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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

October 2003

Jack's red banana
October here is golden-green wrapped in misty blue. Click to download a large version of my dwarf red banana tree.
I ended my last Journal with a promise to not be so grumpy which means this month's column will be shorter than usual. A friend told me that I might be alienating some Floridata visitors with my hostile remarks regarding deer, squirrels, armadillos, and other varmints. If you took offense I apologize (also for declaring that I want to hurt the puppets in the Orbitz commercials). Let me clarify that I only hate deer and the other varmints when they're in my yard destroying my stuff. When they're in someone else's yard they're God's creatures and a part of nature and I find them to be quite cute and charming (unlike the Orbitz puppets which are always obnoxious).

The deer destruction was already getting me down when Floridata's web server crashed. It was quickly repaired and then it crashed again. A cooling fan stopped which caused a cascade of hardware failures over several days resulting in Floridata going offline several times during that period. Fortunately the guys at our web hosting company figured out the problems, replaced the fried hardware and now we'e up and running and intend to stay that way for a while! I apologize for the inconvenience.

Bradley's Pond
This is what I see when I relax up on The Hill and look north past the Vine Fence into my neighbor's yard. It's the Bradley's pond where the Goose Couple used to live before their unfortunate demise. It's always pretty here but especially so at this time of year just before the cypress go bald and the swamp maples turn red. The pond is also home to some shy wood ducks and is the occasional wintertime hangout of wood storks who happened to make there appearance this year on the day before Halloween. Welcome back!
Wildlife At Floridune
Spring is when "Girls Gone Wild" happens down the coast at Panama City Beach, Florida while Autumn is when "Wildlife Gone Wild" happens here at Floridune. Yet another squirrel fell out of a tree and almost hit me. Landing with a dull thud, it scared the heck out of me. It hopped up, sneered at me and disappeared into the bushes. I expletivated loudly. A couple weeks earlier squirrels stole all my ripe figs and stashed them away. The figs fermented, they ate them and now the the entire squirrel overpopulation here is drunk. Even worse, I'm now catching them eating mushrooms, puffballs and other weird fungus and they are getting really freaky. Some of the mushrooms here are edible but most are toxic, psychedelic or both. I don't like having a bunch of trippy squirrels transcending reality in my back yard. It's disconcerting and creepy to go outside and be stared down by dozens of tiny little drug dilated eyes staring out of those stony squirrel faces. The good news is that my squirrelly Woodstock has caught the attention of some hawks - and maybe other predators as well...

myserious varmint
I caught this creature asleep in his burrow. I stuck the camera down the hole and snapped this picture of something in the blurred background. Click to download a large version of the mystery beast of the burrow.
Until last spring I had a pair of bossy geese for neighbors. Honking furiously they would attack me whenever I worked near the Vine Fence that's up on The Hill. I always held my ground against these violent assualts (because of the fence) and cussed them furiously in return. Greetings over, I'd get to work and they would sit against the fence as close to me as possible and watch me work while they chatted between themselves. This routine went on for years so it was sad to hear they had both been killed by a coyote last spring (they were more than 17 years old).

Last month I wrote that I thought my old beagle Sam had his legs hurt when he tangled with a coyote (Sam's doing OK now, he's on arthritis medicine and a diet). I had also found some dead bunnies near a burrow that was hidden in the middle of a patch of brambles and prickly pear cactus. I cleared away some of the brush and got close enough to peek into the deep dark tunnel. It appeared that the last excavation had happened weeks ago (about when Sam was hurt) so I guessed it was unoccupied by now. For fun I aimed my camera down the hole and snapped a picture. When I looked at the picture on the computer I saw something in the blurred background. I think it's a fox - no, maybe it's the coyote! I've tried a couple times to get a better picture but the burrow has been empty whenever I try. I hope that whatever it was moved out because its probably what killed the Goose Couple and hurt the beagle too. Next month's project will be to give this area a makeover - and my plans don't include a varmit's burrow so it needs to get...

