What Happens When . . .

. . . you stay indoors, glued to your computer, busy writing a book and ignoring your garden? Well. Disaster, if you love a beautiful garden as much as I do. Oh, my! Beggar’s ticks as high as my head, roses with only 6 leaves left on the plant, coleus that look like they’ve been crawling across the burning sands of the Sahara for weeks. Just a hot mess, in general. My poor, poor back yard! 

The good news is, it was too hot to work outside anyway, so staying inside and working on my book was probably a smarter choice. (And by the way, for those who enjoy romantic suspense, Wake-Robin Ridge will be available to download FREE all day tomorrow, 9/6, thanks to Kindle Select!) The bad news is, I’m going to have to spend weeks weeding, cutting back, digging up, tossing out, and starting over. With the wicked, wicked heat we’ve had this summer, scenes like this are a thing of the past.

Belinda's Dream Rose

But have no fear. Even though it is still in the mid-to-high 90’s every day around here, the evenings are cooling down, finally, and that means temps overall will start becoming more bearable. Which,  in turn, means I can start working outside, at least in the mornings, and get things cleaned up a good bit.  

Afternoons will be spent marketing my new book and working on my book of poetry, Summer Magic. But I can do a LOT in the morning, if I get going early enough. If I prune and feed, the roses will spring back to life again, and moving the coleus into the shade and watering more regularly will probably have them looking good soon, as well. 

One interesting tidbit. Like most Florida yards, we have a plethora of lizards in ours. Tons of the invasive Cuban brown anole, and a few determined green Carolina anoles are racing around everywhere. But this week, I spotted an Indo-Pacific gecko on my back porch. He’s very sweet looking, with smoother skin than the regular lizards and huge, googly night-vision eyes. I’ll try to get a picture of him to post here.  Of course, geckos are not native to Florida, but as far as I know, they are not that common, especially in central Florida. Unlike the hideously invasive Cuban tree frogs, I’ve only ever seen one or two anywhere in the area. (This doesn’t mean that they will never become a problem, of course, but I don’t think they are right now. And so far, I like mine.)

I’m really looking forward to getting some work done outside this weekend, and to getting caught up again on all of my blogs. Writing a book is fantastic, but it is an enormous time-suck that pretty much swallows everything else in your life in one huge gulp. I’m going to plan my hours better when I start my next one! 😀

So tell me, what’s blooming in your garden this late in the year?

Catching Up, Again!

Hi, folks!  Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted here.  Some of you know, I’m writing a book (a first-time experience for me), and it has definitely caused me to neglect both of my blogs a bit.  I’m trying to figure out a way to balance my projects, but it’s tricky.  So please bear with me for a little while, if I’m running a bit behind now and then.

Just to let you know, I’ve been seeing the little box turtle in my garden nearly every day.  The dogs track her down, rushing around with their little hound noses pressed to the ground until they find her hiding spot.  They bark and poke.  She closes up shop and waits.  So far, Turtle 23, Dogs Zero.  I do make them stop as soon as I see them barking at her, because I don’t want them to harrass her, but I don’t think they can do too much damage.  For one thing, Potter’s front teeth are almost gone, sadly, and I’m sure he can’t bite even the EDGE of her shell.  And Maks is more about the noise, anyway.  He never bites at anything.  Still, I like for the turtle to have some peace and quiet as she wanders around.  And I’ve got my fingers crossed that she is finding enough food and water in my overgrown beds.

Haven’t seen any fall migrants yet, but I do need to pick up some fresh sunflower chips this weekend.  As soon as I start seeing goldfinches, I will know it’s time to be watching closely for things like painted and indigo buntings, cowbirds, and the occasional rose-breasted grosbeak.

Not too much going on right now, though both Belinda’s Dream and Abraham Darby are blooming like crazy.  My little clump of muhly grass is putting out a few feathery pink blooms, but it really needs to be in a spot where early and/or late sun shines straight through the blooms.  That’s what makes them glow like sparklers.  Here are pictures of mine, though not very good ones, I’m afraid.  You can get an idea, though, of how pretty the blooms can look when the sun hits them.

muhly grass in bloom

I have a couple of pictures of my cassia tree in bloom I’ll post soon.  Sadly, last night’s wind and rain beat it halfway to the ground.  I hope it will straighten back up as it dries out, but I’m doubtful.  I may have to cut it way back.

Critters In The Garden #3

Florida box turtle

Florida Box Turtle

(Click to zoom)

I was tickled to find a Florida box turtle, which is a subspecies of the eastern box turtle, in my front yard last week.  Florida box turtles tend to have more colorful markings than some of their northern counterparts, as this beauty does.  I think it looks like someone painted flowers on his shell. Or maybe they look like little suns, as drawn by a kindergarten artist.  What do you think?

