Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Look what I found after 10 days away

When Ralph and I came back from our recent trip, one of the first things I did was check my gardens to see what had changed.

Not much could happen in just over a week, right?  Wrong!  There was so much to see!

There weren't any starfruit, also known as carambola, when we left on our trip but by the time we returned, the small tree just outside the west entry door was covered with soon-to-be-ripe fruit. After years of winter freezes that killed back this cold-sensiteve tree, it finally looks like we're going to have an amazing crop!

I knew avocadoes were beginning to develop before we went away but I didn't expect them to grow as big so quickly.  They're not ready to pick yet but will be soon and when they're ready, my - will they be good! Can hardly wait!

Figs are another fruit that was only beginning to develop when we left two weeks ago.  Upon our return, many of the LSU purple figs that we grow were already to be picked and eaten and shared with friends and family.

We weren't the only ones to notice the ripening figs.  The squirrels did too. If you look close at the picture above (click to enlarge) you'll see a partially nibbled fig on the tree.  I'm surprised the little bushy-tailed bandit didn't eat it all up like the one in the picture below is doing.

Squirrels weren't the only critters to take advantage of our absence. We got home after midnight.  The next morning, I looked out the window straight into the face of a wild turkey.  I don't know which of us was more startled.

I also noticed not one but two ospreys perched in the dead pine tree across the lake. Unfortunately, they flew away when I took my boat out for a row but I'm still hopeful that one day a pair will decide to build a nest on top of the snag and raise some babies.

A black vulture was also hanging around one of the snags.  The osprey may have been spooked by my rowing and flew away but the vulture didn't move at all when I rowed by.

I stumbled upon one final surprise late at night just before bed. Before going to sleep, I looked out the bedroom window and noticed one of my potted plants looking droopy (kind of how I felt after all that travel). So, I picked myself up and went outside to give it some water. I'm so glad I did because while there, I noticed a flower blooming in one of the succulents. I'm not sure what kind of succulent it is but now that I've seen it flower I realize it must be some sort of night-blooming cirius. That's the kind of welcome home gift I love to receive!

If you know what variety this is, please let me know

Monday, June 29, 2015

Night light

Seeing red

I’m sitting in my bedroom looking out the window at a red bubbly fountain I installed yesterday. I ordered the fountain after a serendipitous chain of events that began with a Facebook post linked to a YouTube video of a hummingbird bathing in the bubbling water of a red urn-shaped fountain.

My new bubbler fountain

The video (posted below) was fascinating. The little hummingbird seemed delighted by the lightly bubbling water cascading down the rippled curve of the shiny red fountain. The tiny bird dipped its head in the wet, shook off the water and, after playfully splashing in the fountain, fluffed out its feathers repeatedly. I don’t know if it was the water, the red color or a combination of the two that drew the hummer, but something about the fountain definitely had an allure. It drew me in as well.

Several days later, I was out doing errands around town, including a stop at Kmart, a store I hadn’t been to for a while. Being a plant enthusiast, I entered through the gardening center instead of the main entry. Although the store’s gardening selection is limited, a display of fountains caught my eye. In the forefront was the exact same model fountain as the one in the video, an aesthetically pleasing red glaze pot artistically crafted of polyresin complete with two sets of LED lights. I was pleased to see a price tag of just $69, a reasonable amount I thought, for a pretty water feature with the potential to attract hummingbirds.

Despite the fair price, I didn’t purchase the fountain that day. Instead, I bought only the items I came into the store for and when I returned home, looked up the fountain online. Surprisingly, the online cost from Kmart was only $50. I quickly added it to my virtual shopping cart. However, before I had time to place the order, my husband Ralph asked me to consult on a repair project he was doing. After that, there was dinner to prepare and various other distractions. Before long, I was too sleepy to contemplate anything other than turning down the covers and tumbling into bed. My online shopping spree remained stalled for that day and the next.

A couple days later, I returned to Kmart’s website and was happy to find the fountain still sitting in my online cart. I was even happier when I noticed that the price had inexplicitly changed. Instead of $50, the Essential Garden Red Glazed Pot Fountain was reduced even more. I could now buy one for just $39. Naturally, I bought two.

