Rhapsody in hue

I have spent many sublime hours working in the garden over the past few months trying to get some major projects done before the real heat and humidity of the rainy season set in. We have booked a long camping trip to Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee for the beginning of April, so I am going to need to get about a thousand summer bulbs into the ground within the next couple of weeks. I have boxes of gladiolus, canna lilies, elephant ears, and (hopefully arriving soon!) dozens of torch gingers. In the past, I have neglected to plant bulbs in a timely manner – let’s just say I returned home to find my deliveries had sprouted. Never again.

Another treat that arrived in the mail is this medal of St. Fiacre, the patron saint of gardening, from a craftsman in Israel. It’s so gorgeous and well-made. It took about a month from when I placed my order to receive it, but the final product was totally worth the wait. I wrote to them to see if they could make one of St. Ailbhe, the patron saint of wolves, for our daughter. (She is obsessed with wolves.) They graciously agreed! I could not believe it. They have now posted the item on their Etsy profile, so anyone else who wants one can have one.

Here are some photos of some of the new additions to my tropical gardens. This is a clerodendrum tree I found at a nursery in Naples. I was fascinated to learn this plant family was named by Linnaeus back in the 18th century, from the Greek kleros, meaning “chance or fate” or “clergy”, and dendron, “tree.” The plant was used both in medicines and religious rituals, hence the name. I collect a lot of philodendron too (from philo, “love”). So now I have fate trees and love trees in the garden. (Sorry, I can’t turn the philology off.) My husband facetiously calls this the Q-Tip tree.

Easily my favorite time of year is when the plumeria start to leaf out and bloom again. We have very few species of trees down here that completely lose their leaves in the “winter” months. Plumeria are deciduous, however. I have dozens of them planted in my gardens, and they are such show-stoppers that the property feels naked without them. But they are back and most welcome.

This is the beginning of a new garden area I built, which one has to pass through to get to our courtyard and pool from the backyard. You cannot see it in the picture, but there are several giant plumeria trees (in reds, yellows, and purples) behind this area and an enormous salmon-colored hibiscus tree. In this area, I have planted large birds of paradise (they will flower in white), golden bromeliads, Hawaiian tis, zillions of impatiens, and several varieties of pineapples. I am looking forward to the red pineapples. (I hate when I take a picture of an area and then realize I missed a couple of weeds. Alas.)

Just a little bed color. I like this particular mix.

I have many different varieties of dracaena. These are a bright lime green, which livens up the shade under a giant plumeria. I also have many tree-like varieties that combine hot pinks and green (very South Florida color combination there).

I have planted a large semicircle of bright pink vincas around an area where we will eventually install a tall Spanish-style water fountain. I cannot believe I fit all of these into my SUV. I had them hanging from the ceiling and lined along the floorboards. The people in the parking lot at the nursery had great fun laughing at my plant Tetris skills.

I am starting to build a collection of dahlias. These plants require a lot of patience from me as a gardener that I mostly lack. Not because they are high maintenance plants, because they are not at all. They don’t really get going in terms of blooming until the late summer months, but these are already going to town so I am grateful.

I have planted five gardenia bushes in the backyard (plus a mature gardenia that I already had). Two of them are of the “Miami supreme” variety, which promise to have 5-inch blooms once they get started. I try to find plants that have a perfume-quality fragrance when I can. My big find at a tropical nursery down here was a Joy Perfume tree (magnolia champaca), which is used in the most expensive fragrance in the world. Even my young tree already puts off a distractingly seductive scent. I also have a dwarf ylang-ylang, jasmine, fragrant ixora, and roses.

Speaking of roses, look at this beauty. I had my doubts as to whether I could pull off roses in South Florida, but my green thumb has evidently prevailed over the elements.

I am including this chap for a laugh. I was telling a family member recently about how we do not have any trouble with deer here (my gardening nemesis from previous houses), but we do have iguanas. “They can get to be quite large,” I explained, “even several feet long.” To back up my point, I found this fellow on Facebook. Size notwithstanding, it is very difficult to catch an iguana like this. For one thing, they are not exactly friendly creatures in the wild. For another, they are very good swimmers. We stayed a resort in Key West a few years ago that had an island built in the middle of the pool – totally taken over by a colony of iguanas. You’d be swimming in the pool and an iguana would float along past you. Elise tried her hardest to catch them, but they were too fast. (They will also swim through pipes for hours without needing to come up for air, finally arriving in your toilet.)

This is one of my monster elephant ear bulbs. I am going to have to think hard about where to plant this thing, as I can already tell it is going to need a lot of space.

Elise in the courtyard ready to leave for a Peruvian restaurant to celebrate our 20th anniversary.

Our rough-coat Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, hanging out by the pool. He is turning into a serious water dog these days. We often leave a raft in the pool, and he will jump onto the raft and navigate around in the water with his paw. He loves to pick plumeria and mango leaves out of the pool with his mouth – having observed my husband cleaning out the pool with a net many times, he seems to think this is a fun activity. He eventually builds a pile of leaves on his raft, which we can grab and throw away. Intelligent little doggo doing his part.

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