Archive | August 2012

Ponds In The Garden

“Cold, wet leaves
Floating on moss-coloured water   
And the croaking of frogs—
Cracked bell-notes in the twilight.”

The Pond by Amy Lowell

(Click any image to zoom)

There is nothing like a water feature to make a big splash in your garden.  Once again, pun intended.  Even a small container of water with a potted papyrus plant or elephant ear adds a special grace note to a flower bed.  We have a large backyard, by urban yard standards.  Slightly less than a double lot, or close to 1/2 acre.  I knew I wanted a pond in the center, set up to be the main focal point.  For a long time, we talked about digging a large, free form pond with a waterfall and stream, but one day, we realized we were never going to have the time or energy to get it done by ourselves, so we needed to go to Plan B.

Galvanized Water Trough for Pond

Visiting a local feed and farm supply store, I purchased a 6′ x 2′ galvanized trough and had it delivered.  I would have been happy to set it up as is, and go with the country look of galvanized metal, but Mark, being the bricklayer of the family, wanted to tie it in with our patio and brick pathways already being established.  Two feet tall is higher than you might think, so we decided to lower the profile a bit and set the trough into the ground about 8″ deep.  Perfect. 

Filling water trough for goldfish pond

After leveling the pond in place, we filled it with well water, and hooked up the pump.  

Mark enclosing galvanized water trough with brick to make goldfish pond

Then Mark stacked bricks around the pond to enclose it…

Brick enclosure around galvanized goldfish pond almost done.

…taking a few breaks, here and there…

Brickwork surrounding galvanized water trough goldfish pond completed.

…and voila.  A beautiful brick pond! 

The entire project, including setting up the pump and the bamboo spitter, only took one weekend.

Finished galvanized water trough goldfish pond with brickwork enclosure.

The pond today, with additional brickwork walkways and seating areas.

Galvanized water trough pond with brickwork surround and friendly dachshund.

As you can tell, many, many more bricks have been laid since the pond was set up a couple of years ago.  Most of our backyard is a courtyard now, with free flowing flower beds here and there.  It’s wonderful.  No mowing or fertilizing a huge lawn, for one thing.  And so many places to pull up a chair and sit.  The pond is home to fat, colorful goldfish, and a few frogs can be heard there on summer nights.  The sound of the water is relaxing and helps disguise the sound of nearby traffic.   It’s the best thing we ever did out back, and I’m so glad we aren’t still waiting to dig a bigger one.  This one is actually perfect for us! 

If you have added a pond to your garden, I’d love to hear about it, and see pictures, too. 

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What’s In A Name?

“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”

~A.A. Milne

Spiderwort In The Garden

Consider the spiderwort.  Flowers of the loveliest blue, opening every morning and closing in the afternoon.  Graceful, grass-like foliage, tinted a teal green.  Hardy, trouble-free, and eager to fill your flower beds with color all year long, here in central Florida.  Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?  Except, it’s considered by most to be a weed.  An annoying invader that needs to be destroyed at all costs.  Out, out, damned spiderwort!  You can probably see where I’m going with this.  At my house, spiderworts are allowed to grow and bloom where they will, unless I need the spot for something else.  Why not?  They’re beautiful, and fill bare spots perfectly.  And unlike some actual garden plants I’ve been given, they don’t spread so horribly that I need a backhoe and a drum of Agent Orange to eradicate them.  Prolific, but not obscenely so.  Therefore, I smile at their pretty blue faces every morning, and enjoy them, until I need to replace them with a new rose or flowering perennial.

So what “weeds” are welcome in YOUR yard?  I’m sure many of you are growing native plants here and there, and by some standards, most of those are considered weeds, too.  Just as my spiderwort is a native, so is my seaside goldenrod, a tiny purslane called moss rose, a volunteer scarlet morning glory, and a few others.  Most are welcome for now.  They tend to be hardy and often provide food for birds and other wildlife.  I’ll share some pictures of other “weeds” I love tomorrow.  In the meantime, I’d love to know what’s volunteering at your house.

