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John  Gardener's Journal title graphic

May, 2008
These evergreens are deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) that I planted up on The Hill fifteen years ago. The deodars are famous for their graceful form and beautiful foliage. The tallest in now about 25 feet in height and can grow to three times that (if not prematurely cut short by lightning).

It was a snake! In my last Journal I puzzled over what had made Bubba so sick for two days and caused his front leg to swell up. Now I'm pretty sure that it was a cottonmouth snake. The evidence is circumstantial but true and was collected over the course of one of the worst days I've ever had.

The day was off to a bad start when I took the dogs out and was hit by a harsh blast of Japanese ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum) perfume and pollen that burned my allergic eyes and filled me with a sense of crappiness. I take care of a family member who suffers from arthritis and needs help getting around. When I came back inside, one look at him and I knew that he was feeling beyond crappy. I rushed him to the Urgent Care Center where they determined he had pneumonia! They gave him IV's and treatments and after several hours they said he could go. Home at last, I helped him into bed and then took Bubba and Sue the Great Danes out for a walk and relaxing naps up on The Hill.

Just as I was settling into the lawn chair I noticed that both dogs were sniffing around something in the bushes. I guessed it was probably one of the really stupid baby armadillos that have been running around the place.. Since I didn't want them chasing creatures through the flower beds I went over and snapped on their leashes. As I stepped back something spongy squished under my heal with a wheezy gasp. Already off balance, I jumped up and away and landed semi-safely by rolling onto my side into a tangle of dog leashes and legs that helped cushion my fall.

This is the cottonmouth snake that bit Sue in the face. It's probably the same one that's been lurking around here all Spring and also the one that bit Bubba on the leg.

Looking up I saw a huge snake coiled just a few feet away! "Huge" might not be the right word as it was actually only about two feet long but it was patterned in earth-tones that made it very difficult to see even when you know it is there. Even though it wasn't too huge, this was a very aggressive and ill-tempered snake - especially now since I stepped on it..

I scrambled to my feet, untangled the leashes and hustled the dogs back into the house. It took a few seconds to spot the snake when I returned but there it was - still coiled, hissing away and ready to strike. I noticed that it had a diamond shaped head and wondered if it was poisonous. It didn't go away but continued to hiss at me which is incredibly annoying after spending a long day at the Urgent Care Center so I inverted a flower pot over him and went inside to take a nap away from Nature.

I quickly fell asleep but was awakened a short time later by a sensation of something staring at me. I opened my eyes and, without the benefit of corrective lenses, saw what appeared to be Sue but with a huge round head. She felt squishy when I petted her and, when I got my glasses on, was alarmed to see that she actually did have a huge, badly swollen head. "SNAKE!" Apparently Sue had gotten too close and the snake bit her - probably on the lip or neck.

"OK, don't panic" I thought to myself as I started to panic. I called the veterinarian and then I called another because there's only one vet in town that has snake antivenom. It cost $500 per dose and another $90 for the clinic visit. "OK, don't panic" I told myself again as I looked for the car key that I couldn't find. "Where are the keys? WHERE ARE THE KEYS???" I yelled softly because I didn't want to wake up the very ill man trying to recuperate in the bedroom.

Not long after being bitten, Sue's lips and head begin to swell. She laid around feeling bad for a couple of days. Here she is swollen and feeling bad but I cheered her up with some sweetened milk and other treats that helped hasten her recovery.

Then came the insight that "Even if I find the car keys, I can't I leave a sick man alone by himself while I spend hours at the Animal Urgent Care getting antivenom shots." Although this seemed like an excellent time to panic, the mood had passed. Instead of panic I was surprised to find that I was just really pissed off and decided the first thing I needed to do was stomp the hell out of that damn snake. Oh yeah and (more rationally) to determine just what kind of snake it was.

