to live in South Florida. Trying to figure out how to garden here might be another story. Having spent most of my life 600 miles north of here, I thought I would be able to buy some books about what grows here and figure it out. Come to find out there really aren’t any good books.

The title sounds like something Hitler might have done. Actually, it was a bit of advice given to me by a longtime Treasure Coast gardener a few years ago. I had been lamenting the lack of good gardening information for our area and frustrated by what I had been reading in the Florida Gardening books. She said ‘throw the books away, they have no meaning here’.

Mondo that has seen better days

Mondo that has seen better days

This kernel of knowledge proved correct and popped into my brain this morning as I was looking at the charred remains of my Mondo Grass (that supposedly grows in Zone 10 – where I live) My suspicion is Mondo Grass will grow in Zone 10 if you import soil and water for it and keep an umbrella over it at all times, otherwise, forget about it. I had Mondo Grass further north and it was a reliable nearly indestructible groundcover. It was used as lawn in places too shady for turfgrass.

The Mondo Grass was my last rely on the books installation. My other major char broil was Bronzeleaf Begonias, which I did not even know could be burned up. I planted them in front of my Soap Aloe in my South facing front yard. Once the summer started they curled, browned, withered and unceremoniously died. The Aloe looked and still looks great. I feel bad about throwing away the offshoots sometimes, but not everybody wants a Soap Aloe. Instead of gaining sea legs on a ship, I am gaining sand legs in gardening. And usually end up covered in it.

Our Soapy Friend

Our Soapy Friend

This had left me wondering if it is really possible to write a useful gardening book with plant selection advice for a wide geographical area. I think not.

Toad in my Freezer

Florida, like other tropical environments has some peculiar wildlife, both native and introduced. The introduced kind seems to cause the most problems. The photo is of a Cane Toad, or Bufo Toad. The one I found in my driveway is currently residing in my freezer.

I am not necessarily fond of amphibians in my freezer or the unnecessary demise of wildlife. I had been warned about these toads, called Giant Killer Toads in the media, but had not seen one in my yard until recently. This is a toad that can literally kill your dog or cat. They were introduced to Florida to eat sugar cane pests. I have read they came from Puerto Rico or Australia.

The toads have large poison filled glands on either side that they shoot when disturbed. It is highly toxic to pets causing seizures and heart problems and eventually death if not treated.

A toad hopped into my Living Room the other night after my husband went out the side door. One of my greyhounds was sitting there looking at it when it dawned on me what it might be. I threw it out in the yard and went online to find a picture to identify it.

Sure enough, it was a Bufo Toad. My husband had gone to sleep so I was running around in my driveway (in my bathrobe) trying to capture the toad with a plastic tub. I managed to get the tub over him and decided to read up on the toads until morning. The following morning the toad was gone.

photo by Bill Waller, from Wikimedia Commons

photo by Bill Waller, from Wikimedia Commons

Having seen the interest my dog had in the toad I decided the best course was to get rid of it if I ever saw it again. After researching the most humane way to achieve this (chilling the toad until it falls asleep, then freezing it for at least two days because they can reanimate?!) And people imported these things voluntarily.

Last night we came home after dark and there was the toad sitting in the driveway. My husband picked it up, got sprayed with the venom (wearing gloves) and put it in a bucket. I chilled the bucket and left it alone for a couple of hours to find that the toad had indeed gone to sleep. Then I triple bagged it and stowed it in the freezer.

That is how I came to have a toad in my freezer.