Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tropical Downpour Debby or Debby does Tampa

Backyard getting so drench that ripe mangoes have almost all fallen off tree
I purchased the house a few months before I experienced my first Tropical Storm - Phillipe.  Phillipe, as it was, formed very matter of fact at last minute and traveled  up the coast to inflict some serious flooding on the east coast.   I was truly impressed with the constant downpour that came from that storm to irrigate the parched gardens of Florida.  It was not a harsh rain but more of a quenching storm.  There  have not been any other storms since then of such drenching capacity and as a consequence we, in Florida, have declared all kinds of drought conditions limiting garden irrigation.  

Terrace overlooking side yard with barrel ponds overflowing
As I write, Tropical storm Debby soon to be declared a hurricane has developed in a similar pattern and fortunately for us on the Gulf coast of Florida it has developed so soon that it has not had much time to become harmful (yet) to us.  No one really knows where it is headed although there are numerous spaghetti models (that is what they call them) to announce nothing but create a stir amongst the people and a viewing base for the networks.  Debbie is quenching our drought and will hopefully return water levels to normal.  It is expected to drop about a foot of rain in our general Tampa Bay Area.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of our soil that will satisfy our gardens for about a week as it is all quickly absorbed by our sandy soils and then if we are lucky it will move through the ground and other channels to feed the Kissimmee Basin that leads to maintain the Everglades.

Tropical bed getting properly drenched
Regardless, all this rain is more than welcomed.  The plants will grow inches in a matter of weeks and some quicker than that.  Our lawns sometimes need to be cut twice a week because of this tropical weather.  Not being too fond of lawns, I have been reducing what was here by more than half.  Still, I have decided this time  not to eliminate them entirely as I have done before.  I am waiting for my black bamboo to finally take off.  I brought a small piece from Collingswood with the hopes of creating a screen with it.  It has not done much since I put it in the ground but it is still alive and waiting for the right amount of moisture to awaken its tentacles.  This storm should do the trick.  

Front yard Mexican sage getting drenched - It does not really like too much water.
The front yard lawn is still a work in progress.  It is the only lawn that I have not curtailed too much.  It sets a great entrance and a welcoming green carpet.  When I bought the house there must have been three blades of grass and three million weeds.  After a lot of work removing weeds by hand and feeding the three blades the mixture has changed I suspect now there are only a million weeds to remove - oh well, all in good time!

New addition:  Blue Clerodendron with most flowers pelted off

One of remaining delicate Blue Clerodendron flowers
A recently discovered plant is a blue Clerodendron.  I have been slowly discovering the variety and tenacity of these tropical and Asian plants.  They occur in many parts of the world and have a variety of forms that range from vines to small trees.  I brought one of my favorites from Collingswood that is adapted to cold and when I let it loose here it became very happy.  So much so that it bloom profusely last year, for the first time (it had only bloomed once in NJ as I practically grew it from see).  After that blooming it set seed and now there are at least ten or so plants growing around the mother plant.  This Clerodendron Blue Butterfly is very delicate and you can never have enough true blue flowers in the garden.
Plumeria Pudica in heaven
Another one of my Florida discoveries is a variety of Plumeria that I thought was a cross because for some reasons some people call it Plumerica pudica, but I think that this is just another of the typical mistakes that occur in the plant momenclature.  Regardless, this plumeria native to Panama, Venezuela and that general regions is striking as it blooms for about six months without pause.  Most plumerias bloom for a long time but never that long.  Unfortunately, it is not fragrant, but you can't have everything!
Jatropha multifida gorging itself on the storm
Shortly after arriving a friend gave me this Coral Plant (Jatropha multifida).  It was a scrawny plant that had been kept in the wrong size pot too long and had not had any chance to develop.  I chose for it a real challenge location and a real duty to perform to hide my neighbors concreted front yard (no accounting for taste).  Regular feedings and early attachment to a drip system meant a chance to catch up from a rootbound past.  The results can been you can see for yourself.  It too has gorged itself on life and nutrients as they are and provided a lovely screen to the long entry porch.

The storm has been going on for a few days of on and off rain.  Today it has been consistent and lately it has been coming down fiercely, so much so that when I first photographed the house a few hours ago the water had not reached the sidewalk curb.  It has since kept rising and now it is near my mailbox which means another foot or so higher. I have called the police to have them shut down traffic around here and prevent a stalled vehicle or worse.  Trucks with people with video cameras are out recreating on the flooding and their huge trucks cause wakes eroding my edge landscaping worse than the rain.  As you all know this is Florida and you can do anything anytime regardless of how stupid it is.  Let see what makes them smell the coffee.  I am waiting for a hummer to stall in front of my house and I can use it like a Maine Memorial.

Looking out my side window to check out the car it makes me think that maybe I should think of getting something a little more adept for inclement weather.  Poor Limo, it is going to be fun taking his constitutional.  Let's hope others in the area are well and that we survive this without major consequences although now there are tornado warnings spotted around the region.  Happy Gardening!

PS  Morning after newspaper report that we had 10 inches of rain yesterday in Tarpon.  Today so far hot and dry but garden is soaked and there is standing water in multiple spots.  Let's hope it goes down fast plants around here don't like sit in water.  

All manner of reporting has let us know that several Tornados touched down and wreaked havoc on Passe Grille and in many places in Hillsborough counties.  New Port Richey north of us has entire neighborhoods with 4-6 feet of standing water.

