Archive | February 2013

Mexican Flame Vine

I have an annoyingly blank and ugly stretch of privacy fence along the side of my yard.  It’s absolutely necessary, due to the traffic on the other side, but it sure ain’t purty, as they say.  I’ve tried for almost NINE years to get something growing on it that would hide the whole thing. I’ve planted every kind of sturdy, easy-to-grow vine you can think of.  Some that can be downright monsters.  All have failed over time. (I’m thinking they salted the earth along the fence line when they installed it!  Gack.)  Anyway, I finally tried planting several vines in huge pots along the fence, hoping the enriched potting soil would fix the problem.  One of the vines was a wisteria vine.  Wisteria!  A vine that has been known to swallow entire HOUSES in some parts of the south. Ha.  The Fence of Death wasn’t impressed. 

But a few months ago, I noticed that a Mexican flame vine I planted over three years ago had decided to grow.  Keep in mind, this vine had died back to about 3 leaves and was maybe 6″ tall all this time.  And brown and unhappy looking.  Now, the flame vine has risen up in rebellion against the evil fence, and in doing so, swallowed up the pathetic wisteria and finally, finally begun to bloom.  In a fiery splash of day-glo orange, it is something to see right now.  And since we haven’t had a freeze this year, I’m thinking (though I wouldn’t dare voice this out loud) that it might be here to stay, this time. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…tada!…Marcia’s Mexican Flame Vine!  Um…sorry about the sad pictures. The light was bad, and I can only do so much with an old, outdated iPhone.  But you get the idea. It’s splendid!

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Mexican Flame Vine On The Fence Of Death

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More of the Same, On The Same

I tell you, folks. Life is good. And life with a thriving Mexican Flame Vine is even better! What kind of problem areas do you have in your yard?  Anyone else got a Fence of Death to deal with?

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February In My Garden

I finally, finally got to spend some time in my garden today, potting a few things for around my front entryway, and starting the huge, ginormous task of weeding and pruning. It felt good to sweat over some actual, physical labor, instead of just over what word to put in front of another.  But you might have known I couldn’t stay away from the computer for very long, so here I am to share a couple of pics from this morning.  The garden overall is pretty dismal yet, but there are some things that shine, in spite of the weeds and neglect. 

My white bird of paradise hasn’t frozen back this year because…well…because there hasn’t been a freeze, of course! (Though there was some ice in my birdbaths last week, so it had to have dipped below 32 briefly, anyway). If you look closely at this monster big plant (about 10 feet tall, probably, and just as wide), you can see a couple of BIRDS in the middle.  For some reason, these blooms are buried in the center of all the stems and huge leaves, guarded against prying eyes like mine. But I found them anyway! 

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White Bird of Paradise Blooms

As I poked around here and there, I found a few other things of interest, too.  Most obvious to anyone in the garden is the coral honeysuckle vine which climbs up a large pole with a big birdhouse on top. Ummm…honest, the pole and birdhouse are under there, somewhere. This vine is a favorite of our ruby-throated hummingbirds, and I’ve seen a few feeding from it already this year.

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Coral Honeysuckle Vine

A couple of my roses are blooming, too, even though they have barely begun to leaf out since I cut them back the other day.  This first one, Double Delight,  is still quite small, but the blooms are divine, both to look at and to smell, hence the name.  The rose-red coloring on the outside of the petals will continue to bleed inward for days, until the rose is more red than white. Sorry I couldn’t get a better picture with my iPhone.  You can tell I’m not a photographer!

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Double Delight Hybrid Tea Rose

Another small rose I love is Florida Home Run Pink, a single rose that has a lovely “wild rose” look to it.  It was “created” by the same folks that came up with the Knock Out Roses, and is just as easy to grow.  I have a semi-circle of three in front of one of my birdbaths.

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Florida Home Run Pink

There are a few more things blooming, but I didn’t get any more pictures.  I’m hoping to spend some time out there tomorrow, as well, so I’ll try to get a few more.  What’s blooming in your yard? Or are you still under a layer of that white stuff? 

Is This A Great Birthday Present, Or What?

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COMING SOON!

