Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter Garden Amusements

The second unseasonably cold winter in a row is testing the patience of every gardener I know, and getting us all to think about COLD-HARDY as well as drought-hardy plants for our Florida yards. Our Bay-Friendly landscape is holding up very well so far and the winter is giving us a great opportunity to see which plants do well in near- or below-freezing temperatures, and which don't. This will help us make some modifications this Spring so that we truly have an all-weather landscape that doesn't require major replanting each year. After all, reducing the amount of time we spend on lawn maintenance was a major motivation for our landscape makeover.

Not quite in time for Christmas, but this cactus beauty a friend
gave me last year is putting on a January show.

I can truly say that the foundational plants in our landscape -- the small trees, shrubs and groundcovers -- are sailing through the cold, with the exception of the firebush and the wild coffee in the back yard. The firebush, especially, has been really whacked by the cold but there are still green branches at the base of the plant so I know it will bounce back. The wild coffee has plenty of green left so it will recover too. The other backyard natives -- the coonties, anise shrubs and muhly grass -- are totally unphased, as we expected. I can't say enough about the non-native, but Florida-tough bulbine, flax lilies and liriope. "Winter? What winter?" appears to be their attitude. The bulbine just keeps blooming.

Not one single plant in my front yard has been more than slightly singed by the cold. Rick and I attribute this to our mighty, much-loved live oak, whose canopy provides a natural insulating blanket over almost the entire front yard. Big trees are an incredible garden asset in so many ways.

The butterfly bed in our side yard has taken the biggest hit. The full-sun exposure that is so beneficial to it in the warm months has left it very vulnerable to the cold. The pentas, salvias, cat's whiskers, mistflowers and milkweed are downright crunchy. Some will come back -- salvia could survive the apocalypse, I think -- and some will need replacing. That's OK -- I love puttering in the butterfly garden anyway.

Until the danger of frost has passed, and I can get started pruning and tidying, I am satisfying my green urges with gardening on a micro-scale: making little dish gardens for my friends out of tea cups, toothbrush holders, ramekins, bowls and other household items. I saw  these at a craft market and immediately thought, "I can do that!" Apparently lots of other people had this same thought, because there is a wealth of information about this on the Internet. I bought a diamond bit for our electric drill to drill drain holes in the ceramics, started experimenting and -- voila! -- it works.

I scour thrift shops for the ceramic items (cheap, cheap,cheap and lots of fun) and then buy miniature plants to plant in them once I have drilled the drain holes. A friend recommended a wonderful exotic nursery in Bradenton called Tropiflora ( that actually carries dwarf, miniature and terrarium plants. I order online and they ship right to my home. The plants arrive in perfect condition, all wrapped in damp newspaper. You can also buy small container plants at Lowe's and Home Depot too, but Tropiflora has some really unusual goodies. I love giving my little planters to friends as a thank you for their friendship and support.

I must give props to my husband Rick who remains incredibly tolerant of my gardening madness, and helps me with my winter garden amusements, holding the ceramics for me while I drill and even spelling me when my hands get cramped. I guess he's thinking that anything that distracts me from another, more expensive hobby of mine -- shoe shopping -- is a good thing!