The lucky winner was crowned with a rhinestone tiara and draped in a satin cape, the new Queen sat upon a baroque throne where she received tributes of Amana® gas ranges, Frigidaire® Frostfrees and Fuller® Brushes. After the coronation, the unlucky losers, who had just lost at being losers, received consolation prizes which hopefully restored some degree of self-esteem. Watching this proto-reality show as a kid provided my first hints that adulthood may not be as fun as it looked - as this past July confirmed once again...
If this were the 1950s and I were a woman then I too could be a candidate for Queen For A Day. For I would recount my Amana-worthy tale of the aggravating events of July 2003 which goes something like this:
July began in a muggy gray drizzle. The Fourth o'July weekend was dreary and damp and I had to work on Floridata - no firecrackers, no picnics, no swimming and not even any fun in the garden. A couple days later, lightning zapped my UPS (the battery backup thing that keeps the computer running when the power goes out). The power went out - a lot - all month long. On the 6th, Floridata.com went offline for two days because I forgot to renew the domain name (sorry). Then just when I needed it most, my espresso machine blew a gasket and surrendered its soul in a great cloud of steam. I turned my attentions to Mr. Coffee who promptly expired the following day due to a fatal buildup of minerals that clogged circulation - I've had to live on food and water ever since. Next the well pump stopped pumping and was replaced with a new pump which pumped at a higher water pressure that burst the main pipe sometime during the night. Not to be left out, the septic system ceased sepsis and spewed gray water up through the sandy soil and all the while the rains kept falling and the grass kept growing but the mower stopped mowing and was remanded to the repair shop for two weeks for rehabilitation.
You probably think I'm making this up just so I can be the Queen For A Day but I'm not - July really was a rotten month because next came the plague of grasshoppers...
Maybe not a plague, but July and August is when dozens of the huge ugly creatures called the eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea guttata) appear. These brutes inhabit the southeastern United states from North Carolina to Texas. In the spring, dozens of these scuzzards emerge in groups from the soil as shiny black nymphs. This is the best time to get'em. I patrol for them in March and can often to kill a dozen or more with a single stomp of the foot or spritz of insecticide. Obviously the more you kill in the spring the fewer of the monstrous 4 in (10 cm) adults you will have to contend with later in the summer. These beasts have a voracious appetite for day lilies and especially for my Crinum asiaticum which they decimate every year. It was particularly revolting to encounter a pair locked in passionate embrace on my palm tree. I snapped their picture, then turned the hose on them knocking them to the ground. They are so ruggedly constructed that it takes at least one foot stomp to stun'em, one to crack their hard exteriors and one to expel the innerds to ensure the creature's demise (gun owners may prefer to shoot them). Plague or not, even one of unlovely lubbers in the garden is too many!
Despite the rain, bugs and injuries I still managed to get in some garden time. Over by the dog runs I'm working on a bed filled with plants that have purple and blue leaves and flowers. I separated two offsets from the parent stalk of my red leafed banana and now they're thriving in their new home thanks to frequent rains. Last spring I dug up a clump of plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) and potted up seven small divisions from it. I let these luxuriate in the comfort of container culture for three months where they gained size and developed a sturdy root systems. July's rains provided a good opportunity to transplant them up on The Hill where they're bordering a bright sunny path.. I'm collecting plumbagos in as many of shades of blue as I can find. They're available in hues from light powder blue to almost violet as well as a white selection (pictured below). By next summer at this time I should have a 18 in (46 cm) high blanket of beautiful blue and white that will dazzle the eye and suppress weed growth. I love this little shrub because its beautiful and easy to grow and certain butterflies like it too!
With this much rain, it's a full time job keeping unwanted plant growth in check. There's a few places reverting back to wilderness where wild muscadine grape vines (Vitis rotundifolia) have taken control over a section of The Hill. I fought back in July cutting away vines to rescue three spiny Greek junipers (Juniperus excelsa), an abelia (Abelia 'Edward Goucher') and two gardenias (Gardenia augusta) from their smothering grasp. The tangle was supported by two stunted dogwood (Cornus florida) trees that I cut down along with a bunch of small scrubby oaks. There's still some weed pulling to do but the deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) and a pindo palm (Butia capitata) in that neighborhood now enjoy more light, air and room to grow. Hopefully I'll complete the makeover in August and will have a beautiful "after" picture to show you this fall.
