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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

May 2004

prickly pear cactus flower
Here's a beauty that doesn't mind drought one bit - it's a prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus that lives up on The Hill among a young grove-to-be of Puerto Rican hat palms (Sabal causiarum). Click here for a large version (800x600).
prickly pear tunas
Prickly pear fruits are called tunas. Once they ripen they don't last long on the plant since many creatures enjoy them as sweet treats. Click here for a large version (800x600).
I didn't think I'd ever complete this Journal. After more than two months with nary a drop, the rainy season arrived here on Memorial Day and we've been having daily thunderstorms ever since. We're also having daily power outages that send me into computer withdrawal and mess up my work schedule. Even worse last week I forgot to use an oven mitt and I thought I wouldn't be able to type. But the blisters peeled off in a few days and my typing fingers are operational again so I'm working on my Journal between power outages.

May began on a hopeful note with a nice rain shower but soon after a high pressure system moved in and the weather turned sunny, warm and breezy. March had been very dry and May proved to be drier which kept me busy dragging hoses and sprinklers around the yard in an continual effort to keep the drought intolerant species alive.

The lawn grass hadn't grown much all Spring because of the drought. This actually proved to be pretty convenient because the lawnmower is broken beyond repair so I got a reprieve from having to shell out for a new one. The Cypress Pond in the front was totally dry by early May and the Catfish Pond out back was down about 3 ft (0.9 m). A while back I made a solemn vow to myself that the next time the water level receded enough I would chop out a the scrubby willows that had grown along a section of the shoreline. Fortunately, the end of month storms put enough water back that I can blow off this miserable task until the next drought.

Jerusalam thorn
The Jerusalem thorn is a tough drought resistant tree with delicate looking fernlike foliage and bright yellow and orange flowers. Click here for a large version (800x600).
There's a Jerusalem thorn (Parkinsonia aculeata) tree out back near the Catfish Pond that actually benefited from the drought. Last year was wet and rainy and the water table was very high most of the season. The tree became sickly, produced few flowers and by mid-summer whole branches were dying. Jerusalem thorn is a desert tree that is susceptible to fungus and other diseases under damp conditions. By Christmas the bark had split from which weird funguses emerged - I thought it was a goner for sure.

After a couple dry months though, I could see the little tree springing back to life. By the middle of May it was covered in a of fresh fuzzy green haze of foliage and happy little yellow flowers. The dry respite provided by the drought allowed the Jerusalem thorn to recover and I'm delighted that it's recuperated and back to being its beautiful old self!

a dung beetle
This dung beetle lives out by the dog runs which are used by my three Great Danes as comfort stations. For this creature it is truly the land of plenty - roll on! Click here for a large version (800x600).
Wildlife
I had seen these things on TV nature shows before and May was my lucky month for meeting one in person. I was putting the dogs in their runs when PLOP! A perfectly round 1 in (2.5 cm) brown ball fell from a low stump and rolled to rest by my foot. Close behind, a large beetle came tumbling over the edge and landed THUMP on his back. It was a dung beetle and it was in trouble! It's little legs flailed the air and and on its face was a desperate expression (and a little poop). Even though it was a dung beetle I felt sorry for it and flipped it over (using a stick). He seemed disoriented so I helped out again by rolling his ball of poop up to where he could see and reach it. He got all excited with the return of his poop ball so I'm pretty sure he appreciated my assistance. He nodded, shouldered up to his task and continued on his way rolling his b-ball burden toward his beetle burrow.

Baby On Board
Intrigued by the encounter, I googled "dung beetle" to see if I could identify his species. I soon discovered that there are many kinds of dung beetles and they are classified into three categories; tunnelers, dwellers and rollers depending on how each interacts with the dung. My dung beetle was obviously a "roller" who scoops up a portion of poop and into which the female beetle deposits her eggs. The pooey mass is carefully shaped into a sphere which is then rolled into a shallow burrow whose entrance precisely matches the diameter of the poohball. The eggs incubate within this cozy cocoon until they hatch, the baby beetles eat their way out and emerge as the next generation of dung beetle. This may all sound revolting and it truly is, but it is also very beneficial for the soil and the environment - and for me because it's all that much less for me to remove with the Pooper Scooper. As I pondered the realities of the dung beetle's life I quickly lost interest in learning much more about them because, well, they're gross...