The bright leaves in the foreground are divisions of 'Tropicanna' cannas while behind them are some rooted fig cuttings and the little grassy things to the right are the California fan palm seedlings.
When Floridata's server crashed I had an excuse to escape the computer and get out and garden. Making the most of the unexpected downtime I repotted the podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophylla) seedlings that I had dug out of the mulch last winter. They grew rapidly over the summer and I now have 20 of them in 6 in pots and am thinking of using them to grow a maze. Podocarpus possesses all of the necessary attributes for a maze: it's evergreen, it can be closely sheared and the foliage remains dense under shady conditions. It is also comparatively fast growing and long lived so a podocarpus maze should be a fun and inexpensive project to keep me obsessively engaged over the next several years. Now I need to dig up another couple hundred seedlings.

The California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera ) that I planted last summer germinated quickly and were all still crowded together in the nursery pots where they're especially susceptible to fatal fungus attacks. I managed to pot up about a 100 of the tiny palm seedlings before my back spasmed and I had to quit. There's about 50 more to go but they must wait until after a visit to the chiropractor (sigh).

October is when I harvest palm seed from Florida's native blue stem palm (Sabal minor). Every year I collect seeds to grow in pots and some to sow directly into the landscape. I'm working to establish a mass planting of these trunkless palms beneath the three huge live oaks that grow down by the Catfish Pond. I planted three blue stems there as seedlings 13 years ago and now they bearing seeds themselves! Over the past several years I've scattered dozens of seeds in the area and last week discovered that some of these had germinated. A blue stem on the other side of the palm was loaded with seeds this year so I pulled off handfuls of them to sow under the three oaks. I'll probably clean some and sow a few dozen in pots for future projects that I've yet to figure out.

palm seeds
It was also time to harvest seeds from the radicalis palm (Chamaedorea radicalis). These are small feather leafed dwarf palm that have proven to be very resistant to cold here in my Zone 8 garden.
I spent the last weekend of the month renewing and propagating some the perennials around here that were getting old and otherwise raggedy. I took cuttings and dug up and potted a pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) and a cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) because the hummingbirds can always use more of these. I did the same for some tender stuff that I grow on the Vine Fence including Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), purple trumpet (Clytostoma callistegioides) and skyflower (Thunbergia grandiflora). All of these have been ravaged by deer and thus weakened are less likely to survive the inevitable winter freezes. It's a hassle but this is the price we gardeners pay who like to grow tropical species in less than tropical climates. The are definitely not "low maintenance" unless you grow them as annuals and just let'em die - either way they're worth it because nothing holds up to summer heat like the showy tropicals!

I don't think I'm going to plant a fall garden this year because the deer would just trash it. Instead I'm going to prune and mulch and edge the beds which won't be very colorful but will be neat and won't be eat. Then I'm going to figure out how to make improvised deer deteterents (IDDs) from chicken wire and high explosives.

scalet morning glory
I always considered this to be a weed but when I saw this pretty mass of red morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea) climbing atop Steve's pole beans changed my mind - maybe it is something I'd invite into my garden. [Click to download a large version]

In Bloom
Only those plants that the deer don't care to eat are in bloom here. Chief amoung these are the sasanqua camellias (Camellia sasanqua) and the sturdy Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) both of which are looking gorgeously unmolested at the moment. It also appears that the sages (Salvia spp.) are of no interest to the local deer which is great news. The sages are a sturdy and beautiful bunch that are easy to grow with long flowering seasons. The prolific Texas sage (Salvia coccinea) has been going since spring, as has the common scarlet sage selections (Salvia splendens). The Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) is a fall bloomer that started up in September while the showy yellow forsythia sage begins blooming at the end of October. Were they not dead my autumn sages (S. greggii), which bloom all spring and summer too, would be covered with blossoms now as well (RIP).

