coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Monday, May 25, 2015

Good Grief and the Good Earth

What is this thing they call dirt in Central Florida?  It looks like sand mixed with a little topsoil to me.  You should have seen my face when I first dug up a clump of "grass" only to find salt and pepper underneath trying to pass as dirt.  I was perplexed.

I am spoiled when it comes to soil.  I grew up in the 1950's and 1960's in the Midwestern corn belt.  The dirt was dark and rich and vital. If you stuck a seed in the ground it would never fail to grow. My sweet Mother had a vegetable garden as well as flowers.  Getting things to grow was never a problem for her.  When I was a little girl, I liked to follow her around to see what she was going to do next. She was everything to me back then.  I knew if I stuck close to her, interesting things would happen.

Outside in late spring or early summer, she would sometimes keep me out of her hair by giving me a packet of zinnia seeds to plant. They would most definitely sprout and grow into beautiful flowers.  They were my flowers.  I helped them grow from tiny seeds.  It was magical.  That is probably when I first caught the gardening bug.  Thank you, Ma!

When T and I first moved to upstate New York, we would often go for long drives in the country to compensate for living our lives as worker bees in town.  We could not help but notice the soil when the NYS farmers would till their fields. Those Upstate New York fields were filled with large rocks.  How in the world they manage to plant crops I will never know.  Apparently it is a constant struggle because with freezing and thawing the ground keeps pushing up rocks from the deepest depths of the earth.  If you notice a preponderance of lovely stone walls and fences in NYS it is because each year the farmers have to pull big stones and slabs of rock out of the fields so they can plant seeds. They have to do something with those piles of rocks. Consequently, stone fences are what they used to mark their property lines and field borders.  It must have been especially hard and discouraging work for the early settlers with their simple tools.  Thankfully they stuck with it and figured out how to work that stubborn land. They created beautiful stone fences with the rocks and stones.  The results are unique and amazing, well worth the effort. 

Once we moved out of town and into the country we got serious about perennial gardening.  In addition to removing rocks, we enriched the heavy clay soil on our land.  T was still young back then.  He did some impressive "double digging" for numerous perennial beds. We read gardening books.  We badgered other gardeners with questions. We made mistakes. We figured it out. We changed. We learned.

The first year on that land my Mom came to visit and brought us small, old-fashioned yellow bearded irises she dug out of her own garden.  She also brought us a start from her infamous trumpet vine.  The original plant had been in her father's garden.  She took a cutting from his trumpet vine before he died in 1961 and she kept it alive all those years.  Those were the plants we started with.  

For years we mulched with composted horse manure in order to improve that soil.  Is there anything more comforting than having a mountain of composted horse manure delivered to and dumped on your property?  As I said, we lived in the country. 
It was fully composted, so it did not smell. No one ever complained about our manure pile. I figured they wished they had one, too.  Who wouldn't? 

We spent every weekend for 6 weeks each spring shoveling shit into our wheelbarrow and then hauling it all over our land to mulch the flower beds.  Eventually the mountain became a mole hill.  When it was gone, I would plant pumpkin seeds in the good dirt that remained and it became the source for our Halloween pumpkins. 

I am assuming our current HOA will not allow us to have a mountain of composted horse manure delivered to our front yard in this subdivision in Central Florida.  Bummer.  Where would we put it?  In the garage?  Oh, that IS an evil thought.  Please do not let me do that.  Instead, we must buy our composted cow manure in bags, for crying out loud. Like normal people. How did it come to this?

So here we are starting over, not knowing the land nor understanding the soil. Again.

I get up each morning and stroll out through the lanai, peering out of our screened-in "birdcage" to stare at the new plantings in the back yard, imagining they have grown overnight.  I need to get my fat ass out the screen door and commune with those plants!  I need to walk the land, and stop thinking of it as just a small yard.  The Good Earth deserves more respect.  I need to surrender to this sandy soil and figure out what likes to grow in it. 

A friend once gave me a button that said "I don't know where I am going, but I'm on my way!"   It made me smile because it was so true.  I like to think this is me at my best, aching and floundering; slouching towards change much like Yeats' rough beast from Bethlehem

Up North I had daylilies of every type and color I could find. The wild ones started blooming in late June.  I thought wild daylilies were the most beautiful wildflower of all; however, now that I have seen Maypops in the wild at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, Florida, wild daylilies may have to try harder to get my vote.  Maypops
are also called passionflower vine.  The Latin name for Maypops is "Passiflora incarnata!"  I think you get the picture.

Once the wild daylilies were spent Up North, one hybrid variety after another would bloom through the end of August.  I loved my daylilies.  For 9 long months of every cold, gray year I waited for them.  When they poked their way out of the earth and started growing, I was happy.  I miss them like an old friend.  I heard rumors there are varieties that grow in zone 9.  I am not sure if I believe it because I have yet to see a daylily down here. 

The last ones I saw were Stella D'Oro daylilies just starting to bloom at a South Carolina rest stop on our way down to Florida in late March 2014.  I distinctly remember how happy I was to see them!  We were homeless, frazzled, and on the road.  And then I saw them.  I trilled to T: "Oh, the daylilies are starting to bloom here!"  Then I thought, "Oh yeah, WE don't HAVE any daylilies." I got back in the car and we resumed our journey to Central Florida, slouching all the way.

I mourn the loss of my sweet Mother's yellow bearded irises. That is another plant you cannot grow down here.  Now that Mom is gone, I wish I could have brought some with me.  However, I know they would not have survived. Instead, I am planting Louisiana irises in a wet area next to the house.  I think I will like them more than bearded irises anyway.  They have a more elegant shape.  My mother would understand.

I am quite happy to be free of that damned trumpet vine.  I loved my Grandpa, but his legacy plant quickly became a greedy gut, invasive weed that wanted to take over my soul. I was tired of fighting it. 

I actually bought three Stella D'Oro plants last month and put them in the ground.  Not to worry, I enriched the soil. Stella's are small, but they are the mighty workhorses of the daylily world.  If any daylily can make it in Central Florida it will be Stella. 

Unfortunately, it is only late May and my daylilies already seem to be burning up.  I am not used to watering daylilies.  I am more of a "survival of the fittest" gardener.  But I have been watering these.  I am going to give them my all.  If I cannot have a daylily on my land I fear I might have to rethink just about everything I believe to be true and good.  Then again, maybe it is time to rethink everything.  Canna lilies are good.  It is also true that I can grow them here.

Here is a photo of everything I believed to be true and good circa 2013 in Upstate New York:

Here is Ma's old fashioned yellow bearded iris:

Here is a photo from behind the naturalized "drop-gardening" area looking up towards our old garage.  Refer to my Flower Lust post for more about my "drop-gardening" technique.  The house is hidden behind that Crimson King maple tree on the right. If you look real hard you will see my Grandpa's trumpet vine blooming up in front of the brown garage like a small tree.  That garage was great, too.  It had garage doors in front (facing the street) and in back (facing the gardens).  Brilliant design for riding lawnmowers:

Below is a better shot of that damn Trumpet Vine.  T built a pergola for it to climb over, but it really wanted to climb up over the roof and embed its sticky suckers under and over the roofing tiles.  It did such damage to the garage.  We had to cut it back, hard, every year; but still it persisted. It was WAY stronger and more determined than we were.  It dropped seeds that grew all over the ground in front of it, and in every garden bed close by.  They always grew and their roots were deep.  Trumpet Vine can serve as an inspiration to us all but in someone else's garden, please.


  1. We had the family Trumpet Vine at our home in Indiana! I loved it! Tho, I didn't get my start until our family reunion in 2002, so ours may not have gotten as unwieldy as yours. I have a close-up photo of it on our refrigerator now, as we, like you, left that garden/land behind when we moved to Colorado. Since we have been renting, mostly apartments, since our move in 2012, I have sometimes looked longingly on other's yards. However, I don't miss all of the prep & maintenance...not, yet. Maybe not ever. Looking forward to seeing what you can grow in your new homeland! I can always ask my mom and grandparents, since they have been down there for decades (and my mom worked at a nursery for years). Let me know!

  2. That would be great (asking your relatives for some ideas). I would appreciate that. I love Central Florida, I just don't understand it yet. Really happy to hear you had some of Grandpa Grimmer's trumpet vine, too. Feel free to scan the photo on your fridge and send it to me as a .jpg via email. I would love to see it. I badmouth Grandpa's trumpet vine, but that doesn't mean I don't love it!

    1. I probably (or should) have the image digitally to email to you! I will look for it! I will seek out info from my FL family for ideas & suggestions & tips!

  3. I, too, have bearded yellow irises in my yard and they are so lovely. This is the first year we've lived here that my peonies weren't up by Memorial Day, but it has been a cold, wet Spring. Can you post a photo of your walking Louisiana irises? I'm curious? And yes, the soil is so important. My Da used to be able to tell the alkaline content, etc. just from running his fingers through it and on the prairie, the soil is so rich and dense that yes, it is hard NOT to grow things. We have neighbors from Vietnam and they keep an incredible garden and share well. Once I noticed them spreading manure over their garden and asked them where they got it. They looked at me as if I were insane and told me that they used their own! I know it sounds prudish, but eating their vegetables was hard for me after I was just fine with horse manure, but not human???

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  6. OK, I actually tried to reply twice, then deleted them both trying to put both replies into one reply and then lost the text. I guess you can see why I might make a mistake with a flower name... Anyway, the gist of my previous replies were this: In trying to find a photo to send you of a Louisiana Walking Iris I discovered they did not exist... It seems I got a Louisiana Iris and a Walking Iris (two separate varieties that are zone appropriate for Central Florida) confused in my post. Really too bad because "Louisiana Walking Iris" really is a great name. Oh well. Thanks for asking for the photo, because otherwise I would NOT have realized my error and would have gone through eternity looking like an idiot. What I have recently planted in a wet area are the Louisiana Iris. 3 different kinds: Laura Louise, Spicy Cajun, and Black Gamecock. The first two I ordered from Brecks (you can go there to see what they look like) and the last one I ordered from Dutch Garden - I enjoyed your reference to your neighbor's manure, but now I am going to have to worry about them! :) Your Da sounds like he was a gifted gardener. Isn't it amazing the skills we might develop if we just pay attention to the world around us? And peonies! Wow, another old friend. They will come up soon and they will be worth your wait.


So, whadayathink?