Some gardening before heading to Charleston

As a boy, in my own backyard I could catch a basket of blue crabs, a string of flounder, a dozen redfish, or a net full of white shrimp. All this I could do in a city enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets, one so corniced and filigreed and elaborate that it leaves strangers awed and natives self-satisfied. In its shadows you can find metal work as delicate as lace and spiral staircases as elaborate as yachts. In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden for the sheer love of richness and the joy of stealing from the gods. In its kitchens, the stoves are lit up in happiness as the lamb is marinating in red wine sauce, vinaigrette is prepared for the salad, crabmeat is anointed with sherry, custards are baked in the oven, and buttermilk biscuits cool on the counter.

Pat Conroy, South of Broad

We are headed to Charleston for a long weekend tomorrow morning. If anyone has recommendations for special places to visit in the Holy City, please send them my way. We will have our Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, with us while we stroll around the city, so we are kind of limited in seeing museums and whatnot.

We are finding some time later today to get some gardening in and play on the beach. Elise and I bought a mango tree that allegedly will do well in a container, so we plan to put it on the front porch where it will get some sunshine. We bought two banana trees, and are starting a banana patch on the side of the house. And I bought a sea grape, which grow rather huge here. I am going to plant it in the front garden to cancel out my outrageous blooms with interesting foliage.

Sea grapes have interesting round leaves.

I am starting to develop a garden plan, so I am hoping to place orders for plumeria and other features soon. The garden center here has a ton of ferns in now, so I might get going on the fern dell and walkway first. It’s hard to do when we are traveling so much lately though.

Hegel, Michael Pollen, and gardening with children – what it means to feel at home

The German philosopher Hegel wrote about Heimatlichkeit, the sense of being at home, as a way of knowing. Europeans had taken this concept from the Greeks, who also believed that knowledge was a sort of feeling comfortable with one’s situation. It was the goal of parenting and citizenship in the ancient world to raise children who could feel in their bones what it meant to be Greek, to know they belonged in their city-state.

In contrast, someone feels alienated when nothing in their environment makes sense to them. The worst punishment in the ancient world was to be expelled from the community by the exact same forces that helped give someone a sense of home. To live in exile and lose one’s sense of home was worse than execution. If you have ever lived abroad, you likely know that homesickness can feel like physical torture.

I think about Heimatlichkeit a lot these days. Many people look at elements of our society, feel acutely alienated by them, and develop a passionate longing to return to a time where they felt at home in the world. That’s not really a story about change being difficult, so much as a falling away from the constellations of beliefs and practices that have real meaning to us. Civilizations can navigate and endure all kinds of disruptive events if they feel like they are defending a home. (It was the Heimatlichkeit of Americans and Europeans that took down Hitler as much as bombs.) But there’s no political vocabulary that offers an effective substitute for Heimatlichkeit.

The ideal held up by self-proclaimed elites nowadays is a sort of un-Heimatlichkeit. They talk incessantly about being a “citizen of the world.” That’s a nonsensical phrase. No person can feel at home everywhere, unless their own life is a vacuum. A hipster from Los Angeles may feel like he is a “citizen” of Europe because he went backpacking and toured some art museums, but that’s not a sense of real belonging. You only get to this perspective by diminishing the place where you originally belonged. And that’s exactly what they want you to do.

I think I can say confidently that I have very little in common with the author Michael Pollan now. But I used to. This is someone who used to grok Heimatlichkeit.

When he became a popular proponent of organic agriculture and clean eating, I read several of his books. I’m not sure I gleaned anything spectacular from them, mostly because I already agreed with those principles. I was buying locally-sourced, organic foods before they were easy to obtain and I never put pesticides on my own gardens or lawn. Not from any sense of moral superiority, but because these things are a way to be happier. In fact, one of the things I loathe the most about living in suburbs is the amount of poison people dump into the ground for no other reason than they are too lazy to pull weeds. (Again, where is your sense of home?) It’s a struggle for me not to point this out to my neighbors when they ask me how I achieve such massive blooms each year. The answer is simple: I respect that soil is a living thing and I don’t try to murder it. Really kind of simple, if you think about it.

But my agreement with Pollan pretty much stops with soil. I could never follow him daily because his progressive politics is eyeroll-inducing to me, and don’t even get me started on how he’s become an advocate for legalizing psychedelics. Whatever good he has done in reforming the food industry he’s cancelled out with the harm he’s helping inflict upon the social fabric of great American cities.

