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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

December 2001

Tallahassee yard poinsettias
Here in Tallahassee we can plant our holiday poinsettias out in the yard. Wise gardeners plant in sheltered areas to protect from freezes. This bunch, nestled beneath a live oak tree, just survived a Christmas night freeze with temps in the low twenties.
This month's journal begins on a serious note. I can't think of a tactful way to work this into the discussion so just let me say that I am NOT a sexual predator. In early December I discovered that an individual with a name similar to mine is on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's List of Sexual Predators. I'm not kidding. Please note that my middle name is Stephen, I'm John S. Scheper. As it happens, my name is not all that unusual as there are dozens of John Scheper's all over the country (in Germany too!) My grandfather and father were both named John although dad went by Jack. Dad has been gone many years now but I still think of him often, especially at this time of year. In his memory, and for the practical purpose of uniquely distinguishing myself, I'm going to begin using Jack for my name as well. As unnerving as this discovery was, I'm glad it caught my attention (it might explain some odd experiences in the past year).

My prickly pear patch is now beautifully free of brambles and briars.
December Projects
I was still bumming out about the predator thing when one of my teeth started to feel weird so I went to the dentist. The tooth had to come out (had gas,didn't hurt). Afterwards I received prescriptions for antibiotics and potent painkillers which made me feel fuzzy and stupid. A friend from Jacksonville called and reported that he too was fuzzy and stupid from painkillers. He had stepped on a welding rod that went right through his foot (no gas, did hurt). He said he's making the most of the situation by doing all his most disagreeable and heinous chores. He reasons that while on pain drugs you're too fuzzy and stupid to realize what you're doing so make the most of the opportunity.

Last summer I brought some papayas back from central Florida to photograph. Then I ate them. Then I composted what was left in one of the flower beds. Shortly thereafter, a bunch of strange little plants erupted from the interred papaya remains and as of early December stand taller than me. The Christmas night freeze, however, wilted all of the leaves. With a little luck and some mulch, they may come back from the roots next spring.
That sounded like a good idea so I resolved to clean the bathroom, shower stall included. But despite the pain meds, the tooth hole hurt, so I decided to work on something less heinous outdoors. I spent several hours pulling out the blackberry brambles that overtook my prickly pear cactus patch last summer. I was a machine tearing through tangled briars like a bush hog on Vicodin. The bad news is that I sustained numerous cuts, scratches, stickers, pricks, ticks and and fire ant bites. The good news is that most of the infection is gone now and the prickly pear patch looks primo. The shower stall cleaning will just have to wait until my next major dental procedure!

loquat fruit
A lovely lot of luscious loquats waits for me to eat them.
Fruit at Floridune
December is when some of my favorite fruits ripen here at Floridune. One is the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) a small broadleaf evergreen tree. At this time of year the loquat treats with both fruit and flower. Last month I mentioned it's luscious fragrance in my Journal, this month I want to describe how much I enjoy squishing the loquat's tartly sweet, vaguely citrusy flesh and large seeds out of the skin and into my mouth. Tongue probes are used to separate the juicy fibrous yellow flesh from the seeds in preparation for spitting. Nothing brightens your mouth on a gray December day like a tangy loquat!

Actually benefiting from the recent cold spells are neighbor JM's satsuma tangerine trees. A chill makes satsumas, and most other citrus varieties, sweeter and more flavorful. He gave me a bag of them so I can report first hand that they are succulent sweet and flavorful - they are also now half gone. Several years ago JM also gave me some young trees propagated from his. I've been coaxing them towards adulthood and am looking forward expectantly (and hungrily) to my first crop.

kaki persimmon fruit
Yum! Now that I finally took the picture I can eat them! As pretty as they are hanging from the bare limbed tree, they are far too tasty to linger anywhere but on the lips.
Another December fruit treat is the kaki persimmon (Diospyros kaki). These have some of the most fabulous flavors found in fruitdom. The kaki persimmon is also an easy to grow beauty with attractive foliage in the summer that turns to brilliant colors in the fall. The large apple size orange fruits are displayed at maximum attractiveness as they hang upon the leafless branches like ornaments. This is a handsome small tree that would be a prize even if it lacked delicious fruit. Many varieties are available that will fit into even small spaces and all are highly recommended for garden and eating.

Hard Freeze
The show is over for this year. I had wishfully predicted that January 6th would be the date of our first hard freeze at Floridune. On Christmas eve the temperature dropped to the low thirties knocking out the most exposed tropicals. The next night it dropped to the upper twenties and hit twenty-four degrees the next. This zapped all but the most protected tender species.

the Dog Garden before the hard freeze
The Dog Garden BEFORE the hard freeze is all green and lush...
The Dog Garden after the hard freeze
... while the Dog Garden AFTER is soggy brown mush.

