Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I have always wanted a larger piece of land for my garden. I had grown tired of carving out little spaces for my vegetables in an already small space. I'm not sure that I had intended to own 5 acres, though. Now that I have them, I'm beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. I suspect that I wouldn't feel quite so daunted by the task ahead of me if the previous owners had given their land proper care. As it stands, I can't really work on laying the foundation for the vegetable garden until I get other pressing issues cleaned up.

The front of the house needs a lot of attention. It just seems so plain to me. I thought that the two blue planters that accented the entryway at the Orlando house might give it a little punch, but they seem terribly small now at the base of the massive steps.

The planters are lost in the overgrowth and steps

I decided that I would just go for immediate pleasure on my second try by pulling out all of my hanging baskets and planting them with colorful flowers. They've basically had the same effect. 

Where are the hanging baskets?

Basically, I can only enjoy the fruits of my labor when I stand on the porch and look out. Even when I try to enjoy the nice addition of the hanging baskets, though, I can see the foundation plantings screaming for my attention. They are officially the elephant in the garden. The front of the house will never look right until I rip out most of the overgrown plants and replace them. But that's a major project.

The baskets lead to the overgrown Loropetalum climbing
through the railing
With so much to do, it's hard to decide where to start. For a person who wants everything done at once, it is pure torture. I'm painfully aware of a cooler planting season on the horizon, so I would love to skip the front porch issues and move on to getting the vegetable garden structures in place. 

That area presents another major problem. The previous owners left me two large piles of debris right in the middle of the space. We first thought that we could just burn the piles, but a closer inspection revealed that they are filled with scrap metal and plastic, along with wood and weeds and who knows what else. I have to clear them before I lay the clear plastic to solarize the soil. And I have to do that before I till the soil and build the structures. Like I said, it's all a bit overwhelming. 

The future vegetable garden

In the meantime, I ordered 150 bulbs for planting in the fall. Because, you know, planting so many bulbs in Georgia clay is a lot less challenging. 

I might have to develop a 10-year plan for this place.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Name Game

Last summer, I spent 10 fabulous days in the Cotswolds with my mom and my sister-in-law. We rented a lovely 17th-century thatched roof cottage that was called The Old Cider Press, largely because the barn that was converted into three cottages had once been the site of a cider press. On the day that we arrived in the village, it was hosting its annual Open Day for the National Garden Scheme. For the price of £5 each, which was donated to charity, we were granted access to nearly 20 private gardens throughout the village. It was magical.

I need a sign!
One of the things that stood out to me the most was the fact that nearly every house had a wooden plaque attached near the front door or on the gate with a name on it, just like The Old Cider Press. That's when I became obsessed with naming my own house and garden, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come up with anything suitable. Now that we're in a new house, the desire for a name is even stronger, but again, I'm coming up blank.

Here's another in the village

We loved this one.

I have decided to ask you, my dear readers, for your suggestions. Maybe you can help stoke the fire of creativity or even save me the agony of trying to think of a name myself. I'm including photos of the property to give you a better idea of what this place looks like, to perhaps reveal some aspect of its personality. I know that many of you are rather shy and resist leaving comments, but I need your help, so if you have a moment of clarity on this one, I'd really appreciate you sharing it with me!

View from the front porch

View of the approach to the house

Peeking toward the barn
(apparently I was leaning)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

First Lessons from the New Garden

I'm spending half of each day in the garden and half of the day in the house, attempting to make this place home. It is a lovely place. It just needs a little love. 

Just one corner of a very large space

I think we might all learn some important lessons from my first few days in the garden at the new house. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1.  Weed fabric is a certified agent of Satan. 
This is something I already knew, but my recent trials in attempting to plant anything in this garden have further solidified this important point. Weed fabric is not your friend. It does not save you any time in the garden. All it does is make it difficult to plant other things when you decide to add them. And after 15 years, it just settles further into the soil, leaving future gardeners to deal with your mistake in making friends with Satan. I have been digging into weed fabric since I got here. It doubles my work. It also chokes lovely plants that would be so delighted to spread in your garden. If you don't want future gardeners (or your future self) to curse your name for eternity, don't even consider weed fabric. This same lesson holds true for red lava rock, especially if you live in the sands of Florida. I still curse the person who put those in my garden in Orlando and will likely continue to do so until the day I die.

2. The purchase of lawn/garden ornaments is a slippery slope.
I know. I included a photo of my ornaments in a row like a police line-up last time. And it troubled me. I thought I had a problem. But then I came here, and discovered that I have a long way to go to problem. In the fenced area alone, I counted no less than 17 items. It's not a big area. If you want little creatures in your garden, choose wisely, grasshopper. Otherwise, you risk being that freaky person who is found dead with 72 animals running around inside your house and using it as a restroom. And if you're not going to take care of your garden, be aware that your little critters might be swallowed by vegetation.

An entire girl with dog is under here.

