Saturday, May 28, 2011

Learning the lay of the land

When I purchased the house in Collingswood it had no garden. It was just a lawn sitting, in what I would later discover, a clay pan. A clay pan is a pretty daunting natural feature that is a layer of soil (if you want to call it that) better suited for cutting up and making bricks than for plantings. Yet, I persisted and eventually had the garden you all have seen.

Tarpon Springs is at the polar opposite of Collingswood; it is a reclaimed beach dune. Florida, fertility comes predominately from its sunlight and abundance of rainfall. The soil is more or less the weakest element. Yet, the soil because of its porous nature allows plants to tap deep roots into a water table that is not too far below the surface. The mangos around my neighborhood grow primarily under the shade of large Live Oaks. This co-existence would not happen if they did not each have a steady water supply. Very few houses around me have sprinklers and those that do use it to water their concrete. The Greeks in my neighborhood have an usual aesthetic nature so they concrete most of their yards and leave holes for planting. This is great for not getting too much movement of sand, but not necessarily great for plants. Yet this is Florida, incredibly fecund!

Above gives you an idea what I am working with. When I bought the house it had an above ground pool that left a circle of solid white sand. Add a little water and pull out the weeds and I suspect in a few months it will be a solid lawn. I had a bonfire to remove a lot of debris and spread the ashes around to add some nutrient to the soil. I am not thrilled with the idea of keeping lawns, but for now green will suit my purposes until other and better ideas for groundcover can be implemented.
It is so fecund that the sprigs of vines or plants appear in the strangest places. Here coming out of my porch baluster cap a bleeding heart vine (some form of clerodendron) that appears to grow out of concrete in some places. It is quite gorgeous and delicate looking as you can see from the picture below.

If palms are the basic tree stock around these parts then Hibiscus are the prevalent shrub. They come in so many color and forms. There are single and double forms. There are up facing and down facing; some fully open and others remain always closed. Here are a few in my garden and the fabulous pink is from a neighbor who has agreed to give me a cutting so I can propagate my own.

A simple red hibiscus. I remember these as a kid growing up in Cuba where they were as big as trees. Mine are up against the house and soon to be relocated.

A double or triple form that is referred to locally as the poodle hibiscus because when seen from a certain angle it does resemble the profile of a poodle. What can I tell you? I did not make it up!

This beauty is a towering ten feet and covered with these delicate flowers that do not flinch in 90 degree heat.

Well, all this fecundity is not going to waste believe me. There appears to be bugs here to eat it all if allowed. This is the lubber grasshopper that appeared one day as cute little darlings the size of a paper clip. My neighbor started stepping on them as he claimed they ate everything very fast even though they are not fast themselves. The one picture above is roughly four inches across! This one like most others were naturally removed by me or Limo who has developed an appetite for them. Good boy!

Of course, the Lubbers are not the only creatures around. These White ibis, are up early in the morning catching what few worms my soil has. So I have take to shooing them away in order to build up my stock soil producing worms.

There is every manner of lizard and gecko around. These keep the bugs at bay they serve a little like my birds did in Collingswood. Here for some strange reason I see few flocks of birds in the garden. There is very little for them to eat, but that will come. However, if I get too many birds they will probably hunt the lizards and other bug eating reptiles. Yes, reptiles. I saw a large black (three or four feet) one about a week or so ago making its way through the garden. I am told it is called a black racer. Harmless and beneficial as it eats fruit rats! Yes, with all these marvelous gardens producing bumper crops of fruits we have rats that eat them. Fortunately, there are snakes to keep them in check. So far I have only seen the snake and not the rat.

In my rain barrel a large toad appeared one day and the then there were two. Somehow these manage to survived buried deep underground and surface when the wet weather comes. I suspect they eat more bugs so that is good and possibly if too many they can be a snack for the snakes!

I guess you can see that I am having fun. It is marvelous to get up everyday and have beautiful blue skies and warm weather greet you. I never thought these two things would be so important to me. I have been meeting people and getting cuttings from their gardens. My friend Paula has misters where I currently have possibly 100 different plants growing for future planting. I guess, for now, I am on my discovery period, dazzled by all that is fresh and new and I am sure some of the new may not be so wonderful when it gets old, but for now....

It is not everyday that you wake up to find this magnificent White Egret perched on your kitchen chimney. Well, it happened a few weeks ago and it was there casing the joint (as it were) and looking for something to eat no doubt. Limo was actually quite taken by it and the egret did not run away until it chose another spot. I wonder if it might return like a stork and set up a nest. Well, there is something to investigate. Happy Gardening.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Limo

Yes, my boy is a year old today (May 12, Blogger has been out on repairs). He came to this world in a farm in southern Ohio. Little did he know what lay in store for him or for that matter for me. I had spent over a year researching shelters and potential female Dalmatians for adoption. All I found were deranged shelter owners, who wanted to know if my blood was blue and how much I could donate. All with one exception in Virginia where at Southwest Dals we made a connections, unfortunately I was late and it was adopted and then other pups did not fare out.

I am picky in case you have not figured it out. Better yet, I know what I want or so I think. I was looking for a female because all Dalmatians have a gene that predisposes them to kidney stones because of high uric acid. Females handle it better and are not prone to the costly and painful operations thats males endure. My friend Louise found an article about low uric Dals with a modified gene acquired through one breeding with a German Short Hair Pointer in the 1970's produced normal uric Dalmatians and I was off in a different direction looking at breeders for potential adoptions. Through the magic of the Internet I met a breeder of these special gene Dalmatians and later someone else who had bred Limo and his family.

I have only had him since last August and what a wonderful time it has been. Limo has grown from ten pounds to almost sixty. He was this cute little shy dog and now he is a very determined teenager. He is curious and confident and strides around the bayou parks like he owns them. There are few people in Tarpon Springs that don’t know him (we are a small community).
Limo with the Gro Group

After his birthday treats this morning I put him to work. There is nothing better for an animal than to have a purpose or a job. I took him to the Gro Group nursery center to meet and be with a group of people who would love him and get him started as a therapy dog. The Gro Group takes care of special need adults with all kinds of activities related to crafts but especially growing plants. I have been going there to propagate plants for the garden and spend some time with some very curious and special people. Paula and Claire create projects to involve these adults in meaningful activities.

This morning was special for all. Even Limo got a lesson he had not planned as Paula arrived with a one day one kitten that she was nursing with a doll baby bottle. She had been up numerous times last night to feed this kitten that was smaller than a handful. Limo pictured above did not know what to make of this creature.
Well, if you did not guess it, Limo is the love of my life. He is a great companion and we have a lot of fun together. We walk on the beach and he runs like a banshee from one end to the other. In the Florida garden, Limo has become my pest control best friend. I found these once small grasshoppers that have eaten their way to three inch bugs and are very slow on their feet. Limo has been decimating them. I feared he might get sick as they are not meant to be palatable, but he has figured that out on his own and now crunches and drops them. Oh, well what can you do? He is a dog after all!

Many, many thanks to those who were helpful and responsible for me finding and getting Limo. These include but are not limited to Louise Marshall for finding the normal uric Dals, Debi Smith for having adopted the Dal I wanted so I could keep hunting for another, Barb Allison for breeding normal uric Dals getting me in touch with Sally McDonnel who let me have Limo. Finally Vori Kriaris who drove from Ohio back to Philadelphia so I could spend 6 hours scrunched with my puppy in the hatchback of the Prius. Happy First Birthday, Boy. Happy Gardening!