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.
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).
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
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!
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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!
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