Monday, April 28, 2014

Defying the Odds

In the last week, I've spotted no less than five separate green Anole lizards in my backyard. I wondered if they were an omen of sorts, and then some strange things started happening in the garden.

Those of you who are regular visitors to the blog may recall that I wallowed in gardening self-pity last week. The beans, the beans had gotten me down. I had identified their apparent killer as bean leaf mosaic virus. The websites suggested it was fatal. I was instructed, in no uncertain terms, to pull out all of the plants and burn them.

I am known for being a little defiant.

I decided--since I didn't really know what I was doing--to leave the plants in so that I might learn something from their decline. I have to admit this week that I have learned absolutely nothing, largely because they seem to have recovered, which means I misidentified their ailment and basically have no idea what I'm doing. The leaves are flattening out; flowers are blooming, and I've even found some beans.

Leaves are recovering

This made me think of so many other plants in the garden that once seemed certain to die. There was the Japanese maple that worked so hard but was always knocked back by the heat and sun (even though I bought that specific one because the nursery claimed it was ideal for the heat of Florida). I dug it up last fall and moved it to a more shaded spot. Turfman was worried the move would kill it. I was too, but I told him, "Who cares? If I don't kill it, the Florida heat will. This is it's last chance." Here's how it looks today.

A flush of color in the shade

I recently heard a pretty learned gardener say that Gloriosa superbum only does well in its first year, so there's no real reason to leave it in the ground for another season. Well, I lifted mine and protected it over the winter because that's what I thought I was supposed to do. I had replanted it just a day before the gardener had made her proclamation. Then I thought my work was for nothing. (This is what I planted in memory of Wolfie.) It's actually doing better this year than it did last.

6 blooms ready to burst open

I study horticulture more than you can imagine. I am trying to become an expert. I'm forever frustrated by how slow the process is. And for all I know about what I'm doing, I have little idea of what I'm doing. It's all an experiment. Sometimes the experiment works. Sometimes it doesn't. But it sure is incredible to see things thrive after they've been proclaimed a total loss. 

You see, the green Anole lizard is native to Florida and is being wiped out by the brown lizard. They are incredibly rare, almost lost themselves. But they've been running around my garden this week, and everything is turning over a new leaf. If they are an omen, it seems they are a very good one.

Hello, friend

Monday, April 21, 2014

Encouragement Required

I'm sure that some of my former students would recall my advice for what to do when the nagging voices in their heads started to tell them that they couldn't accomplish something, especially that they couldn't write. I told them to tell that voice in no uncertain terms to SHUT UP. Today is one of those days that I have to take my own advice.

When we lived in Michigan, I may have become a little emboldened by my successes in the vegetable garden. I put food on our table and reserves in our freezer. In short, every time I went into the garden, I felt pretty magnificent. Not so in Florida, and it is taking every molecule of self-control I have not to go on a full-blown rant.

My Kentucky Wonder pole beans were initially a wonder, indeed. They were scrambling up the arches I had built and looking fabulous. This weekend, though, I began to notice that the leaves were looking a little strange. I researched the problem, and I'm pretty sure that they have bean leaf mosaic virus.

The sick leaves

Now, I believe most disappointments in life are an opportunity to learn something useful. So my first thought (after "you are a horrible gardener" and "another season down the drain") was what this new problem is trying to tell me about my soil. But so far as I can find in my research, it's not telling me anything about my soil. It's telling me that I have aphids (but I haven't seen any) or that the seeds had the virus. Then again, if I look a little further down the rows, I see that my pepper plants are suffering a similar crinkling, which would suggest that they, too, have a virus.

I'm beginning to think that when I constructed this garden, it merely served as a massive billboard to all forms of pestilence and disease that said, "Here lives a hopeful gardener. Come, suck every drop of that hopeful sap out of her."

I recall watching an episode of the BBC series "The Edible Garden" with Alys Fowler. She was feeling bruised about a catastrophic tomato failure the year before as a result of blight. She was nervous. She decided to give it a go again, even building measures to safeguard her crop. It all got hit with blight again, and she bitterly proclaimed that she would never try to grow tomatoes again unless someone could assure her that they had created a blight-resistant variety. I understand her heartbreak. I put all of my energy into beans and peppers for this season, and it looks like it will be for nothing.

So I've decided to gaze on my side garden and lick my wounds for a while. Neighbors may hear me yelling "SHUT UP!" over and over again and wonder if I've gone over the deep end. The personal pep talks are necessary at present, though, so I'll have to risk it.

