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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

June 2004

angel trumpet
Steve gave me a rooted stem of angel trumpet (Brugmansia spp.) this spring that has really taken off. Click here for a large version (800x600).
angel trumpet interior
This is the interior of the angel trumpet. It provides a paradise of sweetly scented shelter and food for tiny insects. Click here for a large version (800x600).
What a difference a month makes! April and May were dry and rainless but June brought daily thunderstorms that brought a rainforest lushness to North Florida. Daily storms began Memorial Day and continued through the month into July. Early on they were very violent with much lightning that knocked out the power at least once every day. As the month proceeded we settled into a daily routine with more rain, less lightning and almost none of the power outages that messed up my work schedule early in the month (but did provide a welcome break from the computer!)

At the end of May the Cypress Pond out front was totally dry but after the first few days of storms a puddle formed in the deepest part that grows daily. Likewise the Catfish Pond out back fell several feet during the spring and now in early July is back to its normal level.

chaste tree flowers after the rain
The chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) was looking its beautiful best in early June even when the branches were bent by the wet weight of water logged blossoms. Click here for a large version (800x600) of this image.
Happily by the end of June the angry evil biting flies have largely disappeared but a sizeable population of several varieties of mosquito has been spawned by the abundant rains. They never used to bother me much (if you resist the urge to itch a bite it quickly disappears) but with the arrival of deadly West Nile virus a couple years ago what was once just a pest is now a source for a potentially deadly disease.

With some misgiving I signed up to have the county come and periodically spray the property with mosquito pesticide. I've avoided doing this in the past because I worry that the butterflies and other nice insects will be harmed. I'll probably stop the spraying when the mosquito population return to a more reasonable level when I'll once again depend on natural plant oil insect repellant (made from lemongrass, citronella grass) to repel the biters. DEET is a powerful and very effective insect repellent sold under a variety of brand names. However it makes my heart race and face flush even when I only spray it on my shoes and socks. The natural products work almost as well if they are applied frequently (about every 30 minutes) which might be worth the effort - especially when using on babies and young kids).

cottonmouth snake (dead)
Snake? SNAKE!!! This snake was found severely dead without cut, contusions or abrasions and perhaps died a natural death - or possibly was scared to death by a close encounter with a lawn mower!
Wildlife
My Deer Bafflers that I had installed up on The Hill seem to be working. For several days in early June there was almost no deer damage. Just as I began to hope they were gone I discovered that they had just moved the party - to directly behind the house where they ate 5 dearly cherished hardy bamboo palms (Chamaedorea microspadix). They were grown from seed and lovingly nurtured for almost 8 years. Prior to the deer desecration they had each grown graceful slender 3 ft (0.9 m) stems and were blooming for the first time. I was looking forward to a small crop of seeds too. I wouldn't have guessed that these bamboolike stems would be sweet and delicious enough that deer would chew them to the ground. It's possible that they don't but these nasty deer here do stuff like this just to be vindictive - they're probably trying to get even with me because of the Deer Bafflers...

Dogs Run Free - OK By Me
By the second week in June the damage suddenly ceased. Apparently the neighbor's rowdy labrador retrievers detected the sexy bitches (literally) that live here and were eager to show Mathilda the Great Dane how much they truly cared. Everyone knows that dogs "leave their mark" by spritzing pee over virtually every vertically oriented object they encounter. This helps them get girls because vital dating information is aromatically encoded in the chemical composition of dog pee. This enables the bitches to detect when potential boyfriends are in the area and deduce physical attributes from an olfactory analysis of the urine spritzes (health, diet, time of visit, annual income, etc.).

Hopelessly in love, the labs, in a hormonal frenzy, staged a breakout from their kennel. They visit my place first to spritz for girlfriends and then swim off their frustrations in the Catfish Pond. On one happy occasion they were seen chasing deer out of the Deer Parlor (read February's Journal) out front which was a happy sight! Good dogs!

The visits would stop for a few days now and then as their owner blocked the escape routes dug out of the kennel. What he probably doesn't know is that the labs have taught themselves how to climb over fences. I saw one climb my fence - after a few false starts, I saw one quickly scamper up and over into the next yard.