So now I sit by my bedroom window gazing out at the new addition to my south-facing garden. I purposely placed the fountain in a garden where hummingbirds regularly feed on the sweet nectar of Wendy’s Wish Salvia and the sticky blossoms of the bottlebrush tree. 

A hummer checks out the red salvia flowers

At some point, the jeweled beauties are bound to notice the fountain and fly over to check it out. I want to be here when they do.

The perfect ending to this story would be if a hummer chanced by as I was typing these words. Unfortunately, that hasn’t yet happened. But I’m patient. It doesn’t have to be today or even tomorrow. I know at some point hummingbirds will find the bubbly water.

Meanwhile, I’m reaping my own benefits from the unexpectedly inexpensive garden feature. The 17-inch tall, under-eight-pound bubbler may be small, but it packs plenty of serenity in its compact shell. One can do worse in the daytime than sit by a bedroom window gazing out at a waterfall in a flower garden, waiting for something wonderful to happen and wondering when.

A hummingbird rests on a branch
I also wait patiently for something wonderful to happen...

Monday, June 22, 2015

A walk through the gardens

Now that summer is officially here, I decided to go for a walk around the property and check out some of the many hot-weather ornamental plants.

My first stop was at the Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia, which is growing next to the clay wall along our driveway.

Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia sp.)

This is my first year growing the bushy plant, and it’s already taller than I am with more than a dozen buds about to open. I planted it long enough ago to have forgotten what color the pendulous floral bells were going to be so, it was a nice surprise to see the first two peachy-pink flowers emerge.

Another plant that escaped my memory is a white crinum lily that had been transplanted to a spot beneath the Louis Philippe rose bushes. In addition to the rose, which is a sprawling, hardy, bright red bush with fragrant blooms, the white crinum is growing among numerous pink rain lilies and a solitary pineapple plant with fruit almost ready to pick.

White crinum lily

The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council considers Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonic, an exotic pest, but I've grown the vine for more than 20 years and find it quite manageable. It’s far less invasive on our property than many other vines that aren’t on the council's list.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

I like Japanese honeysuckle because it triggers memories of my childhood in Yardley, Pa. where the bushy vine grew wild around the railroad tracks near my parents' home. In those days, when I went for walks or bike rides, I'd always stop to pick a flower (or two or three) to suck the “honey” from the sweet-smelling flower's stem end. I know now that the stem end is called a calyx but to my younger self, the stem end was just a soft straw through which I could catch a taste of sweetness on a hot summer day.

I believe my fondness for honeysuckle is due to long-ago memories of nectar between my lips combined with the fragrance of so many flowers in one place and the buzzing whirl of bees competing with me for the nectar. One plant stimulating so many senses is pretty heady stuff.

Orange Flame Justicia, Justicia chrysostephana, is another relatively new addition to my garden. It was given to me last year and although it flowered a bit in 2014, it was still in a pot. A few months ago, I transplanted it into the ground in an area of enriched soil where it gets a fair amount of sun and regular water.

Orange Flame Justicia (Justicia chrysostephana)

It seems to like its new home. Several orbs of bright orange flower spikes protrude above large green leaves. In the morning, I sometimes see hummingbirds fly to the orange flowerheads. They’re attracted to the color, and I am too.

I like Justicia so much, I want to add more to the landscape. My daughter Amber has several other colors of Justicia growing in her beautiful yard in Winter Garden, and I'm hoping she'll pot up some cuttings for me.

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, has such a happy face. A few years ago, I planted a couple seedlings alongside the barn. Over time, those original two flowers multiplied — not a lot, but enough to hint at the broad field of wildflowers I'd someday like to have.

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Some people call Passiflora incarnate maypop or apricot vine, but when I first arrived in Florida this fancy flower with the frilly purple fringe was introduced to me as passionflower vine. I've had a passion for it ever since.

Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

When we lived on a small lot in Kissimmee, I grew the wild purple passionflower on a trellis along the side of our house. It made a beautiful living wall that attracted butterflies and bees. When we moved to Groveland in the early 1990s, I no longer needed to cultivate the vine because it grew wild throughout our property. I see it in the woods, along the shoreline, creeping across fields and even in the bamboo groves where it does its best to cling to the canes and reach up high.

Although I absorbed the beauty of other flowers on my walk, I conclude with a mixed pot of two plants. Several years ago, I placed a large square container of white caladiums and pink rain lilies just outside my bedroom window.

Caladium and rain lilies

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, those flowers in that spot provides me with me with a special gift. In the summer, I wake up each morning and go to sleep each night looking out at the caladium's heart-shaped leaves and the rain lilies' cheery pink flowers. It’s a fine floral way to start and end a day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A cereus find

On the drive home from the Mount Dora Village Market​ Sunday morning, I meandered through some side streets in town and came across this amazing stand of night blooming cereus completely encircling the trunk of two large oak trees in someone's yard.

A picture of one of the trees

Not only had the vine climbed its way up the trunk and into the branches, it had also sprawled across the ground and into the road.

I couldn't pass up such an opportunity to take home a snippet so I pulled over, took out my clippers (gardening tip:  always keep an extra pair of clippers in the car for just such occasions) and lopped off about a foot-long section to transplant.

It's too bad I missed the blooming but from the number of spent blossoms hanging from the vines, I can only imagine how spectacular it must have looked late at night when the flowers opened.

Here's a picture of my own night blooming cereus that bloomed for the first time last year.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Who's a fluffy fellow?

I caught sight of this male bluebird perched on a branch of the bottlebrush tree just after he must have taken a bath.  What a fluffed out fellow he is!

Who's a fluffy fellow?

"I am!" says the little bluebird

After losing their clutch of babies to a crow, the pair of bluebirds that nested in the boxes we installed this year have returned.  The female spends most of her time going in and out of the box while the male mostly stands guard on a nearby hanging swing.

After the crow incident, I didn't know what was going to happen.  Would the bluebirds return to try again or would they go off somewhere else to raise a family.  I'm so glad they decided to come back.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tiny ticks pose big threat

I like snakes. I'm not scared of them. I swim in lakes and don't worry about stepping on a snake or being bitten by alligators. But one creature does give me pause. More than that — it scares me silly.

I'm afraid of ticks, specifically deer ticks, those pencil-point-sized arthropods whose bites can potentially cause long-term medical problems in humans.

While all ticks are small, the tiny deer tick is so small it's difficult to feel it on skin
(Photo credit: www.onlinepestcontrol.com)

Instead of decreasing as time has gone by, my fear has grown since 1975 when deer ticks were first associated with the bacterial infection known as Lyme disease. The disease, which is transmitted by tick bites, can cause a wide range of debilitating and often ongoing conditions.

In the 70's, I lived on Cape Cod with my husband Ralph and our dog, Dibs, a schnauzer-poodle mix who spent most of her time outside exploring our wooded acreage with tail-wagging delight. In those days, nightly tick checks were part of our daily routine. Ralph would check me. I would check him, and then I'd spend a long time checking Dibs, who inevitably had more of the eight-legged blood-thirsty critters on her small furry body than either of us had.

My sweet dog, Dibs, who spent much of her time outside, was often covered with ticks when she came in at night

Back then, Lyme disease was new, and I was young. Since it was before Ralph and I began to raise a family, my own sense of mortality had yet to be awakened. I accepted the existence of ticks as just another petty annoyance like mucky March ground and trees entwined with poison ivy. Even though we lived not far from the disease's epicenter, tick concerns didn't keep me out of the woods or away from my dog.

It wasn't until an acquaintance came down with Lyme disease that my protective it-won't-happen-to-me armor began to erode. Suddenly a person I knew who was the same age as me needed to lean on a cane to be able to walk. Arthritic knots punctuated the joints of her hands, and her face, even when she smiled, was slightly lopsided and taut with pain.

Photo credit:  www.lymedisease.org

As the years went by, I knew more and more people who were bitten by deer ticks infected with the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. Rather than diminish over time, the problem of Lyme disease dramatically increased. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually. Even though antibiotic treatment is now available, the CDC reports that "Approximately 10 to 20 percent of patients (particularly those who were diagnosed later), who received appropriate antibiotic treatment, may have persistent or recurrent symptoms."