Dachshunds In The Garden

“The secret of architectural excellence is to translate the proportions of a dachshund into bricks, mortar and marble.”
–Christoper Wren

Obviously, Christopher Wren never met my first piebald dachshund, Oscar.  With his legs too long, and his ears too short, Oscar would not likely have made a good transition to architectural design.  But he was a loving and affectionate dog, who never met an enemy, and he enjoyed nothing more than to be in the garden, on lizard patrol.  Since I realized yesterday that posts with photos of dachshunds included attract a LOT of attention, I figured I’d give Oscar a turn.  You can see for yourself that well proportioned or not, his coloring was beautiful, and I can attest to the fact that his personality matched.  He was a much beloved addition to our family, and rests now under my largest birdbath, where he is surrounded all day long by the lizards he loved to chase.

OSCAR MEYER’S BEANIE WEENIE ON LIZARD PATROL

(Though I tried to save any he caught, I’m afraid he was NOT a lizard’s best friend.)

Dilute Red Piebald Dachshund, Oscar

HOW TO TURN YOUR DACHSHUND INTO A FRONT END LOADER

(Injury caused by angry cat.  Recovery was complete.)

Dilute Red Piebald Dachshund, Oscar, Wearing Neck Cone

 

HOW TO BE COMFORTABLE WHEN YOUR HEAD IS TOO BIG TO CARRY AROUND ALL DAY

(He would rest like this for 15 or 20 minutes at a time.)

Dilute Red Piebald Dachshund, Oscar, Resting His Big Head

And there you have it.   Dachshunds, in the garden, or in the house, make life better.  I once took a test on how to discover which breed of dog is right for you.  You had to choose one word from a list of attributes that would be important to you in choosing a dog, like guard work,  beauty, loyalty, etc.  I picked “Funny,” and the answer that popped up was, “The dog for you is a dachshund.”  Luckily, I already had two.  I knew all along my instincts were right. 

Comments on My Photos

Just wanted to be clear that while I often post photos taken in my garden, I am in NO WAY a photographer.  They are just snapshots taken with my iPhone and shared here to convey a sense of what’s going on in the yard, or as illustrations of plants I’m growing, or critters that are visiting.  However, there are some stunning photography blogs here at WordPress, and for those who are interested, they are worth searching out.  Good photography is a true art form, and not one I’ve mastered, so please don’t be disappointed that my photos are pretty ordinary.  Hopefully, the posts are interesting enough that they will stand on their own merit And no, no one has been rude enough to make any disparaging comments (so far), but after spending hours looking at some really good photography on other blogs, I just wanted to be sure visitors here know that’s not my focus.  Pun intended.  *grin*

I AM a decent gardener, and I think I know more than the average bear about Florida birds and wildlife.  I hope that will be enough to make this blog a fun place to drop by now and then.  So visit awhile, have a good time,  and come back when you can.  You never know what I may have on my mind for Show & Tell.  And now that I have made it clear that I am in no way a photographer….guess what I’m going to share with you?    Just because I think it’s a funny one.  Blurry & totally lacking any real sense of lighting and composition, yes.  But funny.

Potter & Maks, practicing their synchronized ears routine!  Enjoy!

Piebald and chocolate & tan dachshunds, Potter & Maks

Quote #8 – Richard Buckminster Fuller

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

     ~Richard Buckminster Fuller

 

monarch butterfly on coral honeysuckle vine

Monarch Butterfly on Coral Honeysuckle Vine

(Click to Zoom)

I love this quote.  Makes you think twice about judging by appearances, doesn’t it?  You never know what’s inside someone, and when a beautiful butterfly might emerge.  Here’s wishing each of you a moment when that butterfly inside comes out into the sunshine, spreads its wings, and flies into a bright new day.

Took this picture last spring, when one of my hand raised monarchs took his inaugural flight and landed on my honeysuckle to bask in the morning sun.  Later, the hummers came to visit, but for that moment, the whole vine belonged to him, and Butterfly Life was GOOD.