Florida Box Turtle Shell Patterns

 I think this one  is a male, but will have to double check next time I catch him. I checked online for all the ways to tell the difference, and found that besides the shape of the carapace (top of the shell) and plastron (bottom of the shell), there is a difference in eye color, and tail size and width. 

Because he has a healed injury to his shell, I decided to move him into my fenced in backyard, where he can graze among the flower beds.  I may regret this later, but I don’t think one turtle can do anywhere near the damage the squirrels do daily, so I’m taking my chances.  Besides, it’s just so cute.  You can see the old injury on the front edge of his shell, just below his head in this picture.  (Click to see it full size).

Florida subspecies of eastern box turtle

He seems to be making himself at home out there.  Of course, Potter and Maks found him yesterday and again today.  He pulls inside and shuts his shell down completely, and they bark and poke him with their noses, jumping back instantly as though his shell is red hot.  I don’t think they can hurt him, but I still bring them in every time I see them barking at him.  For his part, as soon as he’s sure they are gone, he comes out and hightails it at a surprisingly high rate of speed…for a turtle, anyway.

Side View Florida Box Turtle

I really like this little guy, and hope he will be okay in my backyard.  I think he’s fairly young, but I will be doing some more research on him.  And I don’t want him to be lonely out there.  May have to look for a companion for him.  Don’t want him to become lovesick and sad.

Critters In The Garden #2

Southern Flying Squirrel

Southern Flying Squirrel

(Did you ever see such a cutie in your life?)

My yard is overrun with grey squirrels.  Probably no fewer than 20 to 25 race around my big trees at times.  They are very clever, and I do admire much about them, but they are big, fat pests at times, too.  I’ve had to go to great lengths to keep them out of my bird feeders, for one thing.  However, there is another group of squirrels living my trees, and until this past summer, I never even knew they were there.  The southern flying squirrel is almost completely nocturnal in its habits, so unless you sit up late at night with a big flashlight close by, watching for movement in the trees or along the ground, you probably wouldn’t know they were in your yard, either.

I knew we had plenty of them in Florida, since I’ve seen them often when canoeing at night, gliding between the trees along the creek and sometimes “flying” across it.  But it never occurred to me that they were also common in our urban landscapes.  I found out differently when  Mark discovered a nest on the ground after a storm, while I was away for the day.  When I got home, he told me he saw a “bug-eyed critter” of some sort scurry away from the nest and climb up the side of a big oak.  And when he looked into the nest, he saw these tiny little baby “things,” which he had no clue about.  As soon as I looked in the nest, I knew they were baby flying squirrels.  The fold of skin that runs from their front legs to their back legs was clearly visible.  They looked a lot like this:

baby flying squirrel

When I volunteered at Florida Audubon many years ago, I hand raised orphan birds squirrels, and other critters by the dozen, but never flying squirrels.  I researched a bit online and found out they were very different from grey squirrels in their needs, and could be very tricky.  Since we could not put the nest back where it came from, I called a local rehab establishment clear across Orlando from us for help. She agreed I shouldn’t try to feed them on my own.  We ended up taking them out to her first thing in the morning, and spent some time watching her feed our little ones, and the other baby flyers she had.  Some of the orphans already being cared for were a bit larger, and so adorable!  They were more like these pictures:

Baby flying squirrel

Baby Flying Squirrel #1

Baby Southern flying squirrel

I can’t tell you how happy I am to know these little guys are around my house.  I’ve thought about waiting up long enough at night to catch them coming out to forage for food, but I’ve never managed to stay awake long enough.  As you can probably tell from the pictures, these guys are MUCH smaller than grey squirrels, and their fur feels very different, too.  It’s silky and soft.  But the most endearing thing is the sweet expression on their faces.  Those enormous eyes, which help them see at night, are so expressive and adorable.  If I weren’t pretty much against making pets out of wildlife, generally–and I didn’t have a house filled with hungry cats and hounds–I’d be sorely tempted to get one.  But I know I won’t.  It’s better for them to live outside and do their thing. 

I have a few more pictures to share with you, and then some links to the websites where I found them.  There is a lot of information available on these interesting animals for those interested in learning more.  One thing I can pass along is that in addition to acorns and other nuts, they also eat insects, and fungi.  In fact, one article says they will come down on the ground and dig up some types of fungi, going down deep to get the entire stem.  I have found evidence of something digging and eating mushrooms in my yard, and now I think I know who the culprit might be.  I wonder if they ever glide down to my grey-squirrel-proof feeders from above and help themselves to sunflower chips.  I hope so!

Flying squirrel

Flying Squirrel in Action

Southern Flying Squirrel

Look at those BIG eyes!

For more info on flying squirrels, check out these interesting sites:

Flying Squirrel Rescue

Southern Flying Squirrel