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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

July 2003

The summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) shrubs are in bloom, their fragrant white flowers mirrored in the quiet black water of the Catfish Pond. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
I could be "Queen for a Day" if this were the 1950s and I were a middle-aged woman. No, not that kind of Queen - nor that kind. I'm referring to the old television show in which contestants vied for the title of "Queen For A Day". Three women competed by recounting the unfortunate events of their dismal lives in sob-choked voices to a national audience. The contestant who was most pathetic without being too whiney got to be the Queen (for a day). Once each contestant told her tale, it was the audience's duty to determine the winner. The handsome host held his hand high above each contestant's head as audience members "voted" by clapping for their favorite. Science, in the form of an "Applause Meter" quantified the clapping by swinging a needle across a speedometerlike dial. The contestant for whom the audience "clapped" the needle farthest to the right would be Queen (for a day).

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.

mystery organism
These cool looking organisms popped up in a pot of hardy bamboo palm (Chamaedorea microspadix) seedlings. I assume they're some sort of fungus or similar organism. I learned about them decades ago in school but those brain connections degraded long ago so please Write Us and tell me this stuff's name if you're familiar with my cup-containing-pebbles fungus (or whatever it is...) UPDATE: 8/28/03 Kay, one of our visitors, wrote to inform us that this organism is called "bird's nest" (Cyathus) - Thanks Kay!
At midmonth I stooped to put on socks and - crunch - my lower back went out. The chiropractor was out of town for a week so I whimpered and whined and discovered that pain medication causes GI irregularity. The chiropractor at last returned and pushed everything in my back back into place. The next day Bubba, a rowdy young Great Dane, darted for a squirrel, slammed into my leg and bowled me over (Bad Bubba! Bad!) and my back went again. The chiropractor again fixed me up enough so I could work in the garden where I stepped into hole and fell. My foot swelled up triggering more episodes of whimpering, whining and irregularity. As the end of the month drew near, I discovered that the answer to "what else could possibly go wrong?" is "chiggers". I went out to the garden to pull weeds (without insect repellent which is just stupid) and shortly thereafter I polka-dotted from waist to toe with itchy red bumps where angry insects had chewed my flesh... itch itch

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...

easter lubber grasshopers
These are eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea guttata) spending a romantic interlude on one of my Chinese fan palms (Trachycarpus fortunei) - yuck.
Wildlife At Floridune
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!

Jack and banana tree
This banana tree was only 1 ft (0.3 m) tall when I planted it here near the Vine Fence in June. It's already taller than me (six feet - OK, OK 5 ft 11.5 in) and produces an average of 1.5 leaves each week. It's planted in dry sandy soil but due to the frequent rains and its proximity to the compost piles it is finding the situation very much to his liking.
Projects
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!

datura bud
An evening rain showers a datura bud (Datura inoxia var. quinquecuspida) as it prepares to burst forth in the next hour or so. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
In Bloom
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!

rattlesnake master
Dozens of rattlesnake masters inhabit the dry sandy front meadow here. They had a good year, what with all the rain and not getting repeatedly mowed down like in most years. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
One positive thing to came out of the lawn mower breakdown was that the front pasture hadn't been cut all season providing a chance for a colony of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) to bloom for the first time in years. This unusual North American native is a coarse spiky plant that has leaves that resemble a yucca though it is actually related to the carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus)! Teas prepared from its long tap root were once believed to cure rattlesnake bites. I've been wanting to grow it on The Hill with my agaves and yuccas so now I can collect and plant some seeds this fall and/or transplant some of the smaller individuals this coming spring. For me this is an exciting find and I'm developing an urge to plant a no-maintenance, drought tolerant, native plant garden around the rattlesnake master colony using grasses, yuccas, saw palmetto, etc. - I hope I do!

Most of my annual "wildflowers" are taking a summer breather. Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus and C. sulphureus), tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria) have gone to seed but new plants are already several inches high and will bloom later in the summer. I have a big empty patch of ground up on the hill that I intend to plant in August with tickseed and gailardia for a crop of flowers that the autumn butterflies will enjoy.

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!

moonflower
An annual favorite here is the magnificent moonflower (Ipomoea alba) which began blooming this month. [Click to download a large version]

white plumbago
Although plumbago is usually seen in blue, the white plumbago is awful pretty too! (Plumbago auriculata) [Click to download a large version]

Brazilian nightshade
This is a white selection of Brazilian nightshade vine - flowers are followed by bright red berries. (Solanum seaforthiana ) [Click to download a large version]

dancing girl ginger
The beautifully colored and complex flowers inspired this plant's common name dancing girl ginger (Globba winitii) [Click to download a large version]

peacock ginger
Peacock Ginger (Kaempferia laotica)This low grower has beautiful foliage and lavender flowers that make a spectacular groundcover. [Click to download a large version]

glory bower
Glory Bower (Clerodendrum bungei is a coarse, rank grower with fragrant flowers. [Click to download a large version]
Bloom'in July:


Here's what's blooming at Floridune in July. The "dog days" of summer are brutal on many of our favorite annual and perennial species. Some, like cosmos have already gone to seed and died. Others, like many of the salvias, become scraggly and benefit from being cut back so they'll rejuvenate for a fresh round of fall blooms.


click for Floridata's complete list of shrubby species Shrubs
American beautyberry
butterfly bush
oleander
plumbago

tree list icon Trees
chaste tree
crape myrtle
loblolly bay
mimosa
southern magnolia
sweet bay

Vines
allamanda
Brazilian nightshade
cross vine
mandevilla
moonflower
morning glory
passionflower
scrambling skyflower
trumpet vine

annual and biennials Annuals
angelonia
cockscomb
cosmos
cosmos, orange
marigold
Mexican sunflower
moss rose
narrow-leaved zinnia
scarlet sage
spider flower
sunflower
Texas scarlet sage
zinnia

perennial list icon Perennials
black-eyed Susan
blanket flower
blue anise sage
cigar plant
crinum lily
crocosmia
daylily
fairy fan flower
four o'clock
geranium
gerber daisy
liriope
Madagascar periwinkle
mealycup sage
purpletop verbena
purple coneflower
rudbeckia

Grasses
gamma grass
'Heavy Metal'


Lawnchair

Suzie the Great Dane watches me as I sit and admire the newly remodeled and weeded Dog Garden. A calico pipevine (Aristolochia elegans) climbs at left above dancing girl ginger and impatiens. A camellia frames the right side and red tips provide the shade. This Gardener's Journal page is done so me and Sue are going to run 'cause that's how big dogs have their fun!
Hooray! July's over and we made it to the end of another Journal entry. At the time, July seemed like a crappy month. However, considering that nobody died, the garden is growing well, and there were no permanent marks or disfiguring scars perhaps July wasn't so bad and not nearly tragic enough to rate an Amana®.

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

8/5/03



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