Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Keeps Coming!

My garden is looking more beautiful each day, with showy blossoms making a steady appearance as Spring's glory continues to reveal daily surprises.

Gaillardia, or blanket flower, is one of my favorites. It just looks happy to be alive. It is a great favorite of our bees as well.

Blanket flower seems to be one of those troopers that just keeps on blooming, no matter how hot or dry it gets. It also makes beautiful cut flowers for a vase.

At the very top of the preference list for bees again this year are our little East Palatka holly trees. Last year Rick and I were greatly amused by the swarms of bees that descended on the hollies when their tiny, almost inconspicuous white blossoms appeared. Would it happen again this year? You bet! For two weeks, the hollies were humming with bees from sunrise to sunset. We were sad to see the blossoms fade and fall.

I spent one Sunday morning with my face buried in the trees, camera shoved as close I could get to the bees, trying to take their picture, but this is the best I could do.

I did, however, find a more sedentary insect to photograph on my Shoal Creek chaste tree. Can anyone tell me what this is? I thought it was a stinkbug but at first, but that's not right. Perhaps a member of the praying mantis family? It has a lovely red proboscis, as you can see, and matching red-tinged legs. Quite fetching, I think, though I am not sure if this is a "good" bug or a "bad" bug. That workshop is coming up NEXT month at my library!

I continue to be pleasantly surprised at how low-maintenance our grass-free landscape is. We don't even seem to have the weed problem we had last year when we first planted everything. Our chores now consist of blowing leaves off our pathways occasionally (back into the mulched beds, of course!) and watering when needed. I enjoy strolling around with pruners in hand giving everything a touch-up too.

Of course, I am adding greatly to my gardening workload by refusing to let well enough alone. Now that I have discovered I can actually grow things, I can't seem to stop! So, I am continuing to add plants where the yard seems sparse, and to embark on any number of new projects. Does this sound familiar?

One of my new projects is nearly complete -- my bathtub herb garden. The clawfoot tub was a a Christmas gift from my husband, purchased for a song through Craigslist. We sanded it, then Rick drilled additional drain holes in the bottom (that was not easy!) and I painted it a soothing seafoam green. Because hot weather was rapidly approaching, I went ahead and planted my herbs in it, after learning from the Master Gardeners that most herbs need a bit of time to establish before Florida's steamy summer sets in. But I still intend to stencil dragonflies on the tub, once my artistic muse returns from wherever it has temporaily fled.

Now I have my favorite fresh herbs for cooking, all in one convenient place. I planted two cilantro plants, because I use cilantro more than any other herb. I also have mint, which is wonderful in iced tea or in salads; parsley; basil; sage; thyme; chives; and in a corner by itself because it likes more heat and less water than the others, rosemary. So far, so good, though past experience tells me summer will take a toll on some of the daintier varieties.

I have one more gardening project in the works, and will talk about that one in another blog post.

What new or ongoing gardening projects are on your Spring to-do list?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Plant Party Continues

First, let me say this about the USF Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Fair: I showed remarkable restraint.

In fact, I kept thinking after I returned home on Saturday that I really hadn't bought very much and should certainly go back.

The Native Plant Society area is always packed --
 lots of interest in our tough and tenacious native plants.

I am proud to say (and my husband was relieved to hear) that I actually came in UNDER the $100 allotment I allocated myself. In fact, I only spent $80. So, that means I am surely entitled to spent that extra $20 on some other garden-related item in the future, right?

Is there anything more beautiful than an orchid?

I prepared a list of what I needed, and I stuck to that list. Almost. There was that one epidendrum orchid (only $8 -- how could I resist?) and the adorable miniature succulents for my dish gardens. And one vendor had flax lily for sale at such a low price, just $2 a plant, that I grabbed three just to fill in my flax lily bed.

A sampling of adorable cacti and succulents,
 perfect for dish gardens.
But otherwise, I stuck to the list. I bought two more muhly grasses from the native plant vendors, but couldn't find rouge plant or royal or cinnamon ferns, natives also on my list for my shady areas. I found two more of the Neoregilia "Orange Crush" bromeliads, so I now have a nice small bed of five. And I purchased a gorgeous big cast-iron plant -- another great addition to my shade beds. Also purchased some chenille plants, also on my list, which I use as a groundcover in the back yard. A few narrow-leaved sunflowers for the wildflower garden I have started (which also features ironweed, milkweed and blue-eyed grass), and my day was done.

