In A Vase on Monday- Soothing Relief

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This morning our temperatures were in the low 70’s with a nice breeze from Hurricane Maria passing by (a long way off). The humidity was down a bit as well, so I worked in the garden getting my vegetable garden going. South Florida’s gardening season is opposite most of the Northern Hemisphere. Summer vegetables are planted in September and October, so I will have tomatoes in the winter. Hopefully. Corn is not even grown in the summer here as it is too hot for the plant to pollinate.20170924_132320

The anchor flower in this vase is a Soap Aloe (Aloe saponaria) which is supposed to be a soothing shampoo ingredient until you read up on it, seems more people are irritated by it than soothed. Stick to the Aloe Vera for relief. The Soap Aloe is the apricot and green candelabra shaped flower. The red flowers are our native Hibiscus, Turk’s Cap Mallow (Hibiscus malvaviscus). The mad funky flowers that look like Lobster Claws are Blanchetiana Bromeliad flowers – Hurricane Irma was not kind to these and I have trimmed the prettier parts for use in this vase. I have been channeling my Southern mother lately and am thinking of drying the rest and spray painting them gold for a holiday wreath. Although, that might be too funky.

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The vase is a big crystal affair that was a wedding gift – oh, many years ago from a dear friend who called the day before Hurricane Irma hit “just to hear my voice”, a truly lovely man. The components of the vase are of such a large scale (2 to 3 feet tall) I thought it called for the addition of some big tropical foliage. The smaller leaves in the arrangement are from Frangipani (Plumeria), the long reddish leaves from the Blanchetiana Bromeliad and the ferns are the ever present Asian Sword Ferns.

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The vegetable garden under construction. Hard to believe anything will grow in this ‘soil’.

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A Home for a Lonely Christmas Tree

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I am not quick about getting the Christmas decorations up. Anyone who knows me is aware I detest fake, silk or faux plants. So, the wreath on my front door is always real and never hangs around very long. South Florida is not kind to cut foliage hanging outdoors in the sun. This particular wreath is hanging in sling with a bottle of water holding Saw Palmetto, dried Bromeliad flowers, Brazilian Pepperberries, Frazier Fir and a dried miniature Pineapple.

I try to remember to buy a Christmas tree on Monday as fresh trees are delivered on Monday and the least amount of time spent broiling in the sun on an asphalt parking lot the better. This year it slipped my mind and I managed to wait until the Monday before Christmas. Oops, no fresh trees and what was left over was well, less than optimum. I sorted through the Frazier Firs marveling that the needles were still bending and not brown at all. Then decided to see if anything else appealed to me to use as a tree. Podocarpus and Palms are just too far afield to use as a Christmas tree.

Back I went to the Frazier Firs, finding one in reasonably good shape and looking a bit forlorn I was checking for a price tag. Not one to be found. I went inside and asked the cashier who replied ‘they’re free, we are trying to get rid of them’

Minutes later I was dragging the tree through the parking lot and a lady stopped to help me. I told her about it and she was off to the Christmas tree tent. Hopefully all the trees found homes.

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Merry Christmas!

Building a Seashell Driveway

The Before Picture

The Before Picture

My husband and I bought a distressed property in South Florida. The driveway was really distressed. It took an archaeology dig to figure out where it had been and what it had been. After a bit of detective work we found a ‘Chattahoochee Stone’ pea gravel drive with a turnaround in front of the house. About 70 % overgrown with apocalypse proof weeds. The front yard became a free for all ad hoc parking area. Nobody could tell where they were supposed to park.

Part of the reason we bought this house was the garage was in the back. This is unusual in South Florida. Garage doors are usually a dominant feature of the front of the house. In some places it seems as if someone got a gigantic copier and started printing out houses with prominent garage doors. Later it dawned on me the reason for this is to provide the least amount of stormwater running off the concrete paving (the shortest possible driveway) and given the flatness of the terrain, it was also a short run to slope the driveway to provide drainage back to the street. It is also the cheapest way to get a lot of houses on a piece of property (i.e. Making the developer more money)

My husband retired and we decided to forsake the traffic and cold of the big city and moved 600 miles south from Atlanta to South Florida. The namesake of our existing driveway material, the Chattahoochee River, is a major feature in Atlanta.  The headwaters of the Chattahoochee are in the North Georgia Mountains, then it winds through Atlanta eventually pouring out into The Gulf of Mexico on the panhandle of Florida.

The driveway needed a renovation, however, it seemed a bit ridiculous, not to mention wasteful, to import pea gravel 600 miles to South Florida. Additionally, I was not enthralled with the brown pea gravel, having found it to be a fiesta of weeds in my previous garden and it cost at least 3 times what I had been paying for it in Atlanta. Based on the appearance of the existing drive it was nirvana for weeds. Not a good idea in South Florida.

The search began for new material for the driveway. The local rock here is limestone; crushed rock primarily for road construction. The rock is lumpy, starts out white and eventually looks very dirty. I didn’t like this option, but it was cheap. My next thought was pouring a concrete driveway, but, as a Very well seasoned Landscape Architect  (yes, I meant to capitalize Very for emphasis) I could tell the drainage just wasn’t going to work. In the event of rain, there would be too much water running off the driveway with nowhere to go. With the exception of the floor of our garage, not a good plan.