Further rain has dropped another 5.28 inches making the total for two days one of the greatest totals on record and our local river is cresting 12 feet over normal. In one of those odd strokes of fate a  neighboring exclusive walled gated communities received so much rain that the wall acted like a fish tank and emergency crews were breaking drainage holes with sledge hammers to let the water out - The price of exclusivity!  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Little Mulch Music

Acalypha hispida or as it is commonly known Chenille Plant in the garden.  It is very tender and froze last winter then came back in a matter of a few weeks.  It will grow to 6 feet tall.
I am taking a break from the house to return to my calling - gardening.  I say calling for it is my artistry and my passion.  I have been watching a series of episodes on PBS on Crafts in America that deal with the act of creation of the many forms of artistic crafts.  Whether pottery, glass, cloth, or anything that inspire some people to devote themselves to crafts, some leaving  jobs and careers, others knowing outright their artistic path that lead all to this passion of making something with their two hands.     Watching these episodes, I reflected that I needed to return to some of my other arts, but when I think of it, my greatest pleasure is to garden.  To plan. To layout out concept of color, texture, fragrance and the dimensionality of space and time - this is my craft.  To all craftspeople their art is forever to be indulged.  An art director described that artist need to work and spend time in a studio.  My studio is my garden.
The first of the tropical beds coming along nicely
When I garden, that is when I scrutinize vistas, plant choices, soil conditions, irrigation choices.  I do this automatically with little thought of what I am doing because it is part of my conditioning as a landscape  architect.  Because it is so natural, doing it is a pleasure even when it gets physically hard and I am drenched with perspiration. I am sure that is relaxes me and possibly even lowers my blood pressure.
The Lower lawn in the adjacent lot surrounded by buffer plantings that include black bamboo from Collingswood
When I tell you what I have been doing in the garden you may think that I have slipped or lost some marbles along the way as it is not glamorous indeed.  Yet I have laid the foundations of other gardens before and without it they would not flourish or reflect their Genius Loci, from the Roman, a latin phrase for the spirit of the place- that which makes it unique.  Yet every single one of my gardens or my landscape projects has had a major element of preparation prior to receiving the plants.
One of the three piles of compost/mulch left.  Slowly but surely!
Last year at this time I was in New Jersey prepping the Collingswood house for final sale and escrow closing.  More importantly before leaving, I had come across a source of local mulch/compost  delivered to my door free and for as much as I wanted.  I had seen what my neighbor had received and it looked great, so I wanted some for my garden.  Many phone calls later I had a delivery scheduled that had to be cancelled until the return from New Jersey due to some truck issue.
A new middle garden bed in the adjacent lot will feature this Brazilian Cloak (Megaskepasma erythrochlamys) [a real mouthful from Venezuela not Brazil] that will grow ten feet accross and bloom a scarlet tiara of bracts and tiny white flowers.
Upon my return a few more calls got things started and the truck arrived with a rich dark brown load of soil, mulch and ground up Florida.  I asked how much I could have not wanting to be gready but knowing that this pile of mulch/compost would not suffice my efforts.  So encouraged by the truck driver I said could I have three more loads and the man was delighted.  The county was delighted that they had found someone they could dump a few yards of their mountains of mulch.  It appears that homeowners typically would call and when they said they needed half a bag or a few bags worth the county agents would refuse service due to minimum requirements.  Everyone warned me that I was going to get fire ants, toxins, anything you can imagine me to discourage my efforts.  The mulch delivered was still cooking and steaming.  So far I have not grown any extra limbs or gills but the garden has certainly prospered everywhere I used it without any fire ants.

The High garden behind the house being covered in mulch.  This garden will feature most of the fruits .
Unfortunately with Kitchen, interiors and bathroom remodeling four trucks capacity of mulch sat on my empty lot for almost a year.  Little by little I would take material from the piles, resembling sleeping dinosaurs to mulching of specific beds here and there.  I estimate that I received approximately 50 cubic yards for my yard.  Of this amount I might have used 10 yards and had the majority blocking the view, the garden and my plans.
The other high garden bed in the adjacent lot is shaded by live oaks.  Here I intend to do a Florida Woodland garden with Camellias and native azaleas.
So I have been on a quest to finally finish laying out all the compost/mulch according to my mental plans for the new garden, beds lawn areas and groundcover areas.  I am changing the topography significantly as I am laying it on thick.  Approximately 1 wheel barrel of mulch for about two square feet one foot thick. This of course will not last as it will compact and slowly get absorbed by the sand base that I am covering.  All the organic material is changing the composition of the sandy soil for the better and it will help retain some of our torrential downpours that now wash my sand around like a wave washes a beach.

Glorious Camellia in Bloom under the Oak Canopy at the Huntington Camellia Garden
There are not any pictures of anything finished as what has happened thus far is a baseline for all the planting that is still to come.  One bed that I worked on a few months ago and now filled to capacity with all manner of tropicals is really doing well.  As for the plans of all the empty spaces I have been thinking of planting a camellia and azalea grove that will be sheltered by a canopy of a large  oak  in my yard and a row of neighboring oaks.  Camellias are often planted in the shade of trees as they cannot take direct sun of the type available here in Florida.  For that matter, that is how they really like to grow in symbiosis with oaks.  My foundations as a gardener were honed while working at the Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino, California as a volunteer many years ago.  Henry E. Huntington was related to the early transcontinental train fortunes and so rich that his California ranch once reached much of what is now the San Gabriel valley.  Of those, two hundred remain with some of the most beautiful gardens in California.  One of the great gardens is a canyon with California live oaks underplanted with thousands of camellias that have fallen in favor to a brand new Chinese garden. Regardless, it is a garden not to be missed.  Happy gardening!