All that said, I have been reading his book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s a reminder of how much I liked Pollan’s early writings.

Pollan takes a David Copperfield approach to talking about gardening in the book. That is, he starts with what are literally his first memories of “working” in a garden. In his case, that was climbing behind the lilac and forsythia branches in his parents’ suburban yard as a preschooler. You can appreciate how a child perceives scale from his description of his first “garden,” under those towering shoots of blooms. There he would spit out watermelon seeds, and then triumphantly one day realized a watermelon plant was growing out there. He had made that happen, there in the margins ignored by the adult world. He picked the melon and ran with it to tell his mother, but the melon went splat on the back porch, since it was being hauled by a young child with little agility. As you can imagine, tears were involved. (I wanted to tell him that I have shed real tears over plants as an adult.)

The first serious gardener he knew was his grandfather, one of the first real estate developers on Long Island and thus a very wealthy man. His grandfather had a professional gardener to assist him in keeping decorative trees and flowers, but his own domain was a half-acre vegetable garden. His grandfather maintained his gardens with military precision, waking up to hoe his vegetable garden every day and not letting a single weed survive in his beds.

The man could afford any luxury, but he lived in the dirt. His wealth came from the dirt and that’s what he put his wealth back into.

You are left with the impression that this is why he lived well into his 90s. He was a passionate man with a passionate sense of home. He had a reason to wake up each day because of it. Even when he moved to a condo in his last years, he had a container garden on the patio to tend.

His memories of his grandfather’s immaculate gardens stood in sharp contrast to his own father’s refusal even to mow the lawn of their suburban plot, much to the humiliation of his wife and children. His father became persona non grata in their neighborhood, and when the neighbors finally confronted him about the fact that his grass was so high that it had gone to seed, he responded by getting out his lawnmower and carving his initials into their suburban meadow. Pollan says it was a “fuck you” to their neighbors, but I think it was as much a “fuck you” to his wife and kids. Fuck you having a sense of home.

In reading that, I felt like I understood Pollan’s own behavior as an adult better. Imagine the pathology of growing up with someone who doesn’t want to make things beautiful for their family. Who cares so little about their home that they will go out of their way to manufacture outsider status for their children. His kid likes ingesting toxic mushrooms, you say? That’s just depressing. But at least he had his grandfather, who thought like a good Greek citizen and modeled it for the kids whether they were wholly receptive of it or not. Pollan did not grow up entirely without an aesthetic, which would have been tragic.

The more I read about Pollan’s accounts, the more I started to think about how I garden with our daughter and the significance of the memories we are creating. How she will probably remember even the smallest details about being out in the garden with me because gardening is such a big part of my own identity. This is what her mother loved to do and this is how she acted while she was doing it. This was how we made a home and it was important.

From Pollan:

In both our eyes [his and his grandfather’s], this was a landscape full of meaning, one that answered to wishes and somehow spoke in human language….

One of the things childhood is is a process of learning about the various paths that lead out of nature and into culture, and the garden contains many of these. I can’t imagine a wilderness that would have had as much to say to me as Grandpa’s garden did: the floral scents that intimated something about the ways of ladies as well as flowers, the peach tree that made legible the idea of fruit and seed, the vegetables that had so much to say about the getting of food and money, and the summer lawns that could not have better expressed the hospitality of nature to human habituation.

He recounts how, as a teenager, he proudly built his own garden on an especially small plot of land. His parents, after the lawn incident, moved into a new, more posh neighborhood with the intention of having their yard professionally maintained, as his father was entirely too lazy and uninterested in being outside to push a lawnmower back and forth or dig a hole for something beautiful.

They would only concede a corner of the yard that was completely out of sight for their son to plant vegetables. He was older, but still working along the margins of the adult world.

Pollan did many right things in setting up his garden. He ordered quality soil and organic materials. But he planted the vegetables in a jumble to maximize his small space. They were mixed together as they could fit, and were not in his grandfather’s neat rows. And he was certainly less religious than his grandfather in weeding.

He was rewarded for his efforts, however, with bushels of vegetables. He considered the garden a great success and convinced his grandfather to come see it. Of course, all his grandfather saw was a mess that reflected his hippie grandson. To him, the fact that his grandson could not maintain a simple vegetable garden with any sense of order mirrored a wasted generation of young people who weren’t going to be good for anything. And he let young Pollan have it. That was the end of Pollan maintaining a garden for a long time. Pollan got his driver’s license and spent as much time away from home as he could. You can’t work on your gardening skills if you are never at home.

Gardening with children can be really frustrating, especially if you have a talent for gardening yourself. Gardeners are hypnotized by order, even the ones with strategically messy cottage gardens. Their calendar revolves around the first frost and the last frost-free day. Full sun and shade. Flat and sloped. They plant according to what will not shock plants, which can seem like some unintelligible primitive ritual to the uninitiated. They can look at the plants and tell you what specific elements are keeping the soil from perfection. Gardening is about management and control.

Children, on the other hand, learn about boundaries by testing them. This applies both to what they can and cannot do to make things grow and how far they can go before exhausting all of your patience. Working with them can seem like deliberately introducing chaos into the order you’ve worked so hard to obtain. And the stakes can be high. Have you ever set a kid to work planting bulbs only to realize they’ve planted 50 tulips upside down? Trust me, it’s time to give up and fix a martini at that point. The plants will do their own job and find the Sun.

The only way to get past all of this is to multiply the time you spend with your children. Much like education, you have to introduce children to order gently and over time. You aren’t going to have much success dictating to your child how things must be. They will learn from your example and from their own successes and failures that if they want to create something beautiful themselves, they have to work deliberately.

You are helping them build an aesthetic. You are helping them understand what belongs, and a big part of that is helping them understand that they belong.

November blooms

Anthropocentric as [the gardener] may be, he recognizes that he is dependent for his health and survival on many other forms of life, so he is careful to take their interests into account in whatever he does. He is in fact a wilderness advocate of a certain kind. It is when he respects and nurtures the wilderness of his soil and his plants that his garden seems to flourish most. Wildness, he has found, resides not only out there, but right here: in his soil, in his plants, even in himself… But wildness is more a quality than a place, and though humans can’t manufacture it, they can nourish and husband it… The gardener cultivates wildness, but he does so carefully and respectfully, in full recognition of its mystery.

Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Hurricane Dorian killed the bougainvilleas I had been growing around the arch leading to our front door. Well, technically, I killed them by moving them indoors and then evacuating for over a week. There aren’t any good places inside our house for plants to grow because we have a large porches running the length of the front and back of the house. The porches protect the house from the intense sun in the summer, but they do not let in enough light for house plants (except orchids). I wish we had defied the evacuation orders and stayed, because it only ended up being a tropical storm here and I lost a bunch of plants.

I decided to replace them with these mandevilla. Aren’t they beautiful? Since I bought several of the plants, I am hoping to get them to cover the archway and run along the railing of the front porch.

Mandevilla

My cape honeysuckle also decided to bloom again this fall. Cape honeysuckle does well in (frost-free) coastal areas since the plant can tolerate salt. They are technically a vine, but you can train them to grow as a shrub 6+ feet in size. (They are very similar to bougainvillea like that.) The only downside to the plant is that you have to religiously trim back the tendrils it sends out along the ground, otherwise it will suffocate neighboring plants.

This plant will stop traffic when it blooms. I’m not kidding. I have never had so many people stop their cars in front of our house to ask what it is. As the name suggests, the plant is from South Africa.

Cape honeysuckle

Some of my azaleas are also blooming. They will do this again in the spring, along with the lavender azaleas. I have a hedge of lavender azaleas along the entire perimeter of our house, and it is incredible to see when it blooms. All of Florida is incredible when azaleas bloom, really.

Azaleas

Every year I tell myself that I am not going to plant bulbs, and every year I end up doing it anyway. It’s truly compulsive behavior and I wish gardening addiction specialists were something that existed because I would certainly seek professional treatment for it. I cannot walk past the tubs of bulbs in a garden center in the fall and leave empty-handed. And it’s not like I only get a single bag. Last year, I planted close to 200 gladiolus bulbs. My gardens are already packed with plants, so this is a huge problem logistically. I need one of those shock collars people get for dogs that zaps me whenever I walk into a garden center in the fall.

Gladioli make the ultimate flower arrangements.

This year, I have 120 Dutch iris bulbs and a few dozen Persian buttercups. Because, sure, why not.

Before we moved here, I did large beds of tulips. You can’t really do tulips here because it does not get cold in the winter. But I did consider chilling tulip bulbs in a drawer in our refrigerator for a couple months and then planting them in January. I can already picture the look on my husband’s face when he opens the drawer looking for celery and finds a couple hundred tulip bulbs instead. He’d probably have me fitted for a shock collar then.