At least my New Dawn rose provides some hope

The side garden is in bloom

Monday, April 14, 2014


I cannot tell a lie. I've been inhaling quite a bit lately, and I feel pretty giddy from it. But it's really not my fault. The days here have been reasonably mild and a little breezy, so we've been keeping the windows and doors open. Growing on the wall of the house that forms one side of the Secret Garden is jasmine, and it is in full, glorious, intoxicating bloom. Just the slightest breeze carries that incredible scent wafting through the house. Turfman and I have been spending the weekend inhaling deeply and crying, "Oh, do you smell that?!" It's absolutely divine.

The wall of perfume

This is when the garden begins its full thrust of growth. It's a time of frenzied activity for the gardener, too. I have to keep up with the work to make sure the growth continues. I constructed my first compost tea brewer yesterday, and it's now bubbling away, hopefully making a magic elixir that I can spray on everything in the garden, including the turf. I'm determined to keep everything as healthy as possible this year, so I'm staying on top of weeds and keeping the compost moist and turned.

Plants that had retreated over the winter are now making themselves known again. What was previously a bare patch of earth is now getting filled in by plants that will jostle each other for room in the coming months. The weeping peach tree just opened its first flowers of the year over the weekend. It's hard to remember or imagine what that space in the garden will look like when the tree is in full leaf, so that's something else to look forward to.

First peach flower of the year

I find myself leaning out the windows as soon as I get up in the morning, checking to see what new things are happening in the garden. I'm a bit like a kid on Christmas morning every morning these days.  The presents just keep coming.

Don Juan is putting on a show

But it's time for me to get back in the garden this morning. My fingernails have been clean for several hours, and they're itching for some dirt to be stuffed under them again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Small but Significant Surprises

Last year, I purchased a 'Zephirine Drouhin' climbing rose. I bought it because its description suggested that it would do well in partial shade, and that's what any plant gets if it's going to sit at the base of the the Secret Garden's entrance arbor. The ligustrum "walls" tend to block out light at their feet. I was encouraged when the rose started scrambling up the side of the arbor shortly after I planted it, putting on a heavy flush of leaves. But nearly 10 months later, that was all it was doing. It had even grown across the top of the arbor, but it produced no flowers.

As usual, I went to the web to get some answers. Most everyone said that they had been disappointed by the rose because it never produced anything. I felt a little bitter at being mislead, but I was still glad to have a plant that was weaving itself through the framework of the arbor. Still, there was a feeling of being unfulfilled.

I was out in the garden on Friday, attempting to get all of the edging installed, when a friend called. I decided to take a break and sit on the swing while we chatted. As soon as my backside hit the swing, my eyes registered a spot of color. I began to shout (sadly, a little into the phone), which I think made my friend worry that I had just seen something horribly shocking. I doubt my explanation made my shouting seem appropriate, but here's what I saw.

Do you see it? In the upper right?

Here she is in all her glory.

Seeing one 'Zephirine Drouhin' naturally makes me want to see many more on my vines, but I could go a very long way on just this one. I don't think I would have seen it had I not sat down to take a break. I had almost lost faith in that plant, and it showed me that there's always reason to hope.

At an open garden event last Sunday, I heard that Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana' doesn't do well after its first year. I had lifted the tuber in late fall and protected it indoors, whether that was necessary or not. I bought the tuber as a floral memorial to Wolfie, so it was important to me to protect it. I was a little disappointed when I heard the news because I had just planted the tuber again a few days before. I tried to tell myself that I could get another one each year if I had to, but I went out in the garden on Saturday, and I saw another beacon of hope.

The first shoot of Gloriosa superba

I have to keep reminding myself that nearly every act in the garden is a great leap of faith. Sometimes it's frightening to prune a plant that I know--at least intellectually--needs a drastic trim. I still worry that if I make the necessary cut, I'll never see the plant again. It happens every year with my Clematis 'Jackmanii', but every year, after I've cut it to the ground, it rewards my leap with a leap of its own. Nevertheless, I still fret for the month that I'm waiting for it to show signs of life. It did that  this week.

One week of growth

I don't know why such minor events are so significant to me, why they lift my spirits so much. I know that my shouts of joy either initially frighten people nearby or cause them to laugh. I'm sorry that I occasionally startle people with my exuberance, but I'm okay with the laughter. We should feel joy at witnessing someone else's elation, no matter its source. And I think that we should learn to savor the joy that comes from the smallest of surprises, especially when those surprises remind us that just when we have almost given up hope, something miraculous can happen.