I walk outside and by the time I locate the snake I'm really furious because I deduced that this was the same snake that bit Bubba last month. The symptoms suffered by both dogs were exactly the same. The good news of course was that Bubba survived the bite. So there it was, still coiled and hissing. I suppressed my desire to stomp the creature to death because although that probably would have been emotionally invigorating, the thought of possible Karmic repercussions and potential of venomous bites caused common sense to kick in. I was still angry but the temper tantrum cleared my head and I formulated a plan. Armed with a shovel I march back up to The Hill where I find the snake still hissing. I guess I look fearsome because he begins to uncoil and slither away dragging a trail of innards that apparently had burst out when I stepped on it. My bad. Using the shovel I lightly killed him and buried the remains beneath a gardenia shrub after first taking photographs. I promptly email these to Steve who is a herpetologists for identification

Steve quickly identified it as a cottonmouth snake which, though venomous, rarely delivers lethal bites. An hour after returning home from Urgent Care and 50 minutes after the snake bite, I still haven't found the car keys but Sue seems to be OK and is sipping milk through her snake-swollen lips while the rest of us are, or are about to be, napping restfully. Two days later Sue's head was almost back to normal, I located the extra set of key and everyone is breathing easier thanks to antibiotics and a fine assortment of allergy and asthma medicines with evocative names, high-tech packaging and luxurious prices.

The coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) that grows on the fence up on The Hill is beginning to thrive and was covered with blossoms throughout May - the hummingbirds go crazy over this stuff. Click to download a large version of this image.
This sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) is grows in small colonies all over my yard. Normally it remains in the background but in spring when these funny little flowers appear it always catches my eye. They're hard to miss when a sunbeam lights up the maroon flowers against the rich green leaves. Click to download a large version of this image.
Growing gladiolus has turned out to be easier than I anticipated. This beautiful bicolor glad is from bulbs I planted three years ago. Click to download a large version of this image.

In Bloom
Properly medicated, it was now safe go outside and wander among the beautiful but pollen-producing May flowers - just in time for the full moon. With my sense of smell restored, the dogs and I enjoyed prowling around the yard in the moonlight. The southern magnolia trees (Magnolia grandiflora) are covered in huge white blossoms that glow against the shiny dark leaves. On the side of The Hill is a small grove of tall pines. Years ago I planted Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) among them that soon scrambled high into the treetops and at this time of year are smothered in tiny white blossoms. Moonlit May nights perfumed in magnolia and jasmine is when my place is at its most fabulous - there's no doubt that this is the most beautiful time of the year here.

Although neither are fragrant, two of my favorite easy-growing shrubs are blooming now. Our area's native oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) produces huge clusters of white flowers that age to cream and then to rosy-green and finally to brown as they dry - they always look pretty whatever the color. It's more popular relative is the cousin the French of bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). This is the famous pH indicator shrub - its flowers are pink in alkaline soils, white in neutral (pH 7) soils and blue where its acid (they're blue in my garden), Both are very easy to propagate by simply rooting pieces of stem which I did last year. I have six new oakleaf hydrangeas that I planted around the place in April. A couple of them are already blooming!

In my Last Journal entry I was bummed out by late freezes we suffered again this year. One cold snap in April froze the flowers on the pomegranate tree (Punica granatum) which would mean another year with no fruit. Last week I noticed that the tree had produced another flush of flowers and I can see at least a few baby pomegranates! Planted near the pomegranate are some feijoa bushes that are also blooming which is not as pretty as you might think. The orange pomegranate blossoms do not color coordinate at all well with the pink and maroon feijoa (Feijoa sellowiana) flowers. The waxy feijoa flowers are edible being sweet and crunchy so bright red cardinal birds often visit to eat quantities of them which creates an even more incredible clash of color.