The driveway needed to be made of a pervious material so the rainwater could soak back into the ground rather than running off. During the course of my concrete drive design/pricing exercise I met a grading contractor who told me it was possible to build a shell driveway. What I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand was why there weren’t any of these driveways around. The only answer is they went out of style. People had been seduced by the evil brown pea gravel from the faraway Chattahoochee River.  I can only guess why. I did recall, however, over the course of my career people have waxed on romantically recalling the crunch of the pea gravel in their (perhaps very wealthy and with many yardmen) Grandmother’s yard.  This reminiscence is usually related to formal boxwood gardens in the Deep South. They never had to pull the weeds or pay for imported pea gravel.

I thought the shell was a great idea and, of course, did a bit of research. The shell used for constructing the driveway is mined about 20 miles north of my house. It is a byproduct of mining sand; five different sizes of material come out of the mine and are used for construction. The sand is used for construction and the shells are sorted out by size and intended use. My driveway is topped with ⅜” graded shell.

Shell driveways, properly constructed, last a long time. The construction method is as follows:

Grade the area and remove about 5-6’’ depth of existing soil. Compact the existing soil to receive the base material. Provide restraints around edges of driving surface to hold the loose driveway material. My driveway has pressure treated pine timber and Black PVC Landscape edging that act to hold the shell in place. I have seen drives edged with concrete curb or pavers set in mortar. This looks great and is, of course, a lot more expensive.

French drains were installed under the driving surface in areas where the water collects as it drains off the roof during a large cloudburst. Another South Florida peculiarity, no gutters, but some scuppers…you must cope with whatever comes off the roof, wherever it comes off the roof. Fortunately, I like rocks and Rain Gardens.  The drains were made from old solid walled laundry baskets with the bottoms removed then the contractor dug holes and placed them underground, filled them with gravel and topped the whole thing with filter fabric. The old gravel from the existing driveway was reused to fill the drains.

To build the driveway a 2-3” layer of crushed shell (this looks like coarse sand) is laid on top of the existing soil and pressed into place with a Bobcat. This is topped by a 2-3” layer of shell placed with a Bobcat and pressed evenly. The crushed shell course binds to itself and creates a pervious base layer. The shell course provides the driving surface. Maintenance requirements are spraying weed killer (I use the non toxic homemade vinegar solution) and raking it out every now and then. The materials firm up a great deal from cars driving on them and rain, but it is still a loose material.

I am pleased with the appearance of the shell driveway and it’s functionality. It drains perfectly and looks great. The shell also gives a great local, beachy feel to our property. And it looks really clean. It is also a very sustainable project, the majority of the materials arrived from within 50 miles of my house. The shell is a reuse product from a local mine. The driveway is pervious and most of the stormwater drains back into my property. I have two guest parking spaces and a turnaround for use when backing out of the garage. Pleasing the environment and me.

The Shell Driveway

The Shell Driveway

The Sustainable Garden: Perennial Thoughts

I perennially have thoughts about flowers. In terms of sustainability I am not sure the native ones are always best. Many of the natives are simply weeds with attractive flowers or characteristics we like. I have a deep respect for Black Eyed Susan from a previous experience – as in being nearly overrun by them. I used to live in their native habitat and had bought some “improved” Goldstrum Variety and they bolted back to their native selves and then ran amok on a well drained sunny hill. A recipe for landscape disaster. As beautiful as they were in full bloom, it took a long time to get rid of the Black Eyed Susans. I could not cope with their joyful abundance anymore. So easy on the natives and seek those that do well in your climate without too much water and too much abundance. Easier to take care of and maintain.

In South Florida irrigation is a big deal. We have a rainy season and a dry season. While there are many native plants this is a tropical climate and some of them can go wild. I have found some escaped houseplants in my yard going wild. Mother in Laws tongues is an invasive species. Many plants commonly grown here will not survive without irrigation. I chose not to irrigate my entire yard to save water and to save my sanity. The areas in lawn and vegetables are irrigated; areas with lower water perennials are drip irrigated and I have some unirrigated low maintenance areas that I still want to plant with beautiful perennials. I am just looking at things a bit differently. So, I am paying close attention to who I am inviting to live in my garden.

Beach Sunflower

The Beach Sunflower from Wikipedia

I am about to plant some Beach Sunflower in an unirrigated portion of my garden, I live on a sand hill and these are native to our area – I believe if I planted them in an irrigated area I would be overrun in short order. So, it is time for some more garden experimentation. The Beach Sunflower is going to look great with the existing Blue Agave, Red Martin Bromeliad and Painted Fingernail Bromeliad. Eventually providing shade is a native Gumbo Limbo tree; if that doesn’t get you in the mood for a Margarita nothing will. All these plants are extremely drought tolerant and will survive without regular irrigation. The Gumbo Limbo and Beach Sunflower are native, the Blue Agave is from Mexico, and the Martin and Painted Fingernail Bromeliads are Neoregelia type Bromeliads that originated in South America.

Painted Fingernail Bromeliad

Painted Fingernail Bromeliad

 

Martin Bromeliad

Martin Bromeliad

Blue Agave

Blue Agave

It seems strange to me that Bromeliads, in my mind a rainforest plant, would thrive in the sun with little supplemental water, but they do. The Painted Fingernail Bromeliad is a passalong plant around here and I have seen large masses of it planted around mailboxes on the side of the road. A great example of a not native plant working in a sustainable way. The result of my selection of plant material is an evergreen perennial bed that blooms or provides year round color while being very drought tolerant and using very little fertilizer or maintenance.

Sustainability is about more than native plants – it is about selecting the right plants.