In A Vase on Monday – Winter Gardening

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The gardening season is heating up in South Florida. The reverse of most of the Northern Hemisphere, we grow vegetables in the winter as it is too hot for tomatoes or corn to pollinate in the summer. I received the last of my vegetable seeds (Haricot verte) over the weekend and will sow my vegetable garden in the next week or so.

While I grow flowers year round, I plant some of the more common summer flowers in the winter. Deciding to grow some from seed this year, I have Zinnias, Asters, Petunias, Moon Vine and Coral Vine to add to the pollinator garden and cut. The seeds were planted around the first of October and my first Zinnia bloomed this week.20181121_094921_HDR-2This is a Zinna Super Cactus Lilac Emperor, an heirloom variety. It doesn’t quite resemble the picture on the packet – not nearly as stringy or cactusy (new word?) However, it may be the biggest Zinnia I have run across (4 inches wide).

20181125_095513The vase I inherited from my mother, who bought it from the Ute Indian tribe in the Southwestern US. Accenting the Zinnia in the arrangement are in white and fragrant spikes, Sweet Almond Bush (Aloysia virgata); Purple Verbena is next, a native (Glandularia tampaensis); the deep blue flowers are from Porterweed (Stachytarpeta jamaicaensis); purple flowers with grey foliage are Barometer Bush (Luecophyllum frutescens); the background plants are Muhly Grass (Muhlbergia capillaris), Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) and a sprig of Hawaiian Snowbush (Breynia nivosa).

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The pollinators attracted to my garden continue to amaze. We had two groups of honeybees resting in the garden and I spotted this dragonfly while weeding yesterday.

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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

Regional sustainability

Cabbage Palm

There is a lot to read about sustainability these days, is it possible it is a local phenomena? It has to be. Given that the idea of sustainability is to save time, money and materials by using what is available locally – you have to find out what is around.

The LEED Initiative made popular by US Green Building Council (changing the way we think about building, they say) considers that any plant material grown within 500 miles of where you are building is locally sourced. I have to disagree with that 500 miles from where I am a greenhouse would be required to grow what grows outside here. I have learned a great number of new plants that I had never seen when I lived 500 miles north.

Florida may be different; but everywhere is different. Sunset Books made a great attempt to zonify America and came up with 36 named zones with added special zones for extreme climates?! The USDA seems to have 15 Zones. Who is right? Probably nobody.

So, I thought about what I can get here that is totally local and sustainable. Well, lots of things and these materials make my garden unique to my locale.

I can get great paving material from within 20 miles of my house, this is 3/8″ graded shell. Larger shell called white washed shell is available for more decorative uses.

 

Shell for surface of driveway

Shell for driveways, walkways, etc.

There is a place within walking distance of my house that makes stepping stones with shell in them:

Shell & Concrete Stepping Stone For Path to mailbox

Shell & Concrete Stepping Stones

Possibly a peculiarity of the area I live in; there are plant sales like garage sales almost every weekend. I rarely pay more than $5.00 for anything and talk about locally sourced. The downside to this is very few people know exactly what it is they are selling – its a Green Bromeliad. On the other hand, it is always a surprise when one of these treasures bloom. One of the joys of gardening.

The Mysterious Green Bromeliad

The Mysterious Green Bromeliad

Here is my latest purchase, a nice Chartruesy Green Bromeliad that supposedly takes full sun. That is the full extent of my knowledge, I can’t wait to see what it does. Gardening teaches patience.

Rain Gardens on the Treasure Coast

We have a local environmental blogger here on the Treasure Coast who posted  about Rain Gardens and inspired this.

I have been designing Rain Gardens for about 10 years. It is a great idea for the environment, but aesthetically it is difficult to cope with the fact that unless carefully planned it looks like a big drainage ditch in your front yard. Not a good look.

I decided to put some Rain Gardens around our house after discovering that the areas right around the house were not irrigated and the house had no gutters so the rain collected on the ground around the house and was not really concentrated by gutters into 4 or 5 spots.

The lack of gutters on the roof is relatively common here, this is new to me. I am not quite sure why – maybe Hurricanes blow them off. Anyway, we bought the house without gutters and I always, always hated dealing with getting the gutters cleaned, etc. on our house in Atlanta. I was happy not to have gutters.

Then it rained, like seven inches. Wow, there were pits in the areas under the valleys of the roof where the water came off the roof. Luckily the yard was so gruesome there was no question about redoing the driveway and landscaping. And we live on a Sugar Sand Dune, highly pervious no water stands anywhere. A big ditch was not really necessary.

My father taught Geology at Emory University. He passed on and I inherited his love of rocks, but in a more decorative way. I love stone, boulders and natural materials incorporated into the garden. I brought his rocks to Florida and planned to use them in my gardens. In Florida, I have added seashells and cap rocks in an effort to be more sustainable by using locally available material.

My Rain Gardens are in my front yard in a planter:

Rocks for Splashing

Rocks for Splashing

The valley of the roof drains onto these rocks, the rocks break the speed of water and then it splashes on down the Egg Rock, waters my plants and drains back into the sand. This planter is not irrigated, a bit of a sin in South Florida – it is maintained for the most part by rain. I occasionally water the Plumeria in  winter. The plants are placed out from under the edge of the roof  so they get watered and not beaten by a big rainstorm.

Rain Garden Planter

Rain Garden Planter

This is the whole garden. A Bridal Veil Plumeria is centered on the house flanked by Lemon Blanchiata Bromeliads then FlapJack plants. A Pencil Cactus anchors the corner. The plant selection is mostly succulents or low water tolerant plants. I had to have the Plumeria for aesthetic reasons and suffer through the watering.

Rockcentric Rain Garden

Rockcentric Rain Garden

This is my other Rain Garden. Again the water comes off the corner valley and lands on the large sized Egg Rock and flows over the Black Mexican Pebbles and drains to the driveway. The driveway is made from pervious shell and drains onto a turf area with a french drain beneath it.

The Rocks are from my father’s collection and one piece of coral rock from Jensen Beach. Plants are newly planted -a Tibouchina and a Leafless Bird of Paradise. I am watering these plants to establish them.

American Rustic

Extreme Low Maintenance Container  Soap Aloe and Sedum

Extreme Low Maintenance Container
Soap Aloe and Sedum

Is there a new style of gardening emerging in America?

I think so.

Based on what we have learned over the past forty years, our style and outlook on gardening are changing.

During the 1970’s, Oehme van Sweden, Landscape Architects in Washington, D.C. pioneered ‘The New American Garden’. Their gardens featured perennial grasses in large sweeps and largely ignored lawns. These guys were the original purveyors of the Miscanthus craze that continues to this day. I had Miscanthus strictus in my yard for about three years, as a striking accent plant it worked until it got big and flopped over; this grass once flopped was 10 feet around and not very striking. Unlike my southern mother, I am not a plant staker. Plants have to stand on their own in my garden or they asked to leave. Unceremoniously.

The term Xeriscaping was coined in the early 1980’s by a guy in Colorado. Since then the idea has caught on and is utilized in the United States and around the world. Permaculture is an Australian idea that expands and encourages permanent culture of the earth in the most sustainable ways. Basically the idea of Xeriscape is grouping plants by their watering and maintenance needs and only watering when necessary instead of just dousing everything. In permaculture the further away from the house you get, the less intensive the maintenance of the landscape. Intensively planted vegetable gardens near the house that fade away into the forest zone by zone. Of course, this is an oversimplification of both concepts.

While I appreciate the validity of both schools of thought, the difficulty begins with the fact that all this has to be figured out, zoned, designed and then implemented. I have yet to meet anyone who paid me to do a Master Landscape Plan for their house that did not change their mind about something.  Usually a significant something. Rare is the person who can make a plan, zone everything for water and maintenance and stick with the program. I certainly can’t. The older I get , the more I enjoy hardscape.

People seem to enjoy taking small bites of sustainability. A Rain Garden in a low spot in the yard. Using pervious gravel or mulch for pathways. Planting native plant material. Cutting out toxic pesticides and herbicides.

I have read of eco lawns becoming popular in the Western United States. This intrigued me until I saw what it was. More of the Wildflower Meadow romanticism that has been floating around for 30 years. I think Old fields look great weeds and all. However, I don’t want one in front of my house. I suspect the majority of gardeners like to have some lawn. I have a lawn, purposely sited over the septic tank. It does so well, we are afraid to fertilize it. It might overrun the house late at night.

Now there is talk of what is the Modern Garden. I am not sure Modern is the right word. Modern coming after New. It is all the same. Soon it will be the updated Modern Garden. All I (we?) really want is something we can plant and enjoy that is not too much work or a waste of resources! It seems like such a simple idea ? Here are some ideas to reach this goal:

Plant reliable, drought tolerant, non invasive perennials. In small doses.

Focus on natives with a soft lens. Some are great. Some are weeds. Do some research; plant the good ones.

Quit using Glyphosphate and anything with Atrazine in it. It is already in our groundwater and nobody knows how long it takes for the earth to metabolize it. Stop adding it. Non toxic weed killers and pesticides work. If you have a few bugs or weeds – get over it.

Support your local gardening community by planting seasonal containers, they are different everywhere. A pop of color near your favorite walkway is a pick me up every time you pass by. I like succulents for the summer.  My size limit is a 15″ wide container, if it is smaller, it takes too much maintenance, (watering). Buy a big pot, go to the local nursery, buy some flowers and hope for good advice. Embrace local..add some tropicals in the summer. Floridian growers need support too.

Use the most drought tolerant turfgrass possible. If it turns brown in winter, so be it. If there are a few weeds in it, so be it. The Golden Bear does not live at my house, I think he is retired..

I think people get overexcited about irrigation. I have never had separate zones because I am really frugal with water. The lawn has to need it badly before the water comes on, if I have a new  tree it gets a gator bag (this is a bag that can be filled with water, the water slowly leaks out onto the tree providing a few days worth of water). Irrigation does not abdicate anyone of the responsibility of paying attention. It will not establish anything but turf unless everything is wastefully watered.

I think the New Modern American Gardening Style is Rustic. The Rustic Style includes: Being mindful of water and its use, ceasing the use of toxic chemicals, a little brown and a few weeds are OK. Always have a nice container planting where it will be enjoyed. Add hardscape where you would like to hang out and relax, it is really less maintenance.

I think it was the Landscape Architect Dan Franklin, who said: “You should be able to take care of your garden in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening” I am striving for that.