Persian buttercups

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West and the delights of tropical gardening

Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida.

Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

I have always been obsessed with gardening. Before moving to Florida, we planted a half-acre vegetable garden full of bizarre heirloom varieties. I fell in love with rose gardening, and survived many depressing winters by reading and re-reading the David Austin catalog. And then there was my hosta collection that you could lose a small child in. (I wish I could grow hostas here, but they require a cold season.)

It wasn’t until we moved to Florida that I discovered how much unrealized potential I had as a gardener. We drove to Key West our first year here, and I saw in the gardens of Ernest Hemingway’s house my life’s dream. A walled garden and paths with water features and towering tropical plants. My love affair with tropical gardening had begun.

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West (view from the side)
Hemingway’s house (view from the gardens)
Totally unrelated to gardening, but this is where Hemingway would write.
Also totally unrelated to gardening, but this is Elise with a parrot named Margarita that could do tricks, owned by a random man on the street in Key West who graciously allowed her to play with him.

I’ve collected a lot of tropical plants since then, but I realize now that what I need is a bona fide garden plan. Tropical plants are much larger than the perennials you can buy elsewhere in the United States. You can’t just smash them together and enjoy serendipitous pairings. And gardening in Florida is very much about managing micro-climates. I learned the hard way not to plant tender species on the northwest corner of our property. The air from the ocean does a lot of work to insulate plants in the “colder” months.

Anyway, I have been bookmarking a lot of articles and videos on tropical gardens that I find impressive (and in some cases, strange in a wonderful sort of way). So I decided to share some of them. Fall down the tropical gardening rabbit hole with me!

From Fine Gardening magazine, A 40-Year Labor of Tropical Gardening Love, Part 1 and Part 2. These Heliconia rostrata (lobster claw plant) will definitely find a home in my dream garden somewhere. See also this article on plants in Hawaii.

Photo credit: Fine Gardening

There is an area of the jungle we’ve cleared out in the back corner of our property that I am planning on filling with ferns. I can’t think of anything else that would grow under so dense a canopy. This article on growing a fern dell is amazing. It talks about how to arrange different ferns by size and ferns of different colors. There is a path through a large grouping of ferns at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park that I plan on trying to replicate. My own little Jurassic Park.

This is a video tour of the Sunken Gardens in St Petersburg, Florida (for inspiration). The Tropical Gardening channel on YouTube is fantastic.

I love orchids and have several growing in my garden. Living in a place where orchids can be something other than a houseplant is such a thrill. Here is a tour of the National Orchid Garden in Singapore that is more than a little humbling.

I was also amused by this video of ten orchids that mimic the faces and bodies of animals.

Okay, back to stuff I can realistically plant. My friend Daryl in California has inspired me to get into growing plumeria. There is an amazing plumeria nursery in California named Jungle Jack’s that I plan on doing mail orders for plumeria from. Here is a video tour of two gardens where plumeria is used as a focal point.

San Antonio is not quite the same climate that we have here, but I enjoyed seeing this courtyard garden inspired by the owner’s trips to Mexico. It’s quite beautiful.

For fun, here is a tour of the collection of carnivorous plants at Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Elise loves carnivorous plants.

Formal gardens, new mountain bike trails, and a pristine beach

Elise had her weekly riding lesson this morning, in an extraordinarily soggy ring from all of the rain we’ve been having. Even the pony wanted nothing of it. Afterward, for fun, we decided to load up our bicycles and head to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

The park is located at the former winter home of Owen and Louise Young, who along with John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many other famous industrialists of the early 20th century, liked to come stay in our area for long stretches of time.

Owen Young became president of General Electric in 1922 and then was appointed as the company’s inaugural chairman later the same year. He served as chairman of GE until 1939. Under Young’s leadership, GE transitioned into the world’s leading manufacturer of household appliances. He also drove the electrification of farms, factories, and transportation systems across the United States.

In 1919, Young created the Radio Corporation of America (you probably know it as RCA) at the request of the US government, which did not want England to control the entire market for radio communications.

Following World War I, Young also became a leading diplomat. He coauthored the Dawes Plan, which reduced the amount of German reparations. Germany defaulted on its reparation payments after financial markets crashed in the late 1920s, and Young again was the leader in working out a debt restructuring (which became known as the “Young Plan”). For this effort, Young was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1929. (Many remark that being named Man of the Year is bad luck, and so it proved with Young. The Young Plan was shattered once the Great Depression took hold. You know what Germany turned into after that.) He served as an adviser for five US presidents during his lifetime.