Our neighborhood gang of labrador retrievers have put the local pest critters on notice. The deer are staying away and there's been no armadillo damage for weeks now. A huge incredibly stupid 'dillo lived under the house for several months. I could have easily bounced a rock off its head any number of times but I just didn't have the heart to do it. Instead I adapted and made the most of the situation. Into each hole the armadillo dug searching for stuff to eat I stuck a clump of St. Augustine grass. I'm almost sad that the armadillo is gone because I still have several dozed square yards of lawn to replant but I'm extremely happy that the deer have retreated for a while. Now, thanks to the neighbor's fence-climbing labrador retrievers the deer are on the run and labs are having fun so I'm not going to tell their masters about their forays and I hope you don't either!

Mathilda
Mathilda is getting old and slowing down alot but when she's in season the boy dogs think she's hot! I'll sure miss her when she's gone so I make sure to appreciate her company while she's still with us. Good girl!
I wish I could let my Great Danes roam the property but there's too many hazards even if they didn't wander off and get lost or shot. But mostly I don't want them having recreational sex. At the moment I wouldn't be able to afford to take Mathilda to Planned Puppyhood (the vet) for a morning after shot because (as cute as they might be) we don't need any LabraDane Retrievers!

We also have a lot of venomous snakes around here and that's another reason the Danes aren't allowed to wander. Over the years we've lost a couple dogs to snakebite but on the other hand the venomous snakes have lost brethren to the Danes. A rattlesnake came in their kennel several years ago and scared the hell out of two of them but one named Mia grabbed the thing and shook it so violently that when she was through with it both head and tail were reduced to splayed bloody meat when we found it - she was fearless! I'll always remember brave pretty Mia.

Just the other evening I was walking Sue (a 2 year old female Dane). She suddenly jumped and made me stumble, I looked down to see my foot landing on a tiny (garter?) snake that Sue had just stepped on too. Shaken, the three of us retired to our respective domiciles for the evening. A couple days later I had another snake encounter. I followed my nose to the source of a foul odor that I knew could not be originating from a happy source. There, laying at the edge of the newly-filled Cypress Pond, was a totally undamaged cottonmouth snake except for being dead. These are aggressive and venomous snakes that live in and around water. I poked it with a stick and turned it over and no wounds could be seen. Suicide? I wondered if it was a self-hating snake with low self-esteem who bit himself to end it all (wonder if that would work). Except for the smell, this is definitely the best way to run across one of these brutes. Whatever the reason for its passing, the carcass lay there for days and I hoped that some scavenger would come along and scavenge it because it was ultra ripe and the nearby mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) isn't nearly perfumey enough to mask dead snake stench.

gloriosa daisy
The glosiosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) up on the hill were finally not eaten enough to bloom. Click here for a large version (800x600).
June really was a snake infested month and I had several interactions with a black racer snake that lives up on The Hill. I'm improving my snake karma by learning to distinguish the nice snakes (non-venomous) from the bad (bite and die) so I don't automatically kill the nice ones. I had other reptile encounters when I just missed hitting a 4 ft (1.2 m) long alligator as it lumbered into the weeds down on Old Plank Road. The very next day I was appalled at the size of the snapping turtles in the Catfish Pond and secretly hoped that the alligator would stop by and eat them. These turtles are huge and I still resent them for eating my baby ducklings a few years ago and also because they are so ugly and mean looking.

chaste tree
Just after they bloomed I trimmed this chaste (Vitex agnus-castus) tree and neighboring white 'Natchez' crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) - both will continue to bloom sporadically for the remainder of the summer.
Projects
On most days the daily storms would end by late afternoon or early evening so I got a few chances to get out and do a few garden chores. I'm still burning cuttings from when the azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) were trimmed last month. This month, as each gardenia (Gardenia augusta) bush finished blooming, I headed them back to about 3 ft (0.9 m) in height. They had grown a little too tall and leggy so this will give them a tighter more compact look and allow for better air circulation. Whenever I have a few minutes I work at my favorite chore which is artistically hacking away at the yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria) which always seem to need trimming. I'm practicing topiary (see the "Screw" in January 2002 Journal) on them because it's easier than removing them. With all of the rain we're having, the yaupons are not the only things that need trimming - I'm spending a lot of time cutting clambering vines back...

lablab bean
The lablab (Dolichos lablab) is another beautiful summer bloomer beloved by hummingbirds. It's easy to grow as an annual almost everywhere and the showy purple pods are edible. Click here for a large version (800x600).
Summer Flowering Vines
Often the phrase "invasive plant" brings to mind exotic species, introduced from far away places that have overgrown their welcome and are disrupting the native plant populations. While many of the most invasive species are exotic, my problem is with native species. I have a love-hate relationship with a few of our native vines.

For example, the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a spectacular vine with showy flowers that hummingbirds adore. The problem with this easy beauty is that it is such a rampant grower that it quickly climbs over and up everything, easily reseeds and has wide spreading roots from which additional stems rapidly erupt to form a tangled colony. Mine is extra vigorous because it swipes moisture and fertilizer from nearby plantings so I must continually trim errant stems and wandering roots. Each winter I cut 2 or 3 of the thickest stems climbing up the pine tree in my Fruit Island Bed. When I look up to see the bright orange trumpets against the blue summery sky, swarming with hungry hummers the effort seems like a small price to pay for such entertainment.

Another native hummingbird favorite and close cousin of the trumpet creeper is the cross vine (Bignonia capreolata). It blooms in early spring but usually does an encore around this time of year - especially when there's abundant rain. This vine is also rather vigorous and has a habit of invading beds requiring management to keep it in bounds. It too is so handsome that even I have a tough time complaining about it.

Virginia creeper infloresence
These Virginia creeper flowers (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) will soon give way to small blue fruits that are important food source for wildlife. Click here for a large version (800x600).
My real nemesis here is the woodbine, also called Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). It too is a very robust and vigorous vine that I would probably like a lot if it could behave itself. It has attractive leaves that turn brilliant colors in Fall and many species of wildlife are nourished by its fruits. The bad news is that when this vine has access to abundant moisture and rich soil it grows berserk and is likely to take over unless controlled.

I have an ancient Virginia creeper that established itself adjacent to what was for years chicken yard and now serves as the dog kennel. Last year I dug up one of its roots. Making the most of the nearby bonanza of poultry manure and dog poop it had grown to more than 3 in (7.6 cm) in diameter and supported dozens of huge stems that grew to the very top of a 60 ft (18.3 m) oak tree. This monster vine produces thousands of seeds each year which germinate to carpet the garden beds with seedlings. I'm pulling and hacking and slowly gaining ground on them but they are really energized by the abundant rain so I'm in for a long fight. I've already managed to reclaim a camellia (Camellia japonica) and some pinecone ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) that had nearly been smothered.

I'm not seeking a total victory over the Virginia creeper - a detente that confines it to the oak tree is sufficient. Although it takes a lot of effort I think I prefer "controlling" vigorous growers to coddling finicky plants along that just aren't suitable for growing conditions. If you have poor or difficult gardening conditions consider using these vigorous species - what's rampant on good soil may be the only plants robust for some poor soils (like the sand here at Floridune). So maybe I don't really hate them, I'm probably just a little too lazy to grow them!

Aaron's beard blossom
One of the two flowers my Aaron's beard (Hypericum calycinum) produced this season! Click here for a large version (800x600).
In Bloom
A month of steady rain has transformed the landscape here into a seething green mass splashed with color with the crape myrtles doing much of the splashing. June began with the early blooming crapes at their peak and in a week or so gave way to the mid-season varieties like the compact purple (lavender? violet?) 'Catawba' variety that grows up on the hill.

Another tree here that blooms in June also goes by the common name of catawba tree (Catawba is the name of a Native American tribe). In some regions it is better known as the southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides). This deciduous tree has very showy flower clusters that give way to long pods that I knew as Indian cigars when I was a kid.

By the middle of June the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) finished its spring show. I was sad to see the spectacle end and I know the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies miss it even more. Each year I grow to like this small tree more and more so last summer I took cuttings and rooted them but neighborhood hoodlums (squirrels) trashed the pot. I managed to save one though and it is thriving but lonely so I'll root a dozen or so more cuttings this season so I can plant a big mass of them out front. It'll look incredible and the more of these you have, the more butterflies and hummingbirds will visit. Maybe I'll combine them with crape myrtles - lavender and white would be spectacular. Both of these flowering trees are rugged and should be relatively easy to establish on the outer edge of the property beyond the reach of hoses and routine care.

A tender plant everyone likes, the blue plumbago (Plumbago auriculata), gets frosted back to the roots each winter here in Zone 8 but usually comes back. This year only half of mine returned (possibly due to the spring drought) and they've just started blooming. The butterflies have already started visiting.

Last month I was happy because after years of waiting my (lazy) coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) had finally bloomed. Now I'm happy two months in a row because another reticent bloomer called Aaron's beard (Hypericum calycinum) sputtered out only two lonely but beautiful yellow flowers. This plant doesn't like the hot humid summer weather we have here in North Florida but I patiently waited all these years (like an idiot) to take flower pictures for its Plant Profile. Now if only I could get the red hot pokers (Kniphofia spp.) to bloom I think that I would dance and sing a happy little tune.

honeybells
Junes rains were heavy enough to refill part of the Cypress Pond and the number of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flowers is doubled by reflection the still dark water.
Since there's a lot of wet soggy areas here I've become a big fan of this handsome deciduous shrub called buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). It is native to a wide range that extends across North America. I'm lucky to have some in the Cypress Pond out front and some young ones have established themselves around the Catfish Pond now as well. They begin blooming in June here and will continue producing sweet-scented Sputnik-sphered flowers throughout the summer.

The gardenias (Gardenia augusta) had a great year and a few are still blooming at the end of June. I'm already missing their sensational scent but making up for the loss is a mass of fragrant four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) up on The Hill. They're growing so rapidly from the rain that they're falling over but continue producing flowers by the score that are so fragrant they mask the aroma of an adjacent decomposing pile of Dane poop.

The southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are still in full flower blending their lemony fragrance with that of the gardenia and four o'clocks. With all this stuff in bloom the hummingbirds are fat and feisty and fighting and feuding over airspace. With the exception of myself and the Dane poop compost, the scents of summer smell super here - I love this time of year!

southern catalpa blossom
The southern catalpa tree (
Catalpa bignonioides ) is a appreciated for its showy blossoms (and for the caterpillars that feed on it that make excellent fishing bait). Download a large version (800x600) of this image.

mimosas before the storm
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.

morning glory
The is the famous 'Heavenly Blue' morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) Download a large version (800x600) of this image.

buttonbush
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a native of American wetlands. Download a large version.

aged gardenia
As the fragrant gardenias (Gardenia augusta) age they turn from white to gold before falling from the bush. Here is one of the last of the season looking mellow in the late spring evening sunshine. Download a large version.
click for Floridata's complete list of shrubby species Shrubs
bigleaf hydrangea
buttonbush
gardenia
pineapple guava
oakleaf hydrangea
oleander
red tip
sweetshrub


Vines
big periwinkle
coral honeysuckle
cross vine
Japanese honeysuckle
trumpet creeper


Trees
catalpa tree
chaste tree
crape myrtle
southern magnolia


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


perennial list icon Perennials
angel trumpet
black-eyed Susan
devil's trumpet
autumn sage
blue anise sage
butterfly blue
daylily
four o' clocks
gerber daisy
gloriosa daisy
justicia
peacock ginger
soap aloe
yarrow

palm list icon Palms
date palm
Dominican palm
dwarf blue palmetto
radicalis palm
hardy bamboo palm
sabal palm


Lawnchair

Jack's in the lawn chair
The day's storm has passed and I'm enjoying laying motionless in the lawnchair watching hummingbirds work the trumpet creeper vine that you can see climbing the tree on the left. Maybe I've been laying around too long...
This month we survived storms, leaky roofs, power outages and snake scares but there were (almost) no deer, no armadillos and the bills got paid so I'd say June wa a good month. Despite the power outages and down time I updated a couple dozen more of our older Plant Profiles. Best of all, I've made progress on our online shopping mall called Floridata's Marketplace. As I continue to line up vendors you'll be able to watch our "shop-by-plant" concept come to life (see the profiles for ajuga, sago, Japanese maple and purple coneflower for some examples).

We reached another milestone on July 4th when we celebrated our eighth year on the Web (seven years under the floridata.com domain name). I'm hugely proud that Floridata has survived all these years and hope you'll help us celebrate by sharing our URL with your friends and neighbors to ensure that we'll be around for another eight!

Ahm tard, so that's enough for June. Make the most of your summer, visit us often and be good and grow! - Jack

7/12/04



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