I have a fantasy of growing a palm forest here so every year I plant a few batches of seed. I discovered that eBay is an excellent place to find unusual plants and seeds. In July I found an auction for California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) seeds. I have one of these growing up on the hill and it seems to be more cold tolerant and faster growing than its cousin, the more widely available Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta) of which it is a stockier, bulkier version. In less than 10 days after I won the bid, I received a couple hundred California fan palm seeds and already had them planted!
Did you know that eBay has more than just auctions? (I didn't until recently). Both individual growers and companies sell products in eBay stores - you don't have to bid, you can just "Buy It Now" for a set price. That is how I got 20 European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) seeds and 30 Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and all are now planted and enjoying our monsoon weather.
The day after I planted all this stuff, I had a fun surprise when an old, unlabeled pot of dirt erupted with 10 tiny palm seedlings (see above photo with weird fungus). Another dozen seedlings sprouted in the bed behind the radicalis palms (Chamaedorea radicalis). Apparently these are from a batch of hardy bamboo palm (Chamaedorea microspadix) seeds that I harvested from one of my plants two years ago - I suppose the monsoon rain at last inspired them to germinate!
A Starbucks coffee shop finally opened in Tallahassee recently and I was eager to pay my respects as I am hooked on (in Starbuck language) "doppio con pana" (2 shots of espresso with whipped cream) and "tall (small) triple (3 shots of espresso) white chocolate mocha". I drove the 26.7 miles (43 km) from Floridune to North Monroe Street where I enjoyed both a doppio and a mocha! They were delicious and stimulating and thus energized I did what I had driven there to do (in order to make the trip tax deductible) which was to photograph Brazilian glorybower (Clerodendrum bungei) for Floridata (picture below). It is a large coarse tropical perennial that has escaped cultivation in some places here in North Florida including a drainage ditch behind this Starbucks (a nearby homeowner undoubtedly dumped trimmings there - jerk). So I took some pictures and even pulled out a few small stems to plant at home. I want to grow some next to several other Clerodendrum species to see if I can create a pretty bed. If they become invasive (not likely in the lean sandy soil here) or look too ugly I'll yank'em!
The dog days of summer are here and many of our favorite garden plants are exhausted and would look better in the compost pile than in the garden. This year even my normally summer-sturdy mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea) collapsed. It turns out that voles (not moles, I am told) once again undermined the bed causing roots to loose contact with the soil. When this happens the plant gets stressed and is susceptible to wilting and disease. I routinely stomp around my favorite plants as often as possible to collapse the vole tunnels and compact the soil. I stomped around nearby zinnias (Zinnia elegans), Texas sage (Salvia coccinea) and Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundiflora) and they recovered nicely and continue blooming like crazy.
I was hoping that, at this point in the season, my Vine Fence would be covered at least with vines if not with vines covered with flowers. Only two have come through to bloom so far, one is the Brazilian nightshade (Solanum seaforthiana) which is cranking out clusters of white flowers that will be followed by bright red berries this fall. The other is a new vine that I planted this spring called bower vine (Pandorea jasminoides). It's a tropical plant (as is the nightshade) that freezes to the ground here in our Zone 8 winters but I expect it to be root hardy and return next spring. I'll mulch it well to ensure that it does because I'd be bummed to loose its handsome foliage and showy pinkish-white flowers (we will do a Profile for it soon). The sambuc jasmine (Jasminum sambuc) is blooming sporadically and is beginning to grow up the fence but the purple trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides) and the skyflower vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) are showing no sign of flowers and aren't even growing that fast. Both look healthy though so maybe a dose of fertilizer is all they need to get them growing.
Although it is looking a bit scrawny at the moment, the blue anise sage (Salvia guaranitica) has produced its brilliant blue flowers non-stop since April. It's providing a continuous supply of nectar for the hummingbirds and seems to be one of their favorite plants. Lately a small gang of young cardinals has been hanging out among these plants. They jump from the ground, grab a big beakful of blue calyces and then stand around chewing and chatting which is another reason to grow this beautiful, easy and useful plant that is also admired by butterflies and hummingbirds!
All in all most things are looking pretty good here due to the rain. With the help of large crape myrtles, shadowy beds of brilliant impatiens and patches of quick growing annuals the place is more colorful than ever before!
Enjoy your summer and please visit often this August for more new and updated Profiles. Don't forget to tell your friends about us - really, tell them! Be good and grow! - Jack