Creating a Front Garden

Last winter and into spring, I decided to begin creating a front garden space to plant new perennials. When one older lady is doing this work herself, it takes time. I wanted to prepare the bed by killing the grass and weeds and adding some “good” dirt.

I bought the border bricks, which I put around a few other little gardens in the yard, and my son helped me move the bricks. I bought a load of dirt from a local landscape center and put that on top of my saved newspaper.

new garden
Getting the ground ready for a new garden

In New Hampshire this newspaper trick worked pretty well. Paper plus a layer of dirt kills the stuff underneath. I used to do it so it could sit over winter. But Florida growth is a different beast. For one thing it never really stops growing. There is no ice and snow to make it dormant. The newspaper and cardboard did help but some grass and lots of dollar weed came right up through everything.

Also grass here is not the slightest like northern grass. This grass is in vine form and it’s tough stuff. You don’t want to have to dig it up.

front garden area
The weeds are thriving

A strange tall weed began to grow and I let it. I still have no idea what it was. Once it got big, it had a few pretty little yellow flowers. Eventually the whole thing died and I pulled it out. Weeds can be interesting and beautiful.

Yellow flowers on tall weed
This weed had pretty little golden yellow flowers

All in all the work I did to remove the grass worked pretty well, but I still had a lot of stuff to pull up. The dollar weed is under control. The older part of the garden, as you can see below, is full of plants. My hydrangea looks pretty bad, but it’s alive. The blooming New Guinea impatiens are some of my favorites as they last a long time and brighten the yard for months. The red bromeliad was a Christmas gift from a friend.

Front garden with extension
Front garden Spring 2020

The new garden area, in the back on the photo above, contains only two crotons which I began from cuttings, and a spiky agave plant- at least I think that is what it is. I got it from a neighbor and haven’t been able to find a spot to plant it. Finally it’s “roots” were breaking the pot apart, so I stuck it here. But it will be in the way of the sprinkler head, so it might have to go. These things get huge!

Agave plant
New croton plant
The baby crotons are doing okay

My plan for this time of year was to buy some new plants for the front garden. I hadn’t decided for sure what plants, but a trip to Pells Nursery would have helped me decide. Now that everything is closed, thanks to the Coronavirus, and we have to stay home, I can’t very well shop for plants. So… change of plans.

I’m currently planning to plant some vegetable seeds I have saved in this empty garden space.

The Croton is Flowering, Cats, and Other Happenings This Saturday Morning

flowering croton
Flowers on the Croton

Before I left on my trip north, I checked (and watered) all my plants and discovered that my croton is flowering! Pretty fluffy little off-white flowers are shooting off the tops of the big-leaved stems. Long ago I may have seen croton flowers, but if so, I had forgotten that they have flowers.

It’s Saturday morning already. I lost a few days this week it seems.

All my mornings begin with me making coffee for myself. While the coffee brews I take care of the cats. My two black cats simply want to go outside. I change their water and make sure there is food in the bowl.

Then I deal with Earflap aka Mr. Mites aka Bitey. He is the stray who adopted us a few months ago. He manages to fill his litter box every night, so I empty that. He gets special canned food, so I serve him breakfast. The porch door stays shut overnight so the raccoons won’t come in and eat his dry food, so I open it and give him his freedom. Usually he goes back to sleep on the chair inside the porch.

stray cat on the patio
Earflap the stray cat

Two days ago I walked into the garage at 8AM and it wasn’t sweltering. I put the door up and a wonderful breeze hit me. As I walked into the driveway I stretched my arms and breathed in the air – something I haven’t done in months. Trying to breathe outside here in summer is like slowly drowning. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit but the humidity here is stifling – 24 hours a day.

With the breeze blowing for the past three days, the heat seems less and it gives me hope that cool nights are in the future. Daytime temperatures seldom stay cool, but overnight it can get nice. I’m thinking about gardening, and considering having a yard sale. Continue reading “The Croton is Flowering, Cats, and Other Happenings This Saturday Morning”

A Little About My Gardens, Past and Present

great-grandfather
My son and his great-grampa, 1978

I recently read a blog post where the writer explained about her backyard garden.  She included photos and her plans for each area of the outdoor space.  You can read it at the Hairytoegardener’s blog.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I lived on a hill overlooking my grandfather’s huge vegetable and flower garden.  I remember him always there, working in the garden (except in winter of course).  I can still picture him jiggling along with that old rototiller digging up the earth.  I wish I had run down and helped him do what he did, because I could have learned first hand how to be a successful grower of fabulous fresh vegetables.

I think he liked the solitude of gardening, so I would have been an unwanted pest maybe.  But as I recall, my grandfather was always kind and enjoyed us kids being around.  I think he could have taught me a thing or two about gardening.

Grampa's garden
The Field and Garden – after Grandfather was gone

Anyway, I never really got into gardening mainly because I had children who took up all my time. I presently have a 40 year old son, a 19 year old son, and two more in between. The most gardening I have done over the years were in my big Florida yard, where I planted everything tropical I could get my hands on, and in New England where I truly enjoyed digging in the ground.

I’ve lived at 16 different addresses. Some of those for only a very short time. In fact, one address was merely wishful thinking. I never actually had the chance to move in, but my items were there for a few weeks. The condo I was about to rent flooded from a burst pipe, and it was necessary to find an alternate place to live – temporarily.

I’ve spent many of my later years in survival mode, and that means I didn’t get to even think about such frivolous things as gardening.