Quote #7 – Marcelene Cox

“Weather means more when you have a garden.  There’s nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans.”

     ~Marcelene Cox

birdhouse flower bedBirdhouse Flower Bed

Never does this ring more true than when you are facing the daily afternoon thunderstorms and heavy rains of Florida in late summer.  And this coming week, we are expecting Hurricane Isaac to pay us at least a passing visit.  Here’s hoping you are all safe from the storm, and your yards will revel in the rain, without getting smashed to smithereens.

Dancing Ladies

Dancing Ladies Orchid In Bloom

Dancing Ladies Orchid

  (Click to View Larger Image)

My favorite orchid, given to me by a friend from South Florida, is Dancing Ladies.  I love the tiny, brilliant yellow flowers with small brownish purple speckles on them.  This plant, which started out as a small spray, is now about 6′ wide, and had 15 bloom stems this spring, each about 4′ long.  It was UH-mazing!  It hangs in my Bali Hut, and gets moved out to the front corner when in bloom.  I know it’s time to divide it, but I’m scared to mess with it, for fear I’ll destroy it.  I’m wondering if my best move is to take it to a nursery with knowledgeable orchid people there who can advise me, or even do it for me.  I’d be so unhappy if I lost it!

Dancing Ladieds Orchid Bloom Spray

Believe me, photos don’t do this beauty justice.  There were hundreds and hundreds of flowers on it.  Thank you, TreeFrog, in case you ever stop by and see these photos.  I think of you every time this blooms!

A Narrow Fellow In The Grass

Yellow rat snakeYellow Rat Snake

 

I always loved this poem by Emily Dickinson, and think it really evokes that shiver down the spine feeling you get when you glimpse a snake gliding by, even when  you love them like I do, and know it is a harmless species.  Still, they are animals of graceful mystery and they never fail to stop me in my tracks for a moment, with a slight quickening of my heartbeat.  Or as Miss Dickinson referred to it, “…tighter breathing and zero at the bone.”

Hope some of you enjoy this:

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides--
You may have met Him--
did you not
His notice sudden is--

The Grass divides as with a Comb--
A spotted shaft is seen--
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on--

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn--
Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot--
I more than once at Noon

Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone--

Several of Nature's People
I know, and they know me--
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality--

But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone--*

            Emily Dickinson

Critters In The Garden #1

One of the best things about having a garden, even in urban or suburban areas, is the incredible amount of wildlife you can provide habitat for.  Of course, most gardeners are very happy to welcome songbirds to their yards, but many have no idea how interesting and varied other forms of garden wildlife are.  I’m hoping that by sharing pictures and information here about the many other creatures who call my own yard home, others will realize what a wonderfully diverse place a garden can be.  Over the course of the weeks ahead, I’ll be posting on birds & birdfeeders, butterflies & other insects, mammals, and reptiles that coexist pretty well in my yard.  Especially considering the two killer dachshunds I have who patrol their territory on a daily basis. 

Just to kick this “series” off with a bang, I’m not going to start with cute cardinals or brash bluejays.  I’m going to leap right into discussing the critters many people fear, dislike, or simply don’t understand, the reptiles.  Particularly snakes.  If you count yourself among the many who actively dislike snakes or think that they are always venomous or dangerous, I hope you’ll read a bit more, and learn to accept them and their place in the garden with less fear or hatred.   Perhaps you will never learn to see them as the beautiful and interesting creatures that I do, but if you can restrain yourself from bashing them with shovels, I’ll consider these posts a success.

Let’s start with the snake I see most often in my garden, the Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus).  This is one of my favorite snakes, being completely harmless, and very beneficial in the garden.  I also think the long, streamlined body is quite pretty, with the grey to black, smooth coloration, and the white chin that is distinctive in the southern subspecies of this snake.   (Click on any image to open a larger version).