As nasty a lifestyle as they have, I think it was very St. Francis-like of me to put the dung beetle back on his feet and roll his dungball back to him. It's like good karma and "do unto others...". Perhaps if I find myself in trouble one day there'll be a kind soul to help me out with my sh*t.

Jack's Fence Garden
You can see some of my bamboo and string Deer Bafflers here in the Fence Garden up on The Hill. This is Memorial Day and the first rain we've had in a month - everything suddenly turned green - it's time for serious growing!
Projects
May brought beautiful Spring weather but the insanely evil biting flies limited the possibility of enjoying it. These horrible bloodsucking flies wing in from the depths of Hell each Spring to torment the flesh and make me say bad words. One afternoon, in the short time I was outdoors moving sprinklers, one of those filthy beasts secretly landed in my coffee. I took a drink and even now can feel the filthy thing vibrating inside my mouth. It's similar to phantom pain only instead it's a filthy phantom fly feeling. Even wiping my tongue and mouth with a Bounty paper towel didn't help and neither did hot coffee or Listerine®. Thus traumatized I mostly stayed indoors at the computer where I updated a Plant Profiles with new pictures and rewrites and scratched fly bites.

The month's main project was mostly done by a chainsaw-wielding friend who trimmed back the hugely overgrown azaleas out front. He cut back about 3 dozen of these monsters and the place looks superb. Most were aggressively robust 'Purple Formosa' Indica azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) that will actually benefit from the trimming back. They had become scraggly and overgrown and the long branches had rooted where they touched the ground that created a tangled thicket of scrawny stems that were crowding out nearby plants.

As the azaleas were removed we uncovered a couple of southern magnolia seedlings that I encouraged with some shots of fertilizer. Also freed from the thicket were three 9 ft (2.7 m)) high 'Mine-no-yuki' sasanquas (Camellia sasanqua), 4 holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum), 3 Oregon grape hollies (Mahonia bealei), a sago (Cycas revoluta), a deutzia (Deutzia gracilis) and a camellia (Camellia japonica)! It's awesome - like getting a bunch of new plants - for free! - already planted! All of this beautification is happening in a large circular area formed by the driveway turnaround. The previous owner had a few rose bushes growing there and so it was where I put my first garden when I moved here. I've neglected it over the past 10 years because I've been working in other parts of the yard but now I'm excited about putting the final touches on the Circle Garden (I guess that's a good name for it...).

At the end of the month just as I recovered from the fly-in-mouth trauma I got a great bargain on 20 European fan palms (Chamaerops humilis) seedlings. They're very young and aren't much to look at yet except in my mind where they stand in graceful multi-trunked splendor. There's already 3 European fan palms growing up on The Hill in front of some young Puerto Rican hat palms (Sabal causiarum) so I planted 6 of my new seedlings there to group with the others. There's lots of sun and heat and well drained soil so they should thrive if I can get them established. If successful they will form a small forest of curvy palm trunks in about 10 or 15 years from which the (eventually to be) massive and tall hat palms will erupt in vertical splendor above them.

I wanted some Euro palms for the Dog Cemetery too so I planted 5 of them there in front of some loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) trees and on the other side of the path among some young Texas sabal (Sabal mexicana) palms. I still had 9 left so I potted these up to be pampered with lots of care, water and fertilizer so they'll get big fast and be sturdy enough to plant way out in the front beyond hose reach where they may not get the best of care.

I was so happy to have them that I even braved an hours worth of fly bites to rake leaves and pine needles so I could mulch them. Before I did though I covered the area around the palms with old newspaper and computer printouts that will help suppress weeds and will eventually decay adding organic matter the crappy sandy soil we have here. I also like the idea of my old printouts composting into something that's useful and I feel satisfyingly frugal and ecological.

farkleberry flowers
The farkleberry finished flowering in mid-May. I think this is a beautiful little native tree that's also a great food source for birds and other wildlife. Click here for a large version (800x600).
In Bloom
The big event of the month here was, after many years, my coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) at last bloomed and it was worth the wait! It grows near some pampered palms and I theorize it was getting too much fertilizer because in previous years it always grew a 7 ft (2.1.m) tall flowerless stems (about 3 feet is typical). I didn't feed the palms last autumn and this year it's produced more than a dozen flower spikes. I hope that it forms some of its colorful seedpods so I can take pictures - it makes a black pod with red seeds that are as showy as the flowers.

The pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) began blooming last month and continued for a couple more weeks into May. Unfortunately the squirrels must have read last month's Journal when I wrote about this shrub's edible flower petals. They have decimated the flowers and the shrubs are all beat up with broken branches from the little devils jumping onto them like an insane bunch of tweaky monkeys.

Our spectacular southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are still in full flower blending their fragrance with that of the gardenia (Gardenia augusta), confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa).

coralbean
The hummingbirds and I have waited years for this coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) to bloom and this year it finally did! Download a large version (800x600) of this image.

mimosa
The mimosa or silk tree (Albizia julibrissin ) is an attractive flowering tree that has naturalized in some places and is invasive in others. Download a large version.


Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is a showy wetland plant of the southeastern United States. Download a large version (800x600) of this image.

blue French hydrangea
Pink or blue, it wouldn't be May without the old favorite French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) Download a large version.

yellow oleander
This double-flowered yellow oleander (Nerium oleander) is fragrant and hardy in my Zone 8 garden. Download a large version.

hardy prickly pear
Early in the month the hardy prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) out in the front field was covered with both flowers and fruit that has since been eaten by something. Download a large version.
Because of the yellow flies, deer and drought I still haven't planted any annuals for this year. In June I plan to fix up my flower beds after installing more of my clever bamboo Deer Bafflers that I invented last month. A fiesta of flowers will flourish here by fall!

click for Floridata's complete list of shrubby species Shrubs
buttonbush
gardenia
pineapple guava
oakleaf hydrangea
oleander
red tip
sweetshrub


Vines
big periwinkle
Chinese wisteria
confederate jasmine
coral honeysuckle
cross vine
Japanese honeysuckle
trumpet vine


Trees
chaste tree
Chinaberry
farkleberry
crape myrtle
southern magnolia


annual and biennialsAnnuals
impatiens
calendula
celosia
cosmos
petunia
scarlet sage
snapdragon
Texas scarlet sage
geranium
orange cosmos


perennial list icon Perennials
autumn sage
blue anise sage
butterfly blue
daylily
four o'clocks
gerber daisy
justicia
soft rush
soap aloe
yarrow


Lawnchair

lawnchair
As I settle comfortable into my lawn chair I suddenly reflect "these flies are eating me up, I'm going inside...".
I've been working on this Journal for days and days now and it doesn't seem to be getting any better so I guess it's done. I need to get back to work updating the Plant Profiles. We've had requests to add metric measurements and detail photos of leaves, fruit and foliage of each plant so I'm working on that and also adding new pictures with large versions for downloading. I've been doing updates for almost a year now and it's getting pretty tiresome by now so I'm going to profile some new plants in the coming weeks. I hope that you'll all keep visiting Floridata over the summer "slow season" to see all of our new stuff.

Last month I hoped that Floridata would reach the "1 million pageviews per month" milestone. We didn't make it but we did have our biggest month ever! Floridata served 882,901 page views in May compared to 861,983 in April and hosted 291,123 visits (269,048 visits in April).

We didn't spend any money on advertising so we have only our visitors to thank for our growing audience - thanks! Normally traffic declines from now until late August but maybe we can hold steady if you all share Floridata's URL with friends and otherwise spread the word about us on message boards and other places plant lovers and gardeners gather. Don't forget that Floridata features plants for everyone, everywhere in every Hardiness Zone.

I especially want to thank those visitors who have written the very positive and generous "reviews" of our web site on Amazon.com. These are tremendously effective in helping Floridata expand our audience and I am grateful for the encouragement!

Before I close for the month I just want to say how much I like electricity and how miserable it is without it. During one of the power outages while I was alone with my thought I composed this poem:

when you die
you never end
because then you're everywhere
you've ever been.

I was going to enter it in the the National Gardening Association's Poetry Contest but it turns out they're looking for good poems about nature, gardening, flowers and the like. If you would like to create a poem to enter into the competition visit their site. Good luck with your entry and just in case you need some inspiration I'll close with another of my poems:

Poems to compose and seeds to sow, write one that rhymes and be good and grow. - Jack

6/7/04



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