Holiday fun and a year of gardening aggressively

Rodney’s parents came down to Florida for Christmas, which was delightful, and stayed long enough to watch some bowl games. We were all very happy to see Clemson win, and are looking forward to the Baylor – Georgia game on New Year’s. (Sic ’em, Bears!)

I know Elise loved spending days on nature walks and feeding the turtles in one of our neighborhood ponds with her Mimi. She went fishing with her Papa, and caught a couple bluegill.

She has also decided Papa is the best babysitter. We left them alone while we ran some errands, and came back to discover Papa let Elise ride her boogie board down the stairs.

“You were supposed to be watching her!” Rodney said.

“I was watching her,” Papa replied coolly. “I looked like a lot of fun.”

And we sent Mimi back to Georgia with a lot of plants, including a cool air plant that sits in a swing.

Which brings me to gardening. I gave up on trying to remove the last bit of vines and fallen trees from what will become our fern dell (see our trip to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park for reference). I had to call in professional help, our most extraordinary gardener, Mr. Perez. Mr. Perez knows everything about Florida trees, and was able to help us clear the rest of the debris, including ridding our 40-foot oak trees of all of the vines that have been tormenting them for many years.

Mr. Perez also brought his daughter along to play with Elise all day. Watching her run around catching lizards and building forts with Elise reminded me of when I would tag along with my contractor father to job sites on the days I was out of school. Except I was older and would park myself on a pile of lumber with a volume of Immanuel Kant. (Catching lizards is indisputably a better use of one’s time than reading Kant.)

The only problem with all of this is that the fern dell now has a lot of sunshine that it did not have before we disrupted its canopy. This means only part of the area can be ferns. We decided to turn the area into a massive tropical garden instead.

And thus the planting begins. Here are all the plants we picked up for the new garden:

  • 2 Celia Hibiscus
  • 6 Mamay Croton
  • 6 large, white Birds of Paradise
  • 6 Hope Philodendrons
  • 3 Persian Shields
  • 5 Macho Ferns
  • 6 Kimberly Queen Ferns
  • 5 Foxtail Ferns
  • 2 Silver Buttonwood Trees
  • 3 Petra Crotons
  • 2 Ficus Trees
  • 3 Begonias
  • 42 Impatiens
  • 20 Elephant Ears

I am hoping to add some plumeria once Jungle Jack’s nursery in California is back to shipping them (presumably after the “cold” months in other states are over).

Croton gets its name from the Greek word for “tick,” as its seeds resemble ticks. It is a brilliant plant, with many bright colors, and is ubiquitous in the Caribbean and Florida. We bought two kinds of crotons, the mamay, whose leaves are long and twist in colorful strips that look like dreadlocks, and the petra, with broad leaves. Crotons are houseplants elsewhere in the world, but here they can grow to be several feet tall.

I already had one white bird of paradise, which was slightly mangled during our recent tornado-producing storm, but seems to be recovering nicely. When we cleared out the vines, our property lost some of its privacy, as there is a hiking trail that runs along that side of the property to the Intracoastal Waterway. I was vacillating between planting a large orange tree in that spot or planting a patch of birds of paradise. Unlike their orange counterparts, these white birds of paradise are massive and can easily grow 30 feet tall.

Philodendron is another plant with a Greek name, meaning “loving tree.” It’s such a strange category of plant, taking many forms, which include both aerial and subterranean roots (not unlike orchids). Folks have been cultivating them since at least the 17th century. I saw a house while we were walking the esplanade along the ICW that had large drifts of philodendron plants and decided to attempt to replicate that. They give a space a very jungle-like feel.

These are Persian shields. I thought they might provide a nice contrast to the avenue of ferns. These plants are actually native to Myanmar. The purple really starts to show if you plant them in the shade; too much light and the color will fade. I’m kind of curious how they got the name, so if anyone knows, please do tell me.

I am going to attempt to plant hibiscus in an area away from the house and pray that the deer do not notice that it exists. In my experience, there are three plants deer cannot resist – fragrant roses (which they will chew to the ground, thorns and all), phlox, and hibiscus. I planted two salmon-colored hibiscus near our entryway, but I had to pull them out because I dumped fish fertilizer on them and they quadrupled in size within a few months, blocking off our front door. There was much weeping involved, much like there will be if the deer find the new garden.

This is silver buttonwood. This is a plant you want to pet. I’m not kidding. It has soft, felt-like leaves, much like lamb’s ears. You can’t stop touching them.

Another typical houseplant that you can plant outdoors here are rubber trees or ficus trees. I am planning on surrounding it with a bed of bright red impatiens.

Totally unrelated to any of this, I found my dream garden hose. Now, I know this is a silly thing to carry on about, but if you love gardening, water hoses are kind of important. My biggest pet peeve in the world are hoses that squish the plants around them or get tangled up. We just had a couple move in next to us from New Jersey, and they had one of these installed. Once I saw it, I had to have it. It comes from Frontgate. You mount it on a pillar and the hose container rotates in a half circle around it. As the hose is elevated, it does not squish your plants! Genius! It also comes with a nozzle with a minimalist look that does all kinds of things (not pictured here).

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