Southern black racer (coluber constrictor priapus)

One of the things about black racers that I most enjoy is their habit of “periscoping.”  When gliding through grasses or slightly taller vegetation, they often pause and lift their head up high, in order to “scope out” the lay of the land, and make sure no unseen dangers await them.  Like all snakes, they use their tongue to taste air molecules for the scent of anything threatening or delicious nearby.  Also like all snakes, racers can and WILL bite if threatened.  If you are not experienced in handling snakes without causing harm to them or to yourself, don’t try to pick these guys up.   Just admire their graceful slide through the garden, and let them go on their way unharmed.  Their bite may not be venomous, but it can be painful, and can cause breakage of the snake’s teeth, which isn’t good for them.  Black racers do not make good pets, either.   I don’t really espouse keeping wildife as pets to begin with, and racers, in particular,  never get over their nervous disposition,  and really dislike being handled. 

I had a wonderful moment with a black racer a couple of summers ago, when I was hand watering my flowers.  We were in drought mode, as is often the case here in central Florida, and the splashing water attracted a medium sized racer, about 2 1/2 feet long.  He slid forward a few slow inches at a time, stopping repeatedly to check me out and be sure I wasn’t doing anything that looked threatening.  I stood very still and let the water continue to sprinkle on some leaf mulch in my flower bed.  Eventually, the racer reached his goal, lowered his head to a tiny puddle of water in a cupped leaf, and began to drink.  By this time, I was holding my breath, watching something I’d never seen before, and not wanting to scare him away before he had quenched his thirst.  He drank a very long time, then turned slowly, raised his head to give me one more look, then turned and glided back under the fence, to whatever hiding spot he had emerged from.

Here is a picture I took a few weeks later of what might have been the same snake, though I have several living in my yard.  Notice the white chin, which you can see clearly, even though this snake doesn’t have his head raised up.

Southern black racer (coluber constrictor priapus) in my garden.

If you have any questions about black racers or other snakes in your garden, please feel free to ask.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it for you.  In the meantime, here’s a link to a website with lots more information on the Southern Black Racer.

Quote #6 – Samuel Beckett

“Ever tried?  Ever failed? No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

     –Samuel Beckett

Sunfire Coreopsis

SUNFIRE COREOPSIS

Author Sarah Ban Breathnach says “success arrives only after we have mastered failing better.”  Boy, nowhere is this more true than in the garden.  How many special, must-have plants have you dragged home from the nursery, only to find they were not happy in your garden?  How many seeds have you planted, only to have ants carry them off for their own anty munching?   If we were to let our failures in the garden stop us, we would all have yards filled with nothing but weeds and dirt.  Gardening teaches perseverance like nothing else I know.  Stick to it long enough, though, and you WILL find the perfect plants for your little corner of the world.  You’ll learn how to protect newly planted seeds from marauding ants.  And you will definitely begin to reap the rewards of your hard work.  Just don’t give up.  Plant and plant again.  Learn more about what succeeds in your zone, something you can’t always tell by what’s available at your local generic or “big box” garden centers.  Talk to other gardeners in your area, join an online garden group, join a local garden club, and read, read, read.  As your knowledge grows, so will your plants.  But always bear in mind that the best teacher of all is failure.  Just learn to fail better!  And did I mention  never give up?

Roses In The Garden

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”

     –Emma Goldman

Belinda's Dream Shrub Rose

BELINDA’S DREAM SHRUB ROSE

I have no use for diamonds, either, but roses, I can’t live without!  Growing them in Florida is always a challenge, with our extremes of weather and the constant humidity.  Plenty of sun, but plenty of wet weather, giving blackspot and powdery mildew a foothold every summer.  But still, for me, it is worth the extra work to have roses in my garden.

I no longer delude myself into thinking I can keep an entire bed of roses looking good, but I have found if I scatter the roses here and there, with plenty of other plants around them, it works.  The surrounding plants will disguise the rose when it is not performing at its best, thus giving me a chance to prune it back, feed it thoroughly, and wait for it to return to glory.  Roses have amazing recuperative powers, and 99 times out of a hundred, like a certain terminator we all know, they’ll be back! 