Up on The Hill the four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) are back and blooming and I'm very happy that many of the gladiolus (Gladiolus spp.) have survived for the second year. The garden lilies (Lilium hybrids) are just beginning to bloom now at the end of May (the first to open is a 'Sorbonne'). Most of the bearded iris (Iris germanica) are just finishing up now although I have some new varieties that have yet to bloom. Maybe they are late season bloomers so I'm hoping to see some spectacular orange, rose and white bearded iris in the next few weeks..

Spending so much time taking care of allergies, snake bites and multiple late freezes didn't leave much time for gardening projects - or if it did I was in too bad of mood and didn't feel like it. The April cold snaps put everyone in a bad mood and by the time the last one came through I had assumed an "everything can just die and then I won't have to take care of this crap" attitude. I left all of my potted tropicals out in the cold because there was no way I was going to lug in all those huge pots back indoors yet again.

Actually I did make one exception and dragged the shivering frangipani (Plumeria spp.) into the living room so maybe I wasn't in a totally evil mood - mostly just lazy. Fortunately nothing actually died but several of the more tender plants did get messed up. The pineapple (Ananas comosus) plant that I grew from the top of a delicious organic piece of fruit sustained leaf damage as did new growth on the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). The potted papaya (Carica papaya) was totally killed except for a 2 foot chunk of the lower trunk that has recovered to sprout a tuft of new leaves. By May my attitude improved so I made up to them by treating all to a "topping off" of fresh potting soil washed down with long draughts of liquid fertilizer.

Most of the beds still need mulching and many of the trees and bushes need trimming. I'll get around to them eventually but I figure with the costs of gas and everything soaring the most effective and delicious use of my time would be to grow vegetables. I planted a few tomato plants up on The Hill and one in a container on the patio as insurance in case the others are trashed by deer or other vermin. I did the same with peppers - some up in the garden and several in containers. I have hot Hungarians, jalapeno and bell peppers in pots along with a big ahi pepper that Steve gave me. They're beautiful and I'm looking forward to enjoying fried peppers with tomatoes and eggs in the next few weeks.

I like eating salsa and chips for a healthy snack and this year I want to make my own (salsa, not chips). In addition to the tomato plants I'm growing garlic (Allium sativum), onions (Allium cepa Cepa Group) and cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). I had some roasted garlic salsa once that was good and I 'd like to make that too. A friend gave me some elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum, Ampeloprasum Group) that were growing well until an armadillo came and dug them up. I replanted them and it looks like they're going to survive so I have high hopes that they'll make it to maturity and into some salsa. I was surprised to learn from our Plant Profiles that elephant garlic is not the same species as regular garlic (Allium sativum) but rather is the same species as leeks (Allium ampeloprasum Porrum Group) which I also love (they're a cool weather crop, I plan to plant some of these this winter)

Snakes were harmed in the making of this Journal page. Those snakes that don't want to be harmed should stay away from my place and not bite my dogs ... or else...

Well that's it for this month . It took me quite a while to get this thing finished due to snakes and bad attitude. Next time I hope to do something more interesting in the garden to write about. Mostly though I'll be working on programming new versions of the Floridata Member applications. Beta versions of everything have been running on the site since last Fall. In that time I've gotten a good idea of what's working and what needs to change. I have also identified new technologies that will enable us to build better and easier to use controls for the FloriDazl Photo and Plant List Builder Services. You'll be able to more easily assemble images and information into mini-database, slide shows and web pages that have a wide range of uses and can be displayed on Floridata or other web sites.

If you're having problems with the site or have suggestions for the new version of Floridata, FloriDazl or any of our new Member applications please Write Us and send them to me. I've saved dozens of ideas from our visitors and will incorporate them into the newest versions that I hope you'll begin seeing by mid-summer (if the snakes stay away).

Thanks for reading my Journal, visit Floridata often, tell your friends about us and be good and grow.


Recent Journals: April 14, 2008, March 25, 2008, March 18, 2008

Click here for the archive of links to Jack's old Journals from 2001 - 2005

June 3, 2008

© LC
Tallahassee, Florida USA