3. Ivy is a thug. 
If you don't intend to keep it in check, it will take over your entire existence…or the existence of the next gardener. Think carefully. 

My mom pulled ivy for 3 days. It's still there.

4. If you plan to pillage your previous garden to improve your future garden, mark the plants you dig up.
I dug up over 30 plants in Orlando and safely delivered them here. I recognize most of them, but since I dug up 7 different day lily plants, I have no idea what color each one is until it flowers. I've planted them in clusters, but I'll likely have to move some later. A simple label would have saved me some work.

5.  You should always plan to pillage your previous garden to improve your future garden.
I may have been planting like a maniac over the last few days to get everything in, but the plants I brought from Orlando are so beautifully filling up my garden here--at no cost to me, I might add--that if I ever had to move again (please God, no), I would dig up even more.

6. Using a pick-axe is the most incredible workout.
No one said that gardening in Georgia clay that hasn't been worked in years is easy. In fact, it has proven itself a rather formidable opponent to all my garden tools save one. The pick-axe is the bully on the block, and it breaks up everything, including my shoulders. If you have seen me previously, I just have to warn you that you should add some serious muscle to my shoulder area in your mental pictures, or you won't recognize me in future. I'm about to be ripped from swinging that axe. It's a necessary exercise if I'm to get anything planted.

That's what I've learned so far, but I suspect I'll get plenty more lessons in the future here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Garden Withdrawal

Well, folks, this is the last post from the Florida garden. By this time next week, we'll have already unpacked the bulk of our possessions and started settling into our new home in Georgia. I thought I might have regrets or feel the tug of a place that we have called home for the last four years. But we are decidedly moving forward, so the unraveling of my garden here has been quite easy for me. In fact, I've enjoyed deciding which plants and items should come along with me and which I should leave behind.

Things are starting to look a little stark around here. I've bequeathed my pomegranate bush to my neighbor across the street. I wished her many fruitful years with it, and I didn't ask her to pardon my pun.

The pomegranate loaded with fruit

I've been able to pickle my jalapeƱos and my pepperoncini. I'm waiting until Tuesday night to pickle a jar of cherry bell peppers because a few more are ripening at the moment. It will be nice to pull one of these jars off the shelf in Georgia one day and with the thwack of the seal popping, open my Florida garden one last time.

I was worried about forgetting any of my various creatures who inhabit my garden, so I started staging them in one place for the packers. Once I had them all together, I realized they looked like a police lineup. I'm pretty sure whatever crime has been committed, the gnome on the turtle is to blame (though the ant looks a little suspicious, too).

The usual suspects

We've dismantled the bean arches in the vegetable garden and emptied all of the pots and planters in preparation for the packers who arrive in just two days. It all looks so different.

The blue pot and armillary are gone

The shed dismantled, the rain barrel removed

No more fountain, and the swing awaits

Next week's post might be a little abbreviated, just a few photos of the new space. With 5 acres in my future, though, the garden adventures are certain to continue for quite some time.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Short on Time, Heavy on Fruit

We are now in countdown mode for the move. In 17 days, we will be pulling away from the house here. I've been doing my best to lift what plants can make the move with us, but we will be leaving so many things behind. Most of them have put on a significant amount of fruit, and I've been out every morning to give them verbal and liquid (water) encouragement. I had such great hopes that I could harvest some portion of the bounty that is in the garden, but it looks like we're going to run out of time. Since the new owners aren't interested in the garden, I fear it all may go to waste.

I'm trying not to fret about the fruit.

The pomegranate, which struggled in its first two years, is a little out of control now. I've made arrangements for a neighbor to adopt it, so at least I can relax about that one. I know she'll take great care of it and enjoy those juicy seeds it's developing.

This little gem needs about a month more

These will take quite a bit longer

The lime tree is weighed down by a full crop of fruit, which I suspect might be its last season since it has finally succumbed to the citrus greening that has been wiping out all of the citrus in Florida. I'm sorry I won't be able to fill my baskets to overflowing with these again.

Too small for picking

The fig tree has long been a source of frustration for me. It taunts me every season by putting on tons of those little balloons of sweetness and then getting a rust fungus and dropping all of the fruit too soon. This year, thanks to the drought, I've been spared the disappointment of rust, but I'm still being teased by that tree. It's been covered in at least a hundred fruits for a couple of months, but they have not changed size or color in all that time. I'm beginning to think that they'll all be perfect a day after we leave. All I ever wanted was one jar of fig preserves. One jar. Happily, I took a cutting of this thing, and it's already rooted, so its offspring can continue abusing me in Georgia. 

Thou wast not born for preserves, infuriating fig!

Finally, my pineapples have been growing steadily, but they won't be ready for picking for another couple of months. For me, this is the most heartbreaking bit of leaving the garden. Each pineapple takes a year and a half to appear, then another six months to grow and ripen, so the taste of incredibly sweet and juicy fruit in my mouth just minutes after cutting it off of the plant is the reward for the long wait. Now someone else will enjoy the sweet taste of my garden success. I am so tempted to dig up one and take it with me. 