Autumn is the time of year when the "root hardy" tropical plants that we grow here in Zone 8 begin to bloom. Tender plants like cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) and golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta)and many of the jasmines will be killed back by freezes but their roots (usually) remain alive if mulched. In spring the plant sends up new stems and by October even those slow to recover are beginning to bloom. Firebush, (Hamelia patens) firespike (Odontonema strictum) and cape honeysuckle are a few tropicals we grow out of zone.

October's warm days and cool nights here are perfumed with the scents of several fragrant tropical Fragrant Plants like the night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) and butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium). The semitropical loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica ) are covered in spicy scented flowers that add an invigorating tang to the cool evening air. If there are no hard freezes for a while the flowers will be followed by tangy yellow Japanese plums (loquats) that are tasty to eat right from the tree.

This October I saw my first jicama plant. It was blooming in Steve's vegetable garden and I was totally impressed with its rocketlike spikes of purple-blue flowers that towered over my head. Even if it didn't produce tubers with crispy white flesh I'd still like to grow this huge coarse-leaved plant just for its awesome and appealing appearance.

Jicama produces a white fleshy tuber that is often served raw on salads in Mexican restaurants. (Pachyrhizous tuberosus) [Click to download a large version]

cape honeysuckle
Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis) [Click to download a large version]

yellow elder
Yellow elder (Tecoma stans) is showy and seemingly deer resistant. [Click to download a large version]

Mexican sage
Mexican bush sage(Salvia leucantha ) is a robust and prolific autumn bloomer for warm winter areas. [Click to download a large version]

loquat flowers
Fragrant loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) flowers attract many visitors. ([Click to download a large version]

meadow beauty
This meadow beauty (Rhexia Spp.) is a Florida native that lives at the edge of the Catfish Pond. ([Click to download a large version]

Blue glorybower (Clerodendrum ugandense) a tropical beauty that is root hardy in Zone 8 and blooms from summer to first frost. ([Click to download a large version]

October In Bloom:

Although I grow all of the plants in this list they aren't all necessarily blooming here but would be if I had a deer fence...

click for Floridata's complete list of shrubby species Shrubs

butterfly bush
Confederate rose
night cestrum
shrimp plant
tree ivy
yellow elder

tree list icon Trees

tree list icon Palms
pindo palm

vine list Vines
Brazilian nightshade
calico flower
cape honeysuckle
cypress vine
jasmine, Arabian
jasmine, downy
jasmine, star
scrambling skyflower

annual and biennials Annuals
cosmos, orange
scarlet sage
Texas scarlet sage

perennial list icon Perennials
angel's trumpet
autumn sage
blue anise sage
'Blue Daze'
butterfly ginger
cigar plant
fairy fan flower
ginger, pine cone
ginger, dancing girl
Madagascar periwinkle
mealycup sage
Mexican bush sage
pineapple sage
Stokes' aster
swamp sunflower
purple queen
purple coneflower

Gulf muhlygrass

cactus patch
Beneath this patch of prickly pear cactus is the burrow of my varmint, killer of geese and wounder of beagle. It's time for whatever it is to move because we don't take to geese killers and beagle beaters around here...

That's all for October. I guess this month's column wasn't any shorter than usual and it appears I'm as grumpy as ever (sorry). But at least I'm getting a lot of work done: I updated more than three dozen Plant Profiles with new pics and info and (with Steve's help) even added a couple new species (swamp sunflower and Arabian jasmine). Please keep sending me your suggestions and requests. It might take awhile but eventually we'll profile them all. Until the end of the year I'm doing housecleaning on the site. After seven years online and more than 1200 pages later things are getting messy so I'm rewriting (or removing) some of the very early Profiles and other pages that have gone stale or are just crappy.

Most importantly I'm working hard to transform Floridata into a business. To survive and grow Floridata must pay its own way and I hope that you'll help us. Whether you click, bid, shop, buy or just visit I appreciate your support. Browse Floridata often this winter and let us help you imagine your next gardening project. Don't forget to tell your friends about us and be good and grow! - Jack


© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA