The wet and stormy Spring here in Florida's Big Bend proved to be a fitting prelude to what the summer would bring us. In July Tropical Storm Bonnie blew through the panhandle bringing a scare but fortunately not much damage. Next came Hurricane Charley in mid-August smashing into Florida's southwest coast and tearing across the state in a destructive fury. Orlando was hit and its beautiful Harry P. Leu Botanical Gardens suffered extensive damage. Another of my favorite places Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales was also hit by Charley, the first of three devastating storms that would stike that area over the summer.
My sister Lynn lives in Lake Wales and as luck would have it my niece Kara was to be married just a couple weeks after the storm. So at the end of August I drove to Lake Wales to find a devastated landscape of uprooted trees and damaged structures. It was heartbreaking. I didn't even take any pictures and just tried to ignore the damage because it was too sad. Happily though, my whole family had come to Florida. All of my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and even a brand new great nephew were here for the celebration. It was the first time we'd all been together in years and despite the destruction around us, everyone had a great time being together all at once.
Because of the storm damage in Lake Wales, we all stayed at a motel in nearby Winter Haven which avoided the heaviest damage. Even there though, the storm's effects lingered. Homeless cats roamed the area - some limping, others with bloody sores on their bodies and all hungry and frightened. I bought some little tins of cat food and sat them around the parking lot. I'm not sure that was a good thing to do or not because some cat fights broke out and I saw one poor guy throwing up and coughing like he had eaten too much too fast. I hope the animal welfare people found them before Francis and Jeanne arrived...
I don't know how they managed it with trees down, power outages and a big hole in the roof of their house but Lynn and husband Bob pulled off one of most beautiful weddings I've ever attended. Afterwards there was a big reception, with lots of fun music, great food and tasty wedding cake! Then everyone blew soap bubbles and cheered as we sent the happy couple off to their honeymoon and new lives. Congratulations to Kara and Brian!
On Sunday I hugged everyone goodby and climbed into the car for the ride back to Tallahassee. On the way out of town I drove past huge piles of tree branches (and whole trees) that lined every street. I drove out of Lake Wales on Scenic US 27 from where I could look up the hill to see the Bok Tower surrounded by the brown remains of huge oak trees that surround it. Saying goodbye after these family gatherings is always kinda sad and it was impossible to ignore the destruction. Whole forests were ripped apart and twisted into brown tangles, roofs were missing shingles, houses were missing roofs and trailer parks were missing trailers. The once neat rows of orange trees in the groves were scrambled and green citrus lay fermenting on the ground. Scrawny cattle wandered around soggy pastures looking hungry and sick from the ordeal. A wave of depression swept over me - not the kind where you cry and sob. The kind where you're just dazed and numb and even a donut and espresso hold no interest or appeal. Who could have imagined that Lake Wales would have to endure two more of these vicious storms before the summer ended. I wonder what happened to the cats at the motel and the sick cows in the flooded pasture and all of the people who lived in those houses that are now piles of rubble
After seeing Charley's effects I assumed Frances was coming to wipe us out too. I resigned myself to the certainty that house, garden and plants would be destroyed. I took a last look around, a few goodby pictures and then it was time to evacuate. Since the hurricane shelters don't accept people with dogs I loaded up the computer, 3 Great Danes, one beagle and one good book into the car and headed for Bainbridge, Georgia. After paying a hefty non-refundable "pet deposit" we hunkered down to sit out the storm in an old (but sturdy) motel.
The dogs loved it and thought we were on vacation because they had pretzels, French fries and got to jump on the bed. What made it not a total bummer for me was that I had a fascinating book and now I had some time to read it! I haven't read a novel in years and was saving The DaVinci Code for when I could relax and enjoy it. It was such an exciting and fascinating book that I made it through two nights of storms and power outages with minimal discomfort and boredom. In fact I hardly yelled at the dogs at all even when they were rowdy and deserved it.
The happy ending is that by the time Frances hit our area it had weakened to a tropical storm. The center passed right over us and except for downed limbs and trees and some power outages our area sustained little damage when compared to damage done to Central Florida.
By the time Ivan appeared on the map I was completely not paying attention. I think I had "hurricane fatigue" because I spent the rest of the summer on autopilot. My brain was numb and exhausted - it was similar to the dazed feeling that followed 9/11. I emotionally retreated into the nerdosphere so I could learn some new technology and do some programming to distract myself from named weather events. Although I would emerge from my work from time to time to watch announcers blowing in the wind on the Weather Channel.
That was some summer!
For most of the summer the deer have stayed away. I not sure why, but it's probably because of my cleverly designed deer baffler devices (which the storms have since blown down). My new neighbor's BB gun and the rowdy pack of labrador retrievers that live across the street may also have discouraged deer dining in our neighborhood. In August they stopped by a couple of times to munch on palm seedlings which must be delicious because everything has been eating those poor little things including grasshoppers and (especially) bunnies.
There are two rabbits that live in the yard that seem to think they're my pets or something. They were both babies this spring and had no fear as they hopped around me each evening being cute and adorable that they made me feel like St. Francis of Assisi.
In fact, just the other day I walked out back to move a sprinkler and there was this rabbit, just dripping attitude, staring and nibbling. I yelled "GIT" and he didn't move a muscle. I wasn't until I waved my arms and ran at him yelling "WHOOOOOOO" that he turned and casually hopped into the bushes. The stupid things are so brazen and arrogant that I expect it will not be long before a hungry hawk or coyote stops by for dinner and demonstrate to the bunnies that life is fleeting and one shouldn't eat Jack's radicalis palm.
The high point of the summer was when I got two dozen European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) seedlings. I love these hardy little clumping palms and want to have as many as possible. I planted half of them out in the yard. The others I planted in pots as insurance in case something happened to the ones planted out (deer, rabbits, etc.) They all quickly settled into their new homes and were growing vigorously. After a couple months of hot rainy hurricane weather they were attacked by fungus disease. My friend recommended that I spray them with dilute chlorine bleach solution (one teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water) once a week for a few weeks. It worked! They've greened up and look to be recovering! I wish I would have done this for the Chilean wine palms (Jubaea chilensis) that I planted in August of 2001 and that germinated in the summer of 2002 - they all died this spring from fatal funguses - my fault, I just didn't take care of them.
Twelve years ago I planted some seedling Hispaniola palms (Sabal domingensis) out in the field by the road. They grew slowly at first but in recent years they've grown to more than 6 ft high and will be growing a trunk in the next year or two. I planted some wax myrtles among them a couple years ago and now they're full of berries and beginning to provide cover that should attract more birds to that part of the yard.
I got tired of moving all of my potted nursery plants around each time a storm came so it seemed like a good time to plant some out in the yard so I wouldn't need to lug them around any more. In late July I planted a Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) out front that I had rooted a year ago. It survived summer's heat even had some flowers on it by mid-September - this is one rugged and beautiful shrub!
A few weeks later I planted three 'Miami' crapemyrtle trees (Lagerstroemia indica). In the center of them I planted a chaste tree all of which I had rooted just last year and both had bloomed already! Toward the front of the group I stuck in a colony of small agaves (Agave americana) and across the path heading down into the sinkhole I planted a trio of California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) seedlings. If I'm lucky and take a little care this area will grow into a beautiful grove that will require minimal supplemental watering and little maintenance. It will also provide food and good cover for wildlife too and something pretty for me to look at!
I also planted about 30 of the California fan palm seedlings that I germinated last year out in several places around the yard. Some of these caught fungus too and were given the Clorox treatment. The lush tender leaves of those planted out in the front pasture were being devoured by by grasshoppers - I broke down and bought a can of all-in-one bug and disease spray for roses. After a few spritzes it appears that the grasshoppers are leaving them alone - hopefully the deer and bunnies will too.
Only the most rugged flowers bloomed here this summer. I didn't plant any annuals or any new flowers this spring because I couldn't keep up with what I already have. But despite the wind and rain and heat and humidity some of the perennial survivors put forth so I got to enjoy a few blooms despite my lack of effort.
Some plants are just easy and dependable and require little from the gardener. The trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) and the cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) are two climbers that produce showy flowers for extended periods and both have attractive foliage as well that looks great climbing up pine trees or over trellises.
Some annual plants are so accommodating as (Impatiens wallerana) is now a bed of impatiens that returns each year a bit bigger and more beautiful. I love this plant and the way it fills a shady place with color with so little effort on my part.
In the back the woodies produced lots of flowers - bright orange from the pomegranate (Punica granatum) tree, brilliant orange from the firebush (), the banana yellow of the Jerusalem thorn (Parkinsonia aculeata) and pale yellow from an old oleander (Nerium oleander) bush. Montbretia (Crocosmia X crocosmiiflora) crowds scarlet and orange in a bed beneath the pomegranate trying to grab territory from it's neighbors: the reseeding annual scarlet Texas sage (Salvia coccinea) and the rugged perennial 'Black and Blue' salvia (Salvia guaranitica). This part of the yard is always busy with the comings and goings of hummingbirds and butterflies.
Out front on The Hill the crape myrtles had a second flush of flowers toward the end of July just as the pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) and giant miscanthus (Miscanthus floridulus) began to bloom. The scrambling skyflower (Thunbergia battiscombei) bloomed most of the summer but the other skyflower (Thunbergia grandiflora) continues to be eaten by vermin. The angel trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens ) has produced flushes of dozens of huge flowers throughout the summer as did it's cousin the devil's trumpet (Datura inoxia var. quinquecuspida) and both are still blooming now in mid-October! Next to these some blue glorybower (Clerodendrum ugandense) is blooming and below that is a mass of red Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) - which reminds me that I did plant some new stuff this spring but except for the periwinkle everything got eaten...
Nearby is where I compost the dog poop and garden waste. Over the years the pile has migrated slowly around the area leaving little islands of fertility scattered across otherwise barren sandy soils. The additional nutrients have sustained a self-seeding colony of sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) and just across the pile both Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundiflora) and eggplants (Solanum melongena) have volunteered and bloomed all summer. Even with storms knocking them over all the time they just sprout again and deliver round after round of flowers!
In the same area, providing a cooling contrast, are clumps of 'Indigo Spires' salvia (Salvia 'Indigo Spires'). This non-stop bloomer produces long spiral spikes of purple blue flowers that butterflies like but that bees absolutely love. Pieces of stem easily root so I'm using this plant to fill in empty spaces around the garden. The attractive bluish green foliage makes a very pretty background for all the orange and yellow things I have growing nearby.
My whole place is pretty overgrown and messy right now but if you consider that these plants have been neglected and storm battered all summer it is incredible that they are not only alive but growing well and recovering beautifully - again!
This summer we also launched our online mall called the Floridata Marketplace. [Update 2006: New shops are being added!] The advertising and Marketplace are how we fund our efforts and keep the site growing. If you like Floridata and want to help us succeed, I invite (beg) you to visit the Marketplace stores and shop (there's lots of pretty stuff to buy!)
Thank you for your visits, clicks and business. Please tell your friends about us and be good and grow! - Jack