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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

August 2003

Rattlebox Road
Rattlebox (Crotalaria pallida) is a weedy annual or biennial that inhabits roadsides, old fieds and similar disturbed patches of ground. This year they bloomed early indicating an early fall. They also grew particularly lush and loaded with flowers reacting to North Florida's abundant rainfall this year. Hark, I see the storm-of-the-day a'gathering in the west.... Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Like July, August here at Floridune was wet and rainy. Unlike July, which was a drab and frustrating month, August proved to be way more productive and satisfying. Sure it rained and stormed almost every day, and it's hot, humid and buggy but I didn't mind much because I had two exciting projects to do for Floridata. If you haven't visited us since Spring you'll see many changes on our site. In early August Floridata became a member of the Google AdSense® Network - those are the text ads that you've seen on the site. It's an important milestones in the transformation of Floridata into a business.

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!

This is Jack's art therapy project of the month. It is digitally manipulated picture of of an American lotus seedpod (Nelumbo lutea). Download a large version (800x600) for a peacefully calming image on your computer desktop.
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.]

Jack's palm seedlings
What luck! I've wanted to grow a bunch of California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) for a long time. Last month I found some on eBay and scored 200 seeds for just a few bucks! Within a couple of days they arrived, I planted them and in 10 days they ALL germinated (wow)!
The humid heat at this time of year makes it easy to root cuttings. There were several plants that I've been wanting to propagate - I finally got around to it in August. One of my favorite tree species that I grow here is the blue China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata). With their beautiful symmetric form and powdery blue foliage, the trio that I have up on The Hill have grown 5 ft (1.5 m) this season already and are creating a memorable sight. I fantasize about planting a larger grove of them out front so I took some branch tip cuttings, each about 10 in (25 cm) long, removed the needles from the lower 3 in (7.6 cm), dipped the cut end in rooting hormone powder and planted each in its own container. Cuttings from China firs are very easy to start and after just a few weeks are already growing new little branches. In ten years I should have a beautiful fir grove of 30 ft (9 m) trees (if I irrigate and fertilize, half that if I don't...). Yes, I love this tree and now I have a bunch of them which was worth suffering a few dozen bug bites!

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 grĂ¢ce 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!

firebush flowers
Firebush (Hamelia patens) is one of my favorite semitropical shrubs and, as you might guess from its shape and color, it is one of the hummingbirds' favorite lunch stops. Many butterfly species adore it as well - how could any creature not like this beauty? Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
In Bloom
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.

This is a closeup of the rattlebox (Crotalaria pallida) seen along the red dirt "Rattlebox Road" photo (at top of page). The dried pods are the boxes and the seeds inside provide the rattle. [Click to download a large version]

blue glory bower
The blue butterfly plant (Clerodendrum ugandense) is a large, coarse tropical plant that doesn't mind the heat at all if there's enough to drink. [Click to download a large version]

crape myrtle
This vivacious beauty is the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ) 'Miami'. [Click to download a large version]

Black and Blue salvia
With black calyces and blue petals what else would you call this hybrid Salvia but 'Black and Blue'??? [Click to download a large version]

sasanqua camellia
The sasanqua camellias began blooming in in early August - weeks sooner than usual... (Camellia sasanqua 'Bonanza') [Click to download a large version]

The giant miscanthus (Miscanthus floridulus ) just began to bloom at the end of the month. [Click to download a large version]

August In Bloom:

Here's a list of some of the plants that are in bloom (or would be in bloom if deer hadn't eaten them) at Floridune here in North Florida. Many of the Fall-flowering plants began blooming weeks sooner than normal hinting at the possibility of an early Winter!