Here are a few pictures of some of my current favorites.  (Click on the picture to see a larger version).

All American Miracle Floribunda

ALL AMERICAN MIRACLE

This rose is smallish for me, and struggles with blackspot, but the spectacular red & yellow striped blooms fade to pink & white, and are worth the effort.

Don Juan Climbing Rose

DON JUAN CLIMBING HYBRID TEA

An old standard for years, Don Juan has a wonderful fragrance, and an exceptionally deep red color.  It’s hardy, and seems to be less prone to disease and pests than many varieties.

Abraham Darby David Austiin Rose

ABRAHAM DARBY

This is a David Austin rose, and one of the most beautiful & fragrant roses I have in my garden.  Austen’s roses have the look & vigor of old roses, and are so easy to grow. 

Florida Home Run Pink Rose

FLORIDA HOME RUN PINK

The Home Run series of single roses with a wild rose look was developed by the popular KnockOut Rose folks.  So far, I love this little rose, and it blooms constantly.  We’ll see how it performs as it gets bigger.

Belinda's Dream Rose

BELINDA’S DREAM SHRUB ROSE

This is definitely the most dependable and consistently beautiful rose I grow.  It repeat blooms all year long, and the gorgeous pink flowers have a terrific fragrance. They last a long time in a vase, too, making this one a winner all the way around.

Do you grow roses in your garden?  I’m interested in hearing which perform best for you, especially if you have a Florida garden?  Or if you grow under similar conditions.

Quote #4 – George MacDonald

“Work is not always required…there is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”

–George MacDonald

Well isn’t this just the truth?  It’s always work, work, work…rushing here, running there…never enough time to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labors.  But I think Mr. MacDonald has hit upon something.  Yes, a garden takes a lot of work to keep it productive and beautiful.  But surely there are times, especially in the dog days of summer, to sit back with a tall, frosty glass of iced tea, and revel in all we have accomplished?  Today, I plan to do just that.  After I finish trimming back some of the wildly out of control, rain induced overgrowth, of course.  But I’m only going to enjoy tidying up for a little while, and then I’m going to sit in the shade of our newest outdoor room, and gaze out over the late summer garden for an even longer while.  Butterflies and bumblebees are busy fluttering and flitting.  Lizards are scampering up and down every vertical surface.  Cardinals are at the feeder every ten minutes.  So much to enjoy!  Time for some “Sacred Idleness” in MY life today.  How about you?  Haven’t you earned it, too?

What’s Blooming In Your Garden Today?

In spite of the muggy heat and excess rain lately, I managed to find a couple of things blooming here and there.  Most everything else is buried under vines and weeds, waiting for my return to yard work.  I reckon it’ll keep a few more weeks.  In the meantime, here are a few pictures for your viewing pleasure.

Nothing is more colorful each morning than ruellia (also called Mexican Petunia, though it is neither from Mexico, nor a petunia).  While this plant is known to be an invasive species in Florida, please be assured that there is a non-invasive, sterile variety, and I only grow that one in my yard.  I will be happy to provide more info on that, if anyone is interested.  You can’t grow a tougher, more resilient plant.  And they’re pretty, too.

Here is an example of the one of the vines running amok in my garden this summer.  This is a volunteer native called Scarlet Morning Glory.  The flowers are only about an inch across, very pretty, and attractive to hummingbirds.  On the negative side, the vine will cover anything in its path.  But on the positive side, sort of, it dies completely every winter after the first heavy frost.  However, it seeds like crazy, so you will find yourself pulling babies all spring.  My advice is not to plant scarlet morning glory on purpose, but if it volunteers as this one did, and you find it running rampant in the late summer, you may as well enjoy it for awhile.   My thryallis peeking out from underneath this one it might disagree with me.