Heck, I should get a booth next year and sell salvias.
They come up like weeds in my garden!

Then I had to plant them all, PLUS the 50 caladium bulbs that I ordered after reading Meems' Hoe and Shovel blog about her visit to the Caladium Nursery! Good thing our grass-free landscape really is proving to be low maintenance, because I don't have time for maintenance with all this planting I'm doing!

I thought there were even more vendors at this year's USF Sale than last year, and more buyers too! My friend Sue and I had to wait in a very long line on Saturday morning just to get in, but it was so worth it. We had fun in line talking to the other garden enthusiasts, most of us equipped with our handy-dandy rolling garden carts with which to haul around our booty. The sale itself was a plant lover's paradise, with everything from herbs to plumerias to exotic fruit trees. This is absolutely one of my favorite events of the year and, if you haven't ever been, put it on your April 2012 calendar now.

Now, I've got to get back to planting...

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Heckuva Plant Party

I took a day off work Friday to drive down to Sarasota to attend my first Tropiflora Spring Plant Festival. Tropiflora is the independent nursery from which I've been mail ordering miniature plants for dish gardens and a few tillandsias (air plants).

Orchid lover's paradise!
 OMG! This festival was to a plant lover what being locked in a Godiva chocolate shop overnight would be to a chocoholic. Tropiflora sells exotics and tropicals from all over the world. I had no idea how big the nursery is, or the tremendous variety of plants they offer. Plus, an additional two dozen or so vendors were there selling plants as well as garden art, garden supplies and even garden furniture.

The "Bargain Tents," where I picked up some
plants for my dish gardens for as little as $1

Orchids, ferns, bromeliads, succulents. It was fascinating just to browse the incredible assortment of plants.

Racks of bromeliads

This is a huge sale and very well-known in the Sarasota area, apparently, but it was all new and wonderful to me. 

I knew I was in trouble when a nice lady leaving the sale gave me the large garden cart she had been using to haul her treasures to her car.

Actually, I managed to restrain myself. I am really trying to utilize more natives in my yard, so I kept the plant buying to a minimum because I am saving my money for the USF Plant Fair this weekend. 

The angel wing begonia in its new home

But I couldn't resist a huge, gorgeous potted angel wing begonia with delicate white flowers, and a trio of eyecatching compact bromeliads called Neoregilia 'Orange Crush" -- with striking green striped foliage with a vivid flame-red center. Red is the primary color in my front yard landscape, and I knew these would provide a nice splash of color underneath my very shady oak tree. I checked with the bromeliad experts (Tropiflora had very knowledgeable staff and volunteers stationed in each plant tent ) and sure enough, this brom is supposed to hold its color in shade and stay fairly compact with minimal spreading. That is important to me because Rick and I removed about 100 bromeliads from our yard during the Great Landscape Makeover last year to reduce pockets of standing water that could harbor mosquito larvae. Those 100 bromeliads came from just two plants I put in the yard about 12 years ago! Naturally, my husband reminded me of this when I returned home with the three adorable little Orange Crush broms.

Who could resist these showy little bromeliads?

I also bought a few miniature plants for my dish garden, and some new tillandsias to replace the ones the squirrels ate after Rick and I created an elaborate framework of fishing line and eye hooks to artistically place them along the trunk of our majestic oak tree in the front yard. The very next day the tillandsias were gone. Not scattered on the ground around the tree, but gone! disappeared! and the fishing line severed. A wildlife biologist friend told me placing those tillandsias on that oak was like giving those tree rats a meal at a 4-star French bistro.

I've learned my lesson. My new tiilandsias are going to be anchored to driftwood and suspended from the side of our detached shed, where the squirrels can't get them. Theoretically.

Even though I really don't need many more plants in my landscape, the Tropiflora excursion reminded me of how inspiring and just plan fun it can be to spend a day with beautiful plants and like-minded plant lovers. I'm already getting excited about the USF Plant Sale -- my wish list is ready!

Who else is going to the USF Fest?