As if a March 16th trip to a Book Festival in Ft. Myers, with my best friend, and featuring many cool authors available for autographs and Q & A sessions, isn’t a cool enough way to spend the day before my birthday, I just found out the most exciting news!  Silver Birch Press announced the release of Green: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry & Prose on Friday, March 15!  This book promises to be every bit as enjoyable as the Silver anthology was, and once again, I am absolutely thrilled to have had another poem included.  Wow!

Just when you think Life should be slowing down and getting a bit…oh, I don’t know…DULL, maybe?…it pops up and gobsmacks you with wonderful surprises like this! The Green Anthology includes poetry, short stories, novel excerpts, essays, interviews, and memoirs from over 60 authors in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Europe & Africa.  There will be work from long established writers (like my just about favorite poet of all time, Amy Lowell) as well as from newer writers (like…well…ME!) 😀

If, way back in high school, when I was doing reports on Amy Lowell’s most famous works ( Patterns or Purple Grackles), I had ever even though that something I wrote would one day be rubbing shoulders with some of her poems…well, I wouldn’t have believed it, I can tell you that. And yet, it happened. Life is good!

I will keep you guys posted as the release date nears, so that those of you who love anthologies as much as I do can head to amazon for your own copy. I know I’ll be buying several! (I love getting my Christmas shopping done early!) 😉

And for anyone who’d like to read “On The River,” my contribution to The Green Anthology,  click here.

NOTE: The date of release for The Green Anthology has been changed to March 15, making it just in time for my birthday weekend!  Yay!

(Reposted from Bookin’ It)

Goldfinches Everywhere!

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(Click to zoom)

Today, there are at least 15 goldfinches at my feeder, with at least one male in nearly perfect breeding plumage!  I’ve mentioned before that I try to look for miracles every day.  For me, this is one.  How much beauty is packed into such small packages!  They brighten my garden, my view from my library window, and my heart!  Wishing each of you a beautiful miracle today, too.  They are there, if you keep your eyes open!

They’re Baaaa-aaaaack!

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American Goldfinches

(Click to Zoom)

The goldfinches and Threeps, of course!  Didn’t have a large showing of fall migrants this year, for some reason. (Maybe because we had almost no fall.) But now that we are in spring mode, things are picking up.  Sunday, I spotted the first American goldfinches at my feeders.  My two were still in winter plumage, looking pretty drab when you think of how they will look in another few weeks.  But I’m happy to see them.

And as for the Threeps…okay, really they are Great Crested Flycatchers…they made themselves known this past weekend, too, by announcing their presences from the treetops all day long.  “Threep.  Threep. Threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” It has become one of my favorite sounds in the garden, and if I watch closely, I will see them swoop out from a handy tree branch to snatch flying insects out of the air, then return to the tree to devour them.  Hence the name “flycatcher.”

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Great Crested Flycatcher

(Click to Zoom)

Flycatchers in general, are fairly drab brownish gray birds, but the Great Crested flycatcher is actually quite handsome, with a wash of lemon yellow on the belly and rust colored patches on the wings and tail. He has just enough of a crest  to give his head a shaggy, slightly over-large look.  I love that this bird will be with me all summer long, and will probably nest in my oaks, though I’ll likely not see where. Maybe I’ll put up a box this year.   These guys will use them, if they are hung to their specifications, and at least I’d see where they were raising their young.

Are you seeing any spring migrants yet in your yard?

To hear the calls and songs of these two birds, click the links below:

(Scroll down to button that says “Typical Voice”)

American Goldfinch:  http://birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/american_goldfinch

(Scroll down to the last recording to hear the “Threep!” call.)

Great Crested Flycatcher:  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/great_crested_flycatcher/sounds

All photos found online.

February In Central Florida

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Pink Firespike  (Odontonema strictum)

Photo Taken Half Hour Ago Near My Patio

(Notice very blue sky, and hot, hot sunlight)

I was just watching the news today, and saw the images of the awful blizzard that struck the northeastern part of the country yesterday and over night.  My heart goes out to those without power, and who have suffered damages from the storm. I have to say, it seems surreal to be sitting at the table in my shorts and t–shirt, watching the news and trying to imagine how cold it must be up there. The local weather came on immediately afterward and promised that we will have 84 degree temps by Monday.  It’s a mere 74 degrees right now, so that’s a ten degree hike in the next day and a half. Frankly, 84 degrees is too hot to suit me, but it’s better than digging out from under a five foot pile of snow, I know, so I’m not going to complain.