click for Floridata's complete list of shrubby species Shrubs
butterfly bush
shrimp plant

tree list icon Trees
chaste tree
crape myrtle

vine list Vines
Brazilian nightshade
morning glory
scrambling skyflower
sweet autumn clematis/a>
trumpet vine

annual and biennials Annuals
cosmos, orange
Mexican sunflower
moss rose
narrow-leaved zinnia
scarlet sage
Texas scarlet sage

perennial list icon Perennials
black-eyed Susan
blanket flower
blue anise sage
butterfly ginger
cigar plant
crinum lily
fairy fan flower
four o'clock
garlic chive
ginger, pine cone
ginger, dancing girl
Madagascar periwinkle
mealycup sage
purple queen
purple coneflower

palm grass
giant eulalia grass

In Fruit
It's still Summer but the harvest has already begun for some of our favorites down here in North Florida. By mid-August my neighbor JM began to harvest his extensive plantings of muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia). By that time the neighborhood critters had already been harvesting JM's grapes for a good two weeks - but they graciously left a few for him! The most eager of the grape harvesters has been a wacked out woodpecker. For weeks I've enjoyed watching him spend his days flying counterclockwise around the vineyard in 3 steps: 1) fly to the top of a pine to survey JM's grapes and make ridiculous noises for about two minutes; 2) fly to a point in the middle of JM's arbor, fuss around for 30 seconds shopping for just the right grape; 3) fly to the dining pavilion on the top of live oak tree, swallow, repeat Step 1 (over and over again...). As I write this it is the last day of the month and he's still making his rounds - he might have obsessive tendencies but at least he's well fed.

I'm still enjoying fresh figs (Ficus carica) now and then when I find one that the varmints haven't messed up or fungused out. A few days without rain will mean a fig feast for me - hope it happens. The early blooming grasses like wood oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), gamma grass (Tripsacum dactyloides ) and panic grass (Panicum virgatum) are now heavy with unripe seed. Best of all, this year my pretty little radicalis palms set a bunch of brilliant fruit that makes as showy a scene in the garden as some flowers. In a month or so I'll plant these seeds and hope for hundreds of baby free radical palms.

Not as colorful as the radicalis palm's fruit, the blue palmettos (Sabal palmetto) also produced a large (if comparatively drab) crop of fruit this year due to the heavy rainfall. Last year's crop was minimal and I only planted 10 seeds. I'll get several hundred seeds this year from several of my palms which is great because I want to plant them around some large sinkholes back in the woods because it will look cool.

I have a beautiful Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) tree whose fruit I worship. It is a young healthy tree just coming into its prime so I was very disappointed last year when only half a dozen persimmons ripened. The tree was loaded with fruit this Spring and I've been sadly watching it drop and otherwise disappear all summer. This week I found out why - squirrel. A nasty destructive squirrel has been stealing and eating the unripe fruit. I can see the tree from my computer and jump up several times a day to chase him off with a barrage of obscenities. I think this just makes stealing all the more fun for him. He better be careful though, my commitment to nonviolence is wavering and I do still have a .410 shotgun and two shells left...

Radicalis palm fruit (Chamaedorea radicalis) [Click to download a large version]

It's been a good summer for the blue palmetto (Sabal palmetto) fruit crop. [Click to download a large version]

A couple rainless days were enough to ripen this brown turkey fig (Ficus carica) for me to eat and enjoy (critters or fungus got most of them this year). [Click to download a large version]

squirrel vermin
VerminCam: This jerk has already eaten 80% of the Japanese persimmons from my tree - just as they begin to ripen he grabs them and then brazenly eats them right outside my window - he's really pushing my buttons - grrrrrrrrr...

Frog Beach
This strip of lawn alongside the Catfish Pond is the Frog Beach. They hang out in the grass and when you walk slowly along the edge frogs one after another leap into the water - and many times leap right back out onto the shore because a big fish was waiting to eat them in the water. The beagle showed me how to this and it's fun and a good way to relax (but not for the frogs).

Whew! August was a long on work and short on fun but was worth the effort. As Floridata begins its seventh year on the Web we hope to achieve a status of permanence and profitability. I hope that each of you will help us recruit new visitors (especially shoppers!:) and otherwise help us grow an audience.

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


© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA