The days draw
               in... and out

    "If winter comes, can spring be far behind" might well have been written for South Florida if Shelley had traveled a little more widely, and only intended his words to be taken literally. A lot of the winter here is spent not doing jobs for which the garden seems ready, and containing the urge to jump the spring starting gun. I will learn one day to "stand and stare." (What a lot of literary allusions in one paragraph! Sorry)

    Winters used to be far worse here. We still get hit with sporadic cold nights, but the freezes that rattled our subtropicals down to their toes don't seem to happen any more. We are not completely safe from the threat until March, but in most years the amount of growth happening by February is enough to start those gardeners who fertilize thinking that they need to be outside pouring the chemicals on. To me, February means the time when everyone is raking up oak leaves and putting them out for pick up, so that I can steal them to give my garden its major mulching. First the paths and areas where plants are dormant get a six-inch or deeper layer, then the plants that don't go down for winter are subjected to forks-full flung into the air and then shaken off the leaves and branches. A lovely time for me. Let's hope the plants are as happy.

    Then the bare oaks start their flowering and the city fills with people in deep misery from pollen allergies. All the southern cities are still obsessed with oaks for streets and parking lots. Presumably none of the decision-makers get allergies. I don't, fortunately, but see so many bleary eyes at this time that I wish that someone could get the ear of the powers that be.

    But, back to my garden. There is plenty of colour, and, in part, this is because the selection of plants that make up gardens were was shaped by the need to please the snowbirds who flock in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or perhaps later if they still have serfs on their northern estates who depend on young master for an ox roasting to see out the old year in style. Anyway, for many years the gardens of South Florida had to look their best in the first three or four months of the year, and could go back to nature the rest of the year

    The orchids most easily obtained, until orchids became a commodity crop, were those that flowered in that time

.   Why keep an expensive house in full bloom through the whole year when only the gardeners would enjoy the summer flowers.

    I prefer to have mine in the trees, like the one to the left in my big mango.

One of the many oncidium orchids   
sometimes called "Golden Shower"

 Not all of the colour is from this unconscious selection. The impatiens at the left are familiar to everyone, but we plant our bedding plants in October and hope for a display through into spring. Mine are one of the "granny plants" that I enjoy so much - self-sown and essentially weeds. Rangy when set beside the newer hybrids, but ideal for me in my woodland look, and they stay in bloom for much of the year.

   I also let them seed in my gingers which are dormant at this time of year. I need to keep them on the dry side, and having thirsty inpatiens in the pot sucks out any extra rainwater that might get in.

   There are a number of shrimp plant relatives that flower all year round. Others are seasonal, and whether by coincidence, or as part of legacy of the days when the winter population was many times that of the summer, they flower from Christmas on. Eranthemum pulchellum is a clear blue - a beautiful and rare flower color at any time of year. I missed mine in flower this year, but did remember to shoot Barleria oenotherioides, an African plant that is a brilliant show during these months. Nurseries may still sell this as Barleria micans, the name given to the plant in error when it was introduced to the nursery trade a few years ago. Beautiful by any name.
    Chinese hat plant, with the awful scientific name of Holmskioldia sanguinea, is a mass of colour now. It comes from the Himalayas, although I brought this plant from a garden in Mexico on a collecting trip years ago, when it was still safe to walk around off the highway without bumping into druggies seeking solitude.

   Not to be outdone, some of the palms are very colourful at this time of year. Not with flowers but with the fruit - Christmas palm, Adonidia merrillii, used to have a show of brilliant red fruit at this time of year all over South Florida, but was largely killed out by lethal yellowing disease. Seedling of that generation are now up to flowering size, and are brightening up many gardens, but mine are still too small. In any case the disease will come through again soon, as it does every few years, and we will be starting from scratch.

   This palm on the right is the common interior cane palm, Chamaedorea Florida hybrid.
The color here is the stems of the flower spikes, which are sometimes shown off by black berries, although I got none this year.


   Always something of interest. This is a great place to garden in spite of the occasional reminders from nature that there are things that man still can't control. Hurricanes, to a gardener, are a way of getting more light into the garden. Someone remind me of that next summer.

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