I have my eye on the small one to the right...

I have time to make two more posts from the garden in Florida, and then a new adventure begins in Georgia…on 5 acres. Stay tuned. It should get pretty interesting.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Economy of Gardening

"And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things"
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

For anyone who has recently visited a local plant nursery and considered a large plant purchase, you may think that this week's update will be a lamentation on the great expense of gardening. There are times, especially when we are a little impatient, when gardening can be rather taxing on the wallet, indeed. When we want the landscape to look completely filled in, what we pay for at the nursery is the grower's time so as not to spend much of our own. But this week is all about how inexpensive gardening actually can be if we dedicate the time to nurturing a plant to its full maturity.

For those of you who think you have no free time, please don't stop reading. I'm not asking for much, and you may just be surprised.

My neighbors regularly stop to sing the praises of my Gaillardia to me. Oh, how they all wish they had some in their own gardens! A reasonably sized plant can be had for $7 or so. I purchased a packet of seeds three years ago for $1.19. Out of that packet, I raised about 10 plants, some of which I gave to friends.

The sunny flowers of Gaillardia

Here in Florida, those plants have never been without blooms, no matter the time of year. I've tried to tell all the neighbors who covet my plants to pull off the dried heads from the flowers and get some seeds for themselves. They all look at me as if I have three eyes. So rather than them benefitting, my garden continues to grow those wonderful plants on their own because I let them drop their seeds and continue their life cycle. $1.19 spent three years ago has yielded countless plants, and the only time they require from me is my deadheading them every two weeks for five minutes. If deadheading sounds boring, please visit this post.

I purchased two Canna bulbs two years ago. Two for $10. Here's what one of the bulbs has produced, but I have to confess this is one half of the story. I've lifted the other half to take with me to my new home. 

Canna colonizing the front beds

The mass that has been created by those two bulbs is so significant that I've decided I can lift more without creating any noticeable holes in the planting bed. The only thing I've ever done to help these plants is cut down the dead stalks at the end of the winter, which amounts to 10 minutes of my time. 

Am I winning you over yet?

I can't tell you how much joy the Vincas in the garden have given Turfman over the years. They appeared on their own one day, including one plant in the strip between the sidewalk and the street, which Turfman carefully mowed around for a year before it went to seed. He often spoke proudly of his "tuft of flowers" that he was protecting in his beloved lawn. They were always the dark pink you see in the photo, but a few months ago, the white ones appeared. Time spent cultivating these? None. Cost? Free.

The swathe of free flowers

For those of you who would prefer not to grow from seed and would rather go to the nursery, then here's another tip. Many containers of plants have more than one plant in them. Look for individual stems coming out of the pot. If you find them, you can divide the plants when you get home. I purchased a Salvia a couple of months ago at the nursery for $8. It had three plants in the one container. I divided them before planting, which gave them the space to expand quickly. Now they fill an entire corner.

My mass of pink Salvia

I may be preaching to the choir about this, and I can imagine a few gardeners' heads nodding in assent. For those of you who are considering gardening or are relatively new to it, I can offer you one more cost- and time-saving piece of advice. Make friends with a gardener. It will do you a world of good, and since we're notoriously generous, you'll likely get quite a few plants to help you get started for free.

Monday, May 26, 2014

At Last

Every season has its peak, a few magical days when everything in the garden is working in harmony. Two weeks ago, just as we put the house on the market, the ornamental gardens luckily reached their zenith. Every plant was in bloom at the same time and looking glorious, and I will be forever grateful to them for that. I like to think they were what sold the house--well, them and the kitchen. I'm pretty sure that this week is the high point for the productive garden because everything's coming up vegetables.

Baby squash 'Tatuma' nestled in thyme and flower bedecked

For the first time in my gardening life in Florida, I have finally gotten my bean yields high enough to start putting them up for winter. The three varieties I planted are all producing at the same time now, though the 'Tiger's Eye' and 'Contender' are a little behind 'Kentucky Wonder.' Turfman and I conducted a very scientific taste test, and he declared 'Tiger's Eye' and 'Kentucky Wonder' to be the best. I couldn't taste much of a difference.

'Contender,' the lone 'Tiger's Eye,' and 'Kentucky Wonder'

I'm watching all of my peppers with much anticipation. Every time I see the Greek Pepperoncini peppers, my mouth waters at the thought of them adorning my salads. My great hope is that I can get enough of every variety to have a canned jar of each to take with us to our new home.


Cherry Bell Peppers

JalapeƱos coming on

I also have tomatoes and cucumbers and corn getting ready, and the four pineapples are coming along nicely. With this much success in the garden, I've been greedily turning my eyes to the fig tree, checking the fruit every morning and hoping that they will ripen before we move. I simply want one jar of fig preserves. Just one. But in case that doesn't happen, I did take a cutting of the fig tree, and it's already sprouted. Now if we could just find a home for it in Georgia...