But, when I had the chance to allow my mind to dream of a backyard full of flowers and blooming trees, and an herb garden, and picking ripe tomatoes, I worked relentlessly to make it happen. A lack of land restrained me somewhat, but in the first home, which was all my own, in New Hampshire, I planted in every available sunny spot I could find.  I did it all by myself, and I had a beautiful spot to enjoy.

backyard garden
My New Hampshire Backyard & Gardens

However, before that home, I had another New Hampshire home. It was the last place I lived.  Really, those were the last days of my life.  At that time, I lived more like most of the population. I was a normal person. And my husband (now ex) and I bought a house with land..!!!!… that had a wonderful array of gardens and ornamental trees, with a gorgeous forsythia hedge by the road.   In spring, I saw the tulips and daffodils pop out of the earth… imagine!  There is none of that in Florida.

Immediately I began to study the New England plant varieties and saw my yard becoming even more stunning as I planned to include more and more new shrubs and trees over the years.   In the two summers I lived here, I expanded the garden, adding a block pathway, bird feeders and bird baths.  There was an asparagus garden – I’d never had that before – and we saw black bear, turkeys and deer in the yard.  There was even a wisteria growing over a backyard arbor (not in the photos).  Yes, I could have lived here for the rest of my life, but two years later we were gone.

tulips and forsythia
Forsythia and Tulips, Spring at my first NH home

backyard garden
New Hampshire 1st backyard – photo taken from a skylight on the 2nd floor

When I write about my first NH house, it’s like I am talking about another person’s life. It was only 12 years ago that I lived here, but it seems like 100.

Today my yard is small and my house is surrounded by St. Augustine grass which grows like thick vines intertwining with itself.   This makes it incredibly difficult to remove – if I wanted to plant a garden.  Instead I have chosen a raised bed to grow vegetables (hopefully).   The plantings in the yard are simple and easy to care for as this was a home owned by some wealthy people who rented it out over the 12 years they owned it.  There is even a sprinkler system.  It’s a self-sufficient house.

So I have begun yet again to try to establish a beautiful yard. Except now I am older, and struggle with a disease that saps my energy. The gardening bug, once installed in our DNA, is impossible to ignore. My mind says “it’s too hot here, give up and just be at peace with the yard as it is”.

But my heart calls me to don those gloves and go out and dig!  Collect seeds, experiment with new plantings, take clippings and see if they will root and become new plants on their own.

The old dreams of a beautiful garden in my backyard are gone, but I feel good about the fact that when I had the chance, however fleeting the opportunity, I made the best of it.  I’ve left some great gardens behind.  I guess it was my tiny contribution to the planet.

Still, I can’t stop.

What’s Growing in My July Florida Garden

It is so hot down here in Florida in the month of July that I rarely go outside.  This morning I scurried around my yard and took some photos until I just couldn’t stand being out there.  I think I lasted less than 5 minutes. The heat index says it feels like 100 out there. Add in tons of humidity, and you have Yuk.

So lets begin with the flowers. The crotons and hibiscus are loving the heat. They were made to withstand summer heat in this disgusting climate. Thankfully we are getting lots of afternoon thunderstorms that keep me from having to go out and water.

red hibiscus
Red Hibiscus

My rose bush hasn’t had any blooms for a while, but I noticed a small rose and bud today. It probably needs more attention, and more fertilizer.

small carnival rose and bud
Small Rose and Bud

I bought some Impatiens when I first moved into the house, and unbelievably they are still looking pretty good! I also planted my mother-in-laws-tongue, or snake plant, in the ground and it is doing well. I’ve put a few of the big seashells I’ve collected into the garden as decoration. The older, worn shells look good displayed that way. I had to put them out front, away from the raccoons, so they wouldn’t drag them off!

seashells decorating garden bed
Seashells Decorate the Garden Bed

The Persian Lime tree is doing great. It’s still in a pot, and has lost a lot of the fruit it started with, but I still have some good size limes coming. I’ll have to figure out when to pick the fruit.

persian lime fruit on tree
Persian Lime Fruit

I have 2 eggplant plants, but neither one is growing any eggplants. They flower, and lose the flowers and keep growing tall.  They are a good spot for ladybugs to lay their eggs and eat aphid infestations, but that is about it.

Maybe there aren’t enough bugs to pollinate the flowers. I need more flowering plants in and around my garden.
But I tried. I bought a bunch of marigolds because I always grew marigolds in New Hampshire. They usually became beautiful rounded bushes with tons of flowers. But that is not happening to these marigolds.

eggplant
Eggplant

The marigolds have been growing for months, and I only have about 3 flowers total. The stalks have grown very long and tall, without flowering. It’s very bizarre. Marigolds are good to grow near tomatoes and other vegetables because they will help keep certain unwanted bugs away.

orange marigold
Orange Marigold

On to the tomatoes. I have 2 tomato plants still growing, but neither one looks exceptionally good. Both have some small green tomatoes, and I don’t know if I will get red ones to eat before the raccoons decide to help themselves.

Green tomatoes
Tomatoes

I tried covering the vegetable garden with netting, and I think that helped. But a papa cardinal somehow got inside the netting and was trapped in the garden! I went out and freed him, but I had to cut the netting off in the process. He was really freaking out, so I left the garden uncovered.
I’m not trying too hard to garden these days. It’s too hot, and I don’t think the vegetables like it either.
……. Happy 4th!