So as August's cloudbursts scratched against my window I very happily spent most of the month doing hour after hour at the computer working hard to make Floridata a success. Yep, I am pretty sick of it by now so I'm hoping that you'll like the changes - and that we'll have beautiful weather in September when I intend to make up my fun deficit and get out into the garden!
Day after long day sitting at the computer can be fatally boring unless you have diversions. One of my favorite distractions is sifting through the thousands of pictures I have accumulated over the years. I always turn up lots of nice memories and sometimes even discover one or two that I really like - it's fun and mental-healthy to take a few minutes away from real work to do art therapy.
First I load pictures into Adobe Photoshop® and then I digitally torment them for theraputic pleasure. This month, after much cussing and effort, out popped a picture that I really like (at left). Starting with an image of an American lotus (Nelumbo lutea 'Mrs. Perry Slocum') seedpod, I slightly blurred it, desaturated and shifted the color and then mapped it onto a textured sandstone background. I think it looks like a traditional Japanese painting, or maybe Chinese, or maybe the restroom wallpaper of a Denny's where I ate in the early seventies (but I still think it's pretty...)
Art therapy or real work, you can't spend your whole life sitting at a computer (even though it appears I'm making a stab at it). There's still work to do in the garden despite the rain, humidity, and scourge of biting insects lurking just outside the door. Therefore, once a day, rain or shine, I grease myself in lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) oil and venture out into jungly heat hoping the vaporous aromatics will render my flesh unpalatable to the bloodsucking bug species that seek to drain me of vital life fluids. On a hot day an application of lemongrass oil is an effective repellent for only about 20 minutes therefore I work fast before things start eating on me. I want to make the most of the sticky summer weather because it is perfect for germinating palm seeds and rooting cuttings! The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) seeds that I planted last month all popped up in less than two weeks. However, I'm still waiting for the European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) seeds and Chinese fan palms (Livistona chinensis) that I planted in mid-July to come up. They should begin germinating in the next month or two especially if the warm wet weather here in North Florida continues into October.
I've taken to regularly cruising eBay for interesting things to grow and this month found some Texas sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) seeds (cheap!). There's a good chance that you've seen this one growing in outdoor mixed container plantings - it's the thing that looks like a very narrow-leaved yucca. It's a drought tolerant desert dweller that will grow well on the dry sandy soil that I have here at Floridune. [Update 2006: for a while we had a nice interface to eBay that would display plants and related products on Floridata. When the accounting and other technical things kept messing up I got mad and yanked it all out. Perhaps we'll try them again somtime in the future.]
I rooted a couple dozen chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) cuttings too. Over the past year I've written about this tree often. It's a superb small tree with marijuana-like foliage and blue to violet flowers that are delicious to bees and many butterflies. Chaste tree is also extremely easy to start and will take root rapidly even without rooting hormone treatment. There's a variety called 'Latifolia' which has wider leaflets than the species. I've had one growing out in the front pasture for ten years but the poor thing is just barely surviving due to the activities of abusive deer. It had only a few scraggly branches and now has even fewer, but the cuttings sacrificed by this long-suffering fellow will live on should deer deliver the coup de grâce this year.
I also grew a few salvia hybrids this year that Floridata will profile in the coming months. There's Salvia 'Black and Blue' (see In Bloom for a photo), S. 'Indigo Spires' and S. 'West Friesland' all rapidly (and easily) rooting in pots. Next summer I intend to have dozens of these perennial beauties populating my beds for the benefit of bee and butterfly.
Unfortunately the sticky summer weather is also perfect for growing weeds - huge angry weeds with deep roots, prickly stems and intransigent attitudes. The daily rains have transformed Floridune into a riot of green and it will take the first frost to restore order. For now I'm doing triage and emergency rescue of those plants most threatened by rampant growths. I've learned to limit my interventions to removal of weeds only in the immediate vicinity of the victim. I discovered that there is little use in weeding a section unless the cleared area is immediately mulched - generously. Pulling weeds disturbs the soil, which exposes more weed seeds which thrive with no competition. These rapidly undo your efforts and the area reverts to its weedy state. So for me, until I can afford to buy more pinestraw or hay or when there's fallen leaves available for the raking I don't plan to weed my beds clean. Happily the beds that I've planted closely with desirable species and mulched don't look too bad - that's the trick - fill every area with plants that you like or Mother Nature will fill the void with stuff that you don't!
Most of the temperate garden plants called it quits back in July but those of more tropical persuasion continue to grow bigger and prettier the more the monsoon blows. The impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) are freaking with all of the rain - each is about the size of bushel basket and drenched in flowers. They've become such water pigs though, that if a single day of rain is missed they all collapse in a thirsty wilt and I have to sprinkle them before they char. The good old crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are still splashing color around - the early varieties are doing sporadic blooms and the later varieties started up in early August. Down in the Dog Cemetery I have a 'Miami' (really dark pinkish-red) that I moved last winter. It survived the trauma nicely and is putting on a decent show despite the stress (see In Bloom picture below).
Many of the Fall bloomers started up unusually soon this year affirming the other omens of an early Winter. At my place the cardinal guard (Odontonema strictum) usually waits until early September to begin but by early August was already pumping out radioactive red flowers. These drive hummingbirds to gustatory ecstasy and are invariably shrouded in a yellow haze of sulfur butterflies (dogface and cloudless!). Another end-o-summer favorite here is the Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha). I had a couple that almost died (because I didn't take very good care of them). But this Spring I salvaged some live roots and brought a couple of them back to life. Even though the wet humid summers are not exactly this plant's idea of perfect weather (it's from dry regions of Mexico) they grew to 3 ft (0.9 m) and in the last week of August budded out and began to bloom. Yay! Now I don't have to buy a new one - every garden should have at least one of these fine plants if for no other reason than to attract sulfur butterflies which look especially handsome and vibrant against its purple flowers.
Over the past seven years we've worked like crazy, paid our dues, said our prayers and done our homework. I'm confident that with the support of our visitors, Floridata will become a business, entertainment and educational success - thanks to you!
I hope that everyone had a great summer and is revved up for a fun Fall. Visit Floridata often in September because we have several new Plant Profiles coming, and lots of updates that can help you plan your cool weather gardening projects. Be glad, good and grow! - Jack