The Dog Garden is just in front of kennels which is where my Great Danes exercise (i.e. poop). Here we grow tender impatiens, scarlet sage and justicia - all now zapped. The large angel wing begonia in the foreground (left) is now a large angel wing begonia pile of goo. The camellia flowers got frostbit and turned brown but there are lots more buds that are laying in wait to provide replacement blooms. Despite the hard freeze, the area under a grove of Chinese windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) provides excellent protection to a colony of gerber daisies and three species of Protoasparagus (asparagus fern, foxtail fern and climbing asparagus fern) are all still going strong. Location is everything when the temperature dips, just inches beyond the sheltering palms the same species was completely cold clobbered.

In Bloom at Floridune
At the beginning of December we had a lot of stuff in bloom and then the hard freeze put an end to the fun. But despite the cooler temps there's still colorful camellias for the eye and the tea olive's (Osmanthus fragrans) spicy scent for the nose. A Sandanqua viburnum (Viburnum suspensum)is blooming in a protected area under some palms. The European fan palms (Chamaerops humilis)are just beginning to put forth their small yellow flower stalks. My strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) also bloomed in early December, it has the appealing trait of presenting it's yellow-turning-to-red strawberry looking fruit and flowers at the same time. This tree is popular on the west coast but is not often seen in Florida. I grow a dwarf variety that I think is called 'Elfin King'. Regardless of the variety, this drought tolerant shrub or small tree grows well in dry sandy problem spots.

Ornamental fruit icon - click to see list Edible plant icon - click to see list
Ornamental Edibles
Floridata uses this Ornamental icon to identify plants, like holly, that have attractive fruits, berries, seed capsules, or nuts that are poisonous or otherwise inedible. If a plant is ornamental and used as food (at least somewhere in the world) it will have the Edible Plant icon.
I enjoy hollies (genus Ilex) throughout the year not just during the holidays. Holly foliage is attractive and unique and there are many evergreen species that serve to cheer up gray winter days. Many also produce beautiful berries that serve as food for birds and animals. They are also adaptable and you can find a holly to grow in almost any circumstance from dry sand to constantly moist soils. In my light sandy soil I particularly like the drought resistant types and grow a dozen species and hybrids. In fact there are four species that are native to the property. In the low wet areas are dahoon holly (I. casine) and large stands of gallberry, also called inkberry(I. glabra)which has black berries. In the less moist, woodsy areas grows American holly (Ilex opaca) a very beautiful small to medium height tree that forms narrow, very symmetric cones when grown in the open. Small leaved yaupon holly (I. vomitoria) grows almost everywhere on the place providing me with many victims upon whom I can commit unskilled topiary. To round out the collection, I've added several hybrids and exotic species. 'Savannah' and 'East Palatka' are two hybrids popular here in the south and both have American holly as a parent. With any luck I'll get around to planting the deciduous winterberry (I. verticillata) here in early spring which will increase the cold weather bird food supply here - the more holly the better!

I Like Ilex
Dahoon Holly Dahoon Holly (I. cassine)

Yaupon Holly Yaupon Holly (I. vomitoria)

American Holly (I. opaca)

Here are two other hollies that I grow, both of which are beautiful small trees.
Savannah Holly
Savannah Holly (I. x attenuata 'Savannah' )

Burford Holly Burford Holly (I. cornuta 'Burfordii')
December Bloomers (not frozen):
These bloomers survived the 24º F freeze with flowers undamaged.

Japanese aralia
sandanqua viburnum

December Bloomers (semi-frozen):
These sustained damage to flowers but buds are intact. They will continue to bloom intermittently throughout the winter here in Zone 8 whenever there are warm spells.

tea olive

December Bloomers (freeze died):
These bloomers are froze 'n gone but most will return next spring, growing back from the roots.

Christmas cassia
cigar plant
crepe jasmine
gerber daisy
ginger, butterfly
Mexican false heather
Mexican petunia
night blooming jasmine
princess flower
sage, anise
sage, forsythia
sage, pineapple
sage, scarlet
sage, Texas
soap aloe
umbrella plant
Turk's cap

John and Dixie the Great Dane
Dixie and I relax in the lawnchair and resolve to have a great 2002. She joins me in wishing all of our Floridata visitors a safe and prosperous Happy New Year!
The Lawn Chair
Dixie and I spent an afternoon appreciating that 2001 was finally ending and making our New Year resolutions. Dixie didn't share her resolutions but here's what I came up with. I resolve to go to the gym, eat good food, take vitamins and stay healthy. I resolve to be less of a hothead and to be nice to people even when they don't deserve it and to not get annoyed when they behave like idiots. Lastly I resolve to worry less, spend more time in the garden, avoid dentists, use my middle initial (which BTW is "S"!) and to work harder to make Floridata the best garden and nature site on the web! Thank you for visiting Floridata in 2001 and a special thanks for having the endurance and morbidly indiscriminate curiosity to read my monthly Gardener's Journals. Please tell your friends about us and be good and grow in 2002!

John S. "Jack" Scheper 12/31/01

© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA