As I continued north on I-75 between Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee I marveled at the huge beds of tulips that lay scattered the length of the route. Farther north in Kentucky it was too early for tulips but I was just in time to see expanses of naturalized daffodils sunny yellow against the rolling green Kentucky hills. I really enjoy it when highway departments add these beautiful touches to our highways and I hope they are able to continue to do so in these days of declining budgets.
The weather was bright and blue and crisp and cool for the first few days I was there and it was a total delight. Most striking was the grass. The turf grasses we grow in Florida are OK but the Kentucky blue and other varieties are just spectacular at this time of year - soft, dark green and lush - like something you could make a salad of... ... or at least take a nap upon...
This time I was just too much in a rush to get back home. There had been a freeze back home the day I left for Kentucky and I was eager to see the extent of the damage. I drove on to Nashville, Tennessee where they have a skyscraper that looks like it has devil horns on it but is kinda cool anyway. I was planning to stay overnight in Birmingham, Alabama and maybe check out their Botanical Garden the next day. Just south of Nashville though, I sniffed out a Starbucks and exited for refreshments. After a quad espresso and a triple shot mocha I was too wired to stop and decided to go on to Montgomery from where I'd have a shorter drive home the next day. Besides, the lady at the Alabama Welcome/Rocket Center said I would enjoy the Jasmine Hill Gardens just north of Montgomery.
From Dothan I decided to take a shortcut on back roads across the state line to Florida and then on south to I-10. It was such a pretty drive through the country and the barb-b-que was intoxicating so I didn't ever get very mad when I discovered I was lost. But I was quickly found when I got directions and a vanilla malt from the lady at Dairy Queen. In less than an hour I was back at home where I happily discovered that the freeze had done only minor damage. I spent the rest of the day planting the souvenir hostas I brought from Kentucky, relaxing with the dogs enjoying happy memories of my Mom and pretty springtime southern scenery.
I spent the week following my trip catching up with Floridata work and getting things back under control in the garden. Sick of working so much, I took a day off at mid-month for a field trip to Steve's house. He lives in the next county about 50 miles (80.5 km) away so we don't visit often. It's particularly fun this time of year because he has a beautiful place out on Lake Talquin (near Quincy, Florida). We hung out on the dock but spent most of the time in the garden looking at and tasting things. My favorite was the sugar snap pees (Pisum sativum) which were juicy and as sweet as any fruit. He pulled up some "new" (potatoesSolanum tuberosum) for me to take home which I had oven roasted in olive oil and they were superb as was the tender and sweet kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) and the succulently fresh cucumbers. I also mooched some really cool plants from him including some daturas (Datura inoxia var. quinquecuspida) and dwarf Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundiflora). He built a greenhouse last year with a misting system for rooting cuttings. He has been propagating a bunch of stuff including gumi trees (Elaeagnus multiflora) and he kindly shared one with me. I plan to pamper my gumi into maturity so I (or the birds) can enjoy the tasty little fruits it produces. He also gave me some Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximilianii) which I recall admiring in someone's yard late last summer and I'm really happy to get them.
Many of these are plants that I want to photograph and profile so hopefully my TLC will inspire them to at last bloom for me. Some of the plants I have in rehab are: cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Salvia nemorosa 'East Friesland', Veronica austriaca 'Crater Lake Blue', balloon plant (Campanula 'Fuji Series', and gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta).
Woohoo! I got an income tax refund this year! Most of this windfall went to pay bills but I did treat myself to 5 50 lb (22.7 kg) bags of the most excellent slow release 13-6-6 fertilizer. It is wonderful stuff but I was disappointed to discover that it was only enough to feed about a third of the place. Even with the supplementary Great Dane compost I still need about another 300 lb (136 kg). It's both heartening and alarming to realize that my plantings have grown so much in size and space. I've obsessively planted about 3 acres and dabbled in another two. I wish I knew how to tell when my garden is finished so I'd stop working on it. I do know that I need more fertilizer and I'm pretty sure that MasterCard won't mind treating me to 6 more bags of the expensive stuff! Dane compost is nice but I know most of the plants would like a taste of the store bought stuff. 13-6-6 for everyone!
Toward the end of the month I mooched some plants from my neighbor JM. He gave me some things I have been wanting to try and some old standards that I haven't grown since I was a kid. I now have marigolds (Tagetes spp.), both the short and tall kinds, that are lush and green and have fat buds with golden petals already beginning to burst forth. I'm going to plant them in my new garden up on The Hill next to some bachelor buttons (Centauria cyanus) that he also gave me. Last month I planted sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), Plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) and shrimp plant (Beloperone guttata) there so I expect it to be colorful there this summer - provided I can keep hungry deer away!
Thanks to all who wrote me with suggestions for keeping the deer from eating all of my stuff. The most mentioned was some form of egg: one in a gallon of water, one yolk in a gallon of water and dried egg powder. An ingredient called egg whiteputrescent egg is the primary ingredient (apparently this is rotten egg powder). It seems the egg emits a smelly sulfurous odor that the deer associated with predator species (grrrr - I guess they smell like dead meat). Another repellent spray can be made by dispersing dried hot pepper (Capsicum spp.) powder (like habanero) in water and spraying on the plants. I'm going to try alternating egg and pepper sprays on my stuff - rotten egg stench and overdoses of habanero, that should discourage even the most ravenous varmint.
These recipes should also work on rabbits, who like deer, must also be wary of predators and overseasoned greens. I've been blaming deer for all the damage around here lately but I walked out back one night with a flashlight only to encounter three bunnies casually eating my sunflower seedlings. They didn't run and weren't frightened so I let them continue eating since it was the night before Easter. Shortly thereafter the amount of varmint damage at my place slowed dramatically. One obvious reason was that they had already eaten all of the best stuff. The other was that a family of hawks were hanging around for several days apparently enjoying several rabbit dinner while they were here. I plan to experiment with several of these this summer. I really, really hope I can find something that works - there's no worse way to start a day than to see a favorite gone - a mere rootball of its former glory.
April began with the azaleas, dogwood still going strong but by the time I returned from my trip they were kaput. By tax day the fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) still stood out bright white against all of the green and the sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum) and Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira ) both combined their respective scents into a floral medley I call Flori d'eau. Around the 18th we had the full moon and it was incredible sitting by the pond with moonlight bouncing off the still surface, a bullfrog leading a choir of tenor frogs and this beautiful scent made for a transcendent experience. My reverie ended when I noticed those same bunnies had snuck up and were munching on my sunflower seedlings whereupon I yelled and cursed at them like a fishwife thus shattering the lovely mood.
By the third week of April my yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) had covered itself with color-cycling flowers. This is actually a tropical shrub that I've grown here for years where it gets frostbitten every year and is only about 3 ft (0.9 m) tall. I think it's beginning to adapt to the cold because it held its leaves this year despite the freezes and even two consecutive nights when the temperature reached 17º F (-8º C)!
Around the same time my yellow iris bloomed - finally! I've had them since I moved here twelve years ago but I always grew them in dry shady places that apparently they hated. Two years ago I moved some to the shore of the Catfish Pond. After a bit of coaxing with fertilizer and mulch they're now busy pumping out flowers and hopefully by next year there will be a big patch of them.
I hope all is growing well for you this spring and have an enjoyable and productive May! Be good and grow. - Jack