Louise Young (née Clark) owned a business in the Philippines manufacturing lingerie. Artisans in the Philippines were well known for their traditional embroidery, which Young combined with her own designs.

The Youngs met travelling back from the Philippines on the Empress of Asia and were married in St. Augustine. Owen Young bought Washington Oaks as a wedding present for his wife. They carved formal gardens out of the jungle and had the A1A re-routed to accommodate their landscaping plans. No kidding. They told the state where to put its infrastructure.

(Our trip involved Elise’s first attempt at riding on mountain bike trails. She did fine, but it was hard for her riding a children’s bike that does not have any gears on sandy trails. Anyway, the hiking / mountain bike trails at Washington Oaks include a portion of the original A1A, which is now cracked and covered in moss. It was lots of fun to ride down.)

Here are some pictures of the formal gardens. There are many ancient live oak trees in the park with tangled branches sprawling out forever. (They are so massive, it’s impossible to capture their size in a picture.) I can’t believe how many hurricanes those trees have survived. Between them and the piles of ferns (and evergreen trees that look like ferns), you half expect a dinosaur to walk out onto the path. It seems primordial.

The park also has a rose garden with bushes that appear to be about 10 feet tall. It smells like heaven.

So this is a pillar made of coquina rock that the jungle is in the process of reclaiming. The pillar marked an entrance to the Young’s property from the original route of the A1A.

(Coquina is a sort of natural cement made from sand, shells, and water that is everywhere along the eastern coast. The Castillo in St. Augustine was also made of coquina, which made the fort impossible to take by force. The walls simply absorb cannonballs. The fort has only changed hands on a diplomatic basis. Coquina is quite an engineering marvel.)

We met this giant gopher tortoise on our ride. (Gopher tortoises are an endangered species. We said hi and let him continue on his way.)

The bicycle trails at the park cross the A1A and head to the ocean. There’s a wonderful, pristine beach. We would have taken a dip in the water after our ride, but the waves were nothing to mess with today.

Note to self: Take a neighborhood vote before making any changes to the garden

Rest in peace, impatiens.

I have a lot of passions and hobbies. I read a new book every other day or so, have a massive telescope, and love to cook (and visit new restaurants). But my most consuming passion is gardening.

I fell head-over-heels in love with gardening over a decade ago when we bought a house in the country among the rolling thoroughbred horse farms outside Lexington, Kentucky. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, we plowed a half-acre of land to build the biggest vegetable garden you have ever seen. (No joke, that book will give you some dangerous gardening ambitions. We had FIFTY-SIX varieties of tomatoes in our garden. Do you have any idea how many tomatoes that produces? We started throwing them at each other like juicy red bombs after a while, before we learned that we could donate fresh produce.) I earned enormous blisters chopping limestone with a mattock in order to plant a rose garden overlooking a large creek. It was totally worth it.

I’d like to think that I have matured since then, grown a little wiser and moderate, but I really haven’t. My garden philosophy has always been go big or go home. Enter my specimen garden in Florida.

There are many good reasons to move to Florida. There are still pristine beaches here. The wildlife (and the people) are rather exotic and entertainingly unpredictable. You can get a Cuban sandwich anywhere in town. Tourists pay substantially all of your taxes.

To me, one of the biggest draws was being able to have a garden all year long and to be able to collect tropical plants. Kentucky winters were rough on me psychologically, I’m not going to lie. To look out over land that was drifts of roses and azaleas and see drifts of snow is probably the most depressing thing I can think of, short of something awful happening to a loved one. I tried to survive the winters by looking at flower catalogs and reading books on garden design, but that only exacerbated the problem.

When we moved here, I tore out all the boring landscaping shrubs on our property and planted everything I found in nurseries traveling up and down the coast that seemed fancy and tropical. I started collecting gingers. I made a bank of Hawaiian ti. I went nuts.

But nothing came close to my collection of impatiens. Now I know that when I say impatiens, you think of the little flowers planted in rows in medians outside shopping malls. But in Florida, I discovered that I could grow impatiens that were over three feet tall and would last for years. I made a line of these flowers all along the front of our house with colorful canna lilies and a massive cape honeysuckle from South Africa (not pictured, but they have showers of bright orange flowers).

My gardens quickly became famous in the neighborhood. Every weekend, I would be out working in the yard and ten or fifteen people would come over to talk to me while I worked. I had to give tours around the back yard where the gingers were. People would stop me around town to rave about my green thumb. It was great.

Well, I did something really, really bad yesterday.

I ripped out the impatiens to plant dipladenia, which is a bushy version of mandevilla. Before I planted the new plants, the whole front of the garden was completely bare where the impatiens had been. Cars would drive in front of our house and lock up their brakes. I started to think I was going to get a welfare call from the police.

This morning, I went out to plant the new border and a man stopped to talk to me. He was genuinely angry with me for removing the impatiens. He was actually shaking as he spoke. How are you supposed to react in such a situation? I tried to explain to him that they were starting to look spent and I wanted a change. He got angrier. They were perfectly fine, he said, maybe they needed a little fertilizer. He told me the new plants were not going to be as lovely as the impatiens and I should put impatiens back. I told him that they were no longer selling them in the stores. He took that as further evidence of my poor decision-making. Other cars started to slow down as we chatted, and I thought for a moment I was going to have a mob on my hands. I started to thank God that I am not on Next Door.

You don’t understand, he said. I walk down here every day just to look at your flowers. He knows others who do too. How could you do this to us?

Am I running a public garden here?

I tried to assure him that the process of rebuilding was part of gardening and he should trust that the new garden would be as beautiful as the original. After further rebuttals, I was like, crikey, I can’t resurrect the flowers, get some therapy already.

I had no idea that my whim to pull out the impatiens would be like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. I don’t even want to go outside now on the chance that I might get yelled at again. I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen if the dipladenia don’t take off. We might have to move.

Banana trees and a new love of Latin

Today has been a rather unusual day in our household. (Do we ever have normal days though?)

This morning, Elise told me that she wanted to spend the entire day working on her Latin, which is suddenly her new favorite subject. In the past, we had done “math only” school days. She’d wake up, put on her “math day” t-shirt (a shirt she bought at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that says B greater than average via a math problem) and hit the books. I could not believe that Latin has replaced math. True to her word, she worked her way through several chapters of Latin and spent the afternoon addressing us in Latin. She says she needs a t-shirt that says something in Latin.

Mandatory “math day” attire.

Since she was occupied and I was in-between work for our clients, I decided to make a Persian feast for lunch, with shawarma, tzatziki, flatbreads, a salad of tomatoes and cucumber, and a mixture of figs and apricots crossed with plums (they just sounded bizarre and fun while we were out shopping). The food filled the house with the most amazing aromas, and honestly it still smells divine now. I used to cook tagines all the time, and I missed the intense combinations of spices.

My first attempt at shawarma (before being shredded).
And my first attempt at tzatziki ever.
Summer fruits.

At the end of the day, Elise and I took a walk along the esplanade in our neighborhood, which follows the Intracoastal Waterway. She devoted herself to catching lizards while I watched the boats returning from the Atlantic Ocean.

Lizard collecting. (Yes, she only studies the lizards for a while and then sets them free. Our only rule on nature walks is that we do not capture any pollinators.)

As we were walking, a woman we did not know beckoned us into her backyard to show us that her four or five banana trees were now loaded with dozens of ripening bananas. (She was very proud of her banana trees she said, and just needed to share the moment with someone. As an obsessive gardener, I can relate.) This was fascinating to both Elise and me, since we had tried to grow a banana tree in a pot on our front porch this summer. It either did not like the pot or its spot or access to water, because it did not flourish. I asked her if the banana trees did well through the Florida “winter,” to which she responded that she had not had any problems with them except through the two recent hurricanes. She said the hurricanes always destroy the banana trees. When I find a new plant in a nursery one of these days, I will plant some in our backyard. The woman told us that the best fertilizer for banana trees was surplus bananas. Elise has been going around explaining this curiosity to everyone who will listen.

An impromptu lesson on cultivating bananas.

Equally interesting is seeing how exactly banana trees develop fruit. The bananas grow along a sort of flower-rope that dangles down toward the ground. Nature is unbelievable sometimes! We have the loveliest neighbors here in Florida.

A close up of the “flower-rope” that bananas grow along.

Walking away, Elise said to me, “imagine how many banana splits that nice lady gets to make now.” Indeed.

A bonus picture of Elise for friends and family.

A game of chess with Dad while waiting for food at our favorite Mexican/Caribbean restaurant.