I found one last purslane blooming in a hypertufa bowl.  It looks pretty happy, where most of  its brothers and sisters have succumbed to way too much rain in recent weeks.  They will reseed a bit, here and there, and the parent plants will come back, but they never seem to  look as good as the originals purchased from the nursery.  At least not in my yard.  Other than that, they provide dependable color for a fairly long time before they begin to decline.

What’s blooming in YOUR yard today?

Early Summer Garden Photos

The dog days of summer are here.  It’s so hot and muggy outside, I’ve given up on the garden until cooler weather arrives.  Now is the time for indoor projects, and other pursuits conducted in the heavenly bliss of air conditioned comfort.  The yard has turned into an overgrown jungle now that the rains have returned, after our long year of drought.  That’s the story in Florida.  It’s either drought or monsoon, with nothing much in between.  Thankfully, I took plenty of pictures this year, before the black-eyed Susan, scarlett morning glory, and sweet potato vines ran amuck over everything in their paths.  If you stand still longer than 30 seconds, they will start climbing over you, too!  Here are a few photos.  Enjoy!

An overview of a new rose bed, with my goldfish pond in the background. 
Hubby did all the beautiful brick pathways and patios over the last couple of years.

“Peter Pan” dwarf agaphanthus in the same bed, keeping “All American Miracle” hybrid tea rose company.

The world’s happiest cigar plant (cuphea).  Hummers love it!

Another view of the pond, and more of Mark’s brickwork.

So there you have just a few pictures from this year’s garden.  I’d love to know what you’ve been doing in  your own gardens.  Is anyone else into ponds?  Roses?  Laying brick?  Hope you’ll share your ideas, and please feel free to ask any questions you like.  Gardening in Florida presents a lot of challenges at times, but much of what works here will work in other parts of the country, too.

Monarchs Of The Garden

Image

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed

One of the great joys of gardening is the wealth of birds, butterflies, and other critters who make their homes in a typical suburban yard.  I’ve long adopted a “live and let live” approach to my gardens, and seldom have serious problems with pests.  (Lubber grasshoppers, gray squirrels, and exotic tree frogs, not withstanding.  Stories for another day.)  For the most part, I’m happy to share my flowers and herbs with most of nature’s creatures, but  I have noticed that some years, predation by hungry wasps takes a toll on the numbers of caterpillars that survive to adulthood in my garden.  For that reason, I keep an eye out for eggs and caterpillars that I can bring inside to raise and release.  (I don’t mind the wasps getting their fair share, you understand…wasps gotta eat, too.  I just don’t like it when they seem to get them all!)

This photo is one I took of a monarch butterfly shortly after I released it into the garden.  I try to place the newly eclosed butterflies in a sunny, safe spot to dry their wings, before they take off on their first flight.  This beauty came full circle when I put him back on the same milkweed plant I found his eyelash-sized caterpillar on a couple of weeks earlier.

 Raising the caterpillars isn’t difficult, as long as you have a clean, ventilated container, and an abundance of fresh leaves from their host plants.  (With monarchs, that would be plants in the milkweed family).  The caterpillars eat a LOT, and you need to be prepared to check your container often to replace old foliage with fresh.  The result of watching the caterpillar go through the miracle of metamorphosis is so worth it!  Especially if you have little ones.  I’ve never met a child yet who wasn’t thrilled with the entire process.

Have you tried raising butterflies yourself?  Do you grow host plants in your garden?  Share your experiences with us.

Such Good Friends…Sausagey Little Devil Dogs!

Image

Maks & Potter

My two sweet dachshunds, who think they run this entire household.  Maks (Dancing With Weiners Star Maksim Hotdogski) and Potter (The Phantom’s Sir Hairy Potter of Sanford) are best friends, even though Potter is several years older.  Maks is a chocolate and tan dachsie, and Potter is a red & white piebald (as in “pinto”).  They are a big, fat nuisance, but so funny, you tend to forgive them for their mischief.

Do you share your garden with dogs?  What kind?  How do they behave?  Do you have dachshunds?  Are they as crazy as mine?