The ghost of Mrs. Whaley and tropical fruit trees

Charleston socialite Emily Whaley, referring to the time and expense of maintaining her property, once quipped that some women own racehorses but she prefers gardening. Mrs. Whaley passed on to her great reward many years ago, but I share a chuckle with her spirit from time to time, as I imagine I am now also in “could have bought a racehorse” territory when it comes to gardening.

(Incidentally, Rodney and I did consider investing in a racing syndicate back when we lived in Lexington. Between that and having a kid who loves to ride hunter-jumper, I think we’d be Zuckerberg-rich if we had a nickel every time someone offered to sell us a horse.)

I’ve spent about thirty hours working in the garden since Saturday, pulling vines, removing spent vegetation, and laying hundreds of feet of fresh mulch. It was great to be out in the sunshine again. I know the winter solstice is still several days away, but it feels like the days are getting longer. (Maybe because we’ve moved closer to the equator? Or maybe it’s just me getting excited for longer days.) I am one of those people who sink into a mild depression with shorter/colder days, so this is wonderful change for me.

I have been hoarding newspapers to make a thick layer of paper under the mulch in places. I’ve been in a never-ending battle with baby oak under one tree, and I am hoping that if I starve it of light it might go away. I am evangelical about organic gardening, and was happy to discover that the only physical newspaper we subscribe to anymore (the Wall Street Journal) uses soy ink and thus won’t hurt the soil. So it could safely be used as an organic alternative to the plastic sheeting some people use.

(Digression: Endless passersby ask me what fertilizer I use and how I keep weeds away. I primarily use kelp and fish fertilizers on plants, soaking the soil at their base, but they are so rich that you do not need to use them often. If you start using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, you will melt the ecosystem of your garden. This is why people who use them are in this constant cycle of dumping crap on their plants. The best way to keep weeds away is to pull them on a regular basis and keep a heavy layer of mulch on the beds, which has the added benefit of reducing the volume of water you need. Things like plastic sheeting will destroy your soil structure over time, and it prevents water from reaching both your flowers and trees. You do not want anything that prevents air from getting down into the soil or compacts it unnecessarily. There’s no laborless way of maintaining a beautiful garden.)

Anyway, it was surreal unfolding layer after layer of newspaper to cover the ground. Your eyes wander over all the headlines, at it sort of overwhelms you how downright toxic the news is. We say this all the time about the nastiness and pettiness of politicians and the chattering class, and I know a ton of people who have now opted out of consuming the news altogether for the sake of their mental health. (When Dorian was approaching Florida, I spoke to several people who did not know there was a major hurricane because they had stopped watching the news altogether. Ditto with our recent tornado. They heard the crazy sound of the tornado as it rolled by, but they had no idea what it was. They also had no idea that anyone in town had had their property destroyed by the storm because they choose not to watch the news. And these are hardly stupid or illiterate people. Just nice people who want to remain nice.) But laying out hundreds of pages of newspaper and seeing the cumulative nastiness of the news, it just looked like intellectual poison.

All the news that’s fit to rot under pine nuggets.

Constructing the fern dell is turning out to be a larger garden project than I anticipated. I cleared out a bunch of the undergrowth in the wooded area immediately behind our house, but I am going to have to get rid of a bunch of serious vines (and evil baby oak) that are all tangled together. Once it is gone, it will help that part of the property have a park-like appearance, but it is eliminating some of our privacy from a public hiking trail that goes out to the Intercoastal Waterway. It’s also going to add a bunch of sunlight, which the ferns will not like.

I have decided that I am going to plant an orange tree and some birds of paradise there to close the area off. But then there began the trouble of finding a place with relatively mature trees that ships to Florida. I understood that Florida has a lot of laws and regulations to protect the state’s crucial agricultural industry, but they seem to be humorously specific. Like you can’t get a navel or cora cora orange tree from out of state, but you can get a clementine. And apparently there are not any restrictions on avocados, which I found somewhat surprising.

I started a banana patch a couple months ago as well (different side of the property) and have a dwarf mango tree from India on the front porch. It’s starting to look like I am building an unintentional tropical orchard.

I am also planning to plant a royal poinciana tree and plumeria out there. The royal poinciana became a mandate after seeing them all over Key West. They are such gorgeous, fern-like trees.

I have a powder puff tree that is fern-like as well. Caring about foliage is a new development for me. In northern southern states, the priority is what color leaves turn when fall arrives. We do not have much of a fall or winter here, so the fun is in finding trees that look primeval.

And that’s the garden update….

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