I find those statistics very scary.

Ralph and I are about to head north to visit our daughter Jenny and her family in western Massachusetts, and as much as I look forward to receiving our grandchildren's hugs and spending time with family, I do so with a certain amount of trepidation.

In 2013, the CDC reported 87 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Florida compared to 3,816 in Massachusetts. As I prepare for the trip, I mentally remind myself to stay out of the woods, not walk through long grass and to check my body carefully — extra carefully — at least once a day. And, the CDC says that repellents with DEET can help protect against tick bites, as can products containing permethrin.

I believe in evaluating risks. In the 67 years since 1948 when records were first kept, only 22 people in Florida have been killed by alligators. Ticks are tiny, but the danger they pose to a human health — even in Florida where deer tick populations are relatively low — is huge compared to that of alligators.

Tiny deer ticks pose far greater threats to human health than large scary looking alligators

Life is fraught with fears. After careful evaluation, we can choose to ignore those fears, avoid them or face them head-on. In the case of tick-borne illness and my upcoming trip to Tick Central, I intend to play it safe through a prudent mix of prevention, protection and proactive awareness. I sure hope it works.

Photo credit:  www.michigan.gov

Friday, June 12, 2015

Who loves bamboo? Cardinals do!

A female cardinal in nest-building mode landed on top of an outdoor spigot (a favorite perch for a variety of birds) with a beak full of brown bamboo leaves.

A mouth full of nesting material

With bamboo, old leaves fall off after new leaves form.  The grayish-brown, light-weight fibers fall to the ground and eventually decompose into the soil.

Old leaves fall off and cover the ground beneath a stand of bamboo

But this female cardinal had other purposes in mind for the faded foliage.  To her, it's the perfect material to weave into her nest.

Sitting pretty on top of an outdoor spigot

I captured the cardinal with nest-building on her mind.  Now all I have to do is see if I can figure out where she's secreted away her cozy compound.

Several years ago a cardinal decided to combine bamboo nesting material with the bamboo itself by building its nest in the middle of a clump of Angel Mist Timber Bamboo

Thursday, June 11, 2015

One holey tree

A dead pine tree across the lake from our house is full of life.  Most of its branches fell off a long time ago and some of its bark has begun to rot away, but none of that seems to matter to the birds that live and roost there.

Last year a pileated woodpecker drilled gigantic holes in which to raise its family.

A screech owl made the hole even larger and moved in after the pileated woodpeckers left.

And an osprey often perches on the dead tree's broken off trunk because it's one of the highest spots around.


Just the other day I noticed a red-bellied woodpecker paying considerable attention to one of the tree's many cavities.

It could be making a nest or baby birds may already be living inside the pre-drilled cavity.  Either way, this is one dead tree that hasn't stopped giving.


A cloak of pine needles no longer adorns the tree's boughs and pine cones have long since fallen to the ground.  Some people would consider the dead tree ugly, an eyesore that should be cut down. But that's not how I see it.  To me, dead trees that support and shelter life are as much a part of a healthy woodland as young saplings and mature specimens. They are doing their part in the circle of life even after their own life has come to an end.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A yellow surprise

On my way to the compost pile to dump out yesterday's food scraps, a forgotten flower gave me a surprise.

A bright yellow rain lily was in full bloom!


Although I have multitudes of pink rain lilies, which have been blooming like crazy after all of our recent downpours, none of the yellow flowering variety that were planted over the past couple years have ever bloomed.

Pink rain lilies surround a Dwarf Buddha Belly Bamboo

In fact, they had been planted so long ago that I'd almost forgotten they were even there.  But today, the solitary bloom caught my eye.

The yellow lily is planted in a 7-gallon landscape pot together with pink rain lilies and some ground violets.  The photo above demonstrates how much smaller the yellow lily is than its rosy-hued relative.  It may be small but its diminutive size doesn't detract from the flower's beauty.

Now that one yellow lily has bloomed, I'm hoping others will follow. And maybe - just maybe - the yellow lily will be as prolific as the pink one is. How exciting to imagine the yard scattered with pink and yellow flowers after every dark and dreary downpour.