I’m actually working in the garden today, pruning back roses that are trying to send up new growth already, and weeding things that normally would die over the winter, but haven’t this year, since we haven’t had a freeze yet.  Even my firespike is blooming for the first time in three years.  It’s really too tropical for here, and normally freezes right before the buds open every year.  Go figger!

Ain’t life strange?  I’m sweating, those folks up north are freezing, and still, things go on, for better or worse. It’s left to us to just play the hand we’re dealt, I reckon.  So, with that thought in mind, break’s over, and it’s back to the garden for me.

The Literary Cat #2 (Reposted from Bookin’ It)

My Literary Cat

‘Sgt. Karrin Murphy, alias Murph’

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In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

 –Terry Pratchett

NOTE: Murph would be the most unlikely cat ever to be worshipped by anyone, anywhere. After rescuing her and her brother, Harry,  almost two years ago, as kittens merely eight weeks old,  Harry settled into our household and totally totally embraced his role as ruler of the roost. On the other hand, Murphy still dives under the nearest bed or couch when any human approaches her. You’d think she’d have figured out by now that we are mostly harmless and provide all the food and creature comforts she could ask for, as devoted slaves will do, but nooooo. We call her the Skittery Kittery.

A Bit More On Herbs

Specifically, oregano.  Surely oregano is one of the most popular herbs used in cooking, and is one of the easiest to grow in the herb garden. But if you think all oregano is created equal, you’d be wrong.  There are several herbs with similar flavors that have “oregano” included in the common name of the plant: Mediterranean Oregano, Mexican Oregano, and Cuban Oregano to name a few.  Sometimes these plants are not even in the same family, but can often be used in similar ways.  If you want to grow them for cooking, though, you need to learn the differences, as even though they are similar in taste, they will not add the same flavor to your dishes.  I’m not an expert on oregano, by any means, but here are a couple I have grown, and some information for those of you who would like to know some of the differences.

The mainstay of Italian cooking would have to be Mediterranean oregano, and it is the one most commonly sold (at least around here) as potted plants for your herb gardens.  It is a low growing, spreading sprawl of a plant, with smallish leaves and the flavor you associate with pizza and spaghetti sauce.  It is easy to grow, at least for me, and in Florida becomes a tender perennial which lasts years in my garden, even if neglected.  It is a member of the mint family.

Mediterranean or Common Oregano (Oreganum vulgare)

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Mexican oregano is known to have a similar but much stronger flavor than Common or Mediterranean oregano. It is less sweet, with a hint of citrus.  It is a member of the verbena family (which is probably why it reminds me so much of lantana), and makes a small, deciduous shrub.  It goes better with Mexican foods, such as chili, than with Italian dishes.

Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens)

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The third “oregano” I have grown is sold as Cuban oregano around here, though it may be sold under different common names in other parts of the country.  It is really an attractive plant, having large, fleshy leaves, and comes in a green form, or a variegated one.  One leaf chopped up is enough to season quite a big dish, so use it sparingly. The plant has been grown commercially, and is used as herbal treatments for coughs and throat problems, though I would urge caution before using any herb for medicinal purposes unless you know what you are doing.  Just because something is natural, home-grown, or organic doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous if used incorrectly.  But this plant is so pretty, I grow it just for the hairy, variegated leaves alone. It is a plectranthus, related to Swedish ivy, and several other ornamentals. The plant has an upright growth habit, and looks great mixed in with various coleus.

Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)

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And there you have it.  A bit of info on three plants sold as oregano that can actually be used in cooking, as well as just for pleasure in your garden.  Google the Latin names and you will find tons of information on how to grow them, if you aren’t sure what will work in your area.

The Literary Cat #1 (Reposted from Bookin’ It)

My Literary Cat

‘Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden’

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“I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.”

–Rudyard Kipling, The Cat Who Walked By Himself

NOTE: Harry thinks the bookshelves over my desk are the perfect place to walk–and to lie down–by himself. Perfect for surveying his Kingdom.  And for taking afternoon naps, far away from the riffraff, namely the dachshunds, below.