To read more about rain lilies check out the following posts:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Repurpose...Rethink...Repel rascally rodents

Take away the cuteness factor, and a squirrel is nothing more than a fluffy-tailed rat.

Cute little furry-tailed rascal nibbling sunflower seeds

My rodent realization moment happened the morning I looked out the kitchen window and saw not one or two but six gray squirrels scampering around the birdfeeders. Mind you, no birds were at the birdfeeders — only squirrels.

The greedy little rascals had selfishly devoured all the birdseed in one of the four feeders that hung within sight of my kitchen window. They were working their way through two of the others as well.

A squirrel guzzles down the seeds from this supposedly 'squirrel-proof' feeder

The only feeder they left alone was the one protected by a homemade baffle that my clever husband Ralph had constructed last year out of a section of shiny steel stovepipe.

My husband's original homemade stovepipe baffle.  See detailed pictures of how Ralph built the baffle at DIY squirrel baffle solves birdfeeder problem 

As I silently watched, the four-legged thieves stuffed their mouths with sunflower seeds, chased each other about and twitched their fluffy tails back and forth. My tolerance level plummeted. Although I had previously accepted the fact that a few squirrels were bound to eat some of the seeds I put out for the birds, it had never been my intention to provide a mixed-seed buffet for a rodent-only clientele.

Something had to change, and I knew just what to do to make it happen

“Ralph,” I said beseechingly, “I need you to build me more baffles.”

My husband looked up from the book he was reading. “I don’t have any more pieces of stovepipe,” he replied.

“Can’t you use something else?” I asked. “What about a piece of PVC pipe? There’s bunches of that up in the junk pile.”

Like many homesteads, ours has an area where spare bits of this and that remain until needed for one project or another. 

Ye olde family junk pile...

Sometimes called a boneyard, our junk pile is a repository for used appliances, old windows, doors, ceramic tiles, concrete blocks and assorted pipes including a wide range of PVC in various diameters and lengths. Later that day, Ralph returned from the junk pile with several sections of pipe for me to consider.

“This one will be perfect,” I said pointing to a three-foot long by four-inch diameter section of white PVC. “Can you attach it to this double shepherd’s hook?”

With two hooks on it, the metal shepherd’s hook would hold two of the remaining three feeders. Since that was the only shepherd’s hook I had, I decided to let the third feeder stay empty for a while.

It took Ralph less than an hour to convert the leftover segment of PVC pipe into a workable squirrel baffle. He threaded a piece of copper wire — also from the junk pile — through two small holes drilled in the top of the pipe and hung an upside down plastic container inside the pipe to block the opening in case one of the rodents managed to shimmy its way up the pole. He then attached the baffle to the metal shepherd’s hook so it hung about 18 inches off the ground.

When he was finished, I refilled two of the birdfeeders with new seed and attached them to the hooks. I also took down a suet feeder that the squirrels sometimes nibbled and secured that to the shepherd’s hook as well.

It didn’t take long for the squirrels to check it out. The next morning, while Ralph and I were eating our breakfast, a cotillion of fluffy-tailed rodents was anxious seeking food of their own.

Thanks to my husband's efforts, a baffled squirrel realizes his free meal days have ended

“Look!” I exclaimed to my husband. “The squirrels are trying to get to the feeders.”

A squirrel tries, unsuccessfully, to climb up the baffled pole beneath the feeder

Curious to see if his contraption had worked, Ralph peered out the window. We both watched in satisfied amusement as one squirrel after another tried and failed to reach the birdseed. They couldn’t jump to it because it was too far from any potential launch site, and they couldn’t climb to it because the suspended PVC baffle was too wobbly and slippery. Instead, they looked up in frustration as a cardinal came to eat the seed.

Birdseed is meant for birds, not squirrels

One squirrel is cute, but six fluffy-tailed rats eating seeds meant for the birds is five squirrels too many. Fortunately, my handy husband baffled the little rats with his PVC solution. Rethink. Repurpose. Repel the rascally rodents. End result: Rat pack, be gone!