Thursday, May 28, 2015

No Beetles In This Octopus's Garden



 By Teresa Watkins

There is a great Beatles song, 'Octopus's Garden' that suggests a perfect theme for your summer beach gardening scene.  What better way to bring the ocean into your own backyard -- whether you live in Miami, Florida or Miami, Oklahoma -- than to have a landscape that whisks you down under the sea to Neptune’s tidal garden when your eyes behold it … and you don’t even need to worry about the salt spray or getting sunburned!
      On a recent visit to the Discovery Gardens at the UF/IFASLake County Extension Discovery Gardens, I was thrilled to see an ‘Ocean Reef’ Children’s garden. The three bedding plants used to inspire the school children’s imaginations got my creative energies whirling and I thought, “What a great theme!”  As I left on my own summer vacation, Mother Nature’s stream of consciousness seemed to flow everywhere I looked. For example, the HGTV newsletter arrived with a wonderful article on how to design a beachfront garden with salt-tolerant plant selections.  But how does that help a land-locked sea dog gardener like you? If you don’t have a beautiful beachfront landscape yet you yearn to lie on a beach towel and catch the rays in your own underwater paradise, put a conch shell to your ear and read on.
       Here are some suggestions to help you create your own “Octopus’s Garden.” I’ve selected a variety of flowers, shrubbery, trees, and groundcovers guided by Poseidon and maritime-sounding common names to invoke our undersea theme. How many do you recognize? Remember to make sure the sunlight, soil, zone hardiness, and moisture conditions are right for your own backyard before buying and installing any of these plants.
Flowers and Shrubs
Anemones, Anemone coronaria, also known as windflowers, are members of the buttercup family. But the sea anemones (get it?) are creatures whose brightly colored shapes and cluster of tentacles outwardly resemble terrestrial flowers. In your beach garden, anemones are flowering bulbs that will bloom in the spring and summer and like sunny areas in northern climes and partial shade in the South.  Shrimp plants, Justicia brandegeana is a good choice – put a few of these lovely flowers close to the Bar-bee. Bright yellow, greyish-green, or red flowers, these plants love the sun and are great butterfly and hummingbird attractors.

Shrimp Plant
     Use Coral bells, Heuchera spp., Coralbush, Jatropha multifida, Coral bean, Erythrina herbacea for Zones 7 through 9, and Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus, for cooler climates up through Zone 3 --- all of whose common names smack delightfully of Poseidon’s reefs.  If you want to conjure images of being underwater, plant the Celosia argentea, var. cristata, a member of the amaranth family which is reminiscent of brain coral which boasts great colors and is very effective in tidal waves of mass plantings across your ocean, or I mean garden bed. Vines that continue the coral theme include coral vine, Antigonon leptopus, and the popular, fragrant coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens.   
    This Pencil cactus, looks just like the Bamboo coral under the sea. 

 Large ornamental shrubs can be used such as the Sea Grape, Coccoloba uvifera. It is a natural for the beach look, where it loves sandy soils and salt air. Other large shrubs include beach elder, Iva imbricate, Sea lavender, and Sea rosemary, Argusia gnaphalodes.




Shells are a given in an oceanfront garden, so how about the Shell flower, Moluccella laevis?  It’s also known as Bells of Ireland and Molucca Balm because it was originally thought to be a native of the Molucca Islands. These lovely, chartreuse, biennial flowers love the sun or partial shade and thrive in Florida up through Zone 4.  Another shell that should be on your “beach” is the Shell ginger, Alpina zerumbet. Growing beautifully in shade, the  tropical variegated foliage with large, colorful flowers, is hardy into Zone 8 and must be allowed to survive two winters in order to blossom.
Shell ginger
 Crotons, Codiaeum variegatum, look divine in your garden and can remind you of colorful, exotic, underwater grasses, and sea urchins. Varieties like Mammy, Gold Dust, Johanna Coppinger, Dreadlock, Piecrust, and Banana leaf. Check crotons out and see which one transports you underwater.
Croton spp. 
       Looking for still more flowers and shrubs appropriate for your Octopus’s garden? Try the daisy sea oxeye, Borrichia frutescens, the sea holly, Eryngium alpinum, the tropical lobster claw, Heliconia bihai, or the pearl lanceleaf, Anthurium scandens.  
If you are fortunate to have an island bay [translation: water garden] in your backyard, make sure you have eel grass, Vallisneria neotropicalis, native in most parts of the United States, but can also be found at aquarium stores.
Dracenas sp. Blue agave, Agave americana, and Bird's Nest ferns, Asplenium spp.
Botanical bonus points for Fishtail ferns, Nephrolepis falcata
Groundcovers
Succulents and cacti can be an incredible choice for your backyard beach if you select carefully your locations. Starfish Cactus, or Starfish Plant, Stapelia gigantea, has an incredible stellar flower that reminds your guests of a starfish. Its’ long stems remind you of a real green octopus. All the Stapelia species would work in a marine theme.
Photograph by Teresa Watkins
Check out these sea-worthy inclusions for your ocean bed:
  • Agave americana
  • Aptenia sp.
  • Beschorneria yuccoides
  • Crassula obvata
  • Dudleya caespitosa
  • Dyckia sp. “Burgandy Ice"
  • Euphorbia lacteal
  • Euphorbia trigona 
  • Haworthia attentuata
  • Orbea ciliata

     To cover bare patches of sand with suitable groundcovers, look for beach morning glory, Ipomoea pes-caprae, ‘Blue Pacific’ shore junipers, Juniperus conferta, (which gets double botanical points for having a real ocean in its’ name). Sea oats, Uniola paniculata, if they are available in your area — is a plant that will evoke windy seaside breezes in your Octopus garden. Sea oats are an endangered species and are federally protected, so never take them out of the wild and always buy them from a reputable native plant nursery!  Blackbeard’s ghost will haunt you forever if you do!




Trees
Spreading canopies of shade in your oceanfront landscape can include such ocean-themed habitants as crabapples, Pyrus coronaria, and crabwood, Ateramnus lucidus. The blue beech, Carpinus caroliniana, a member of the birch family, also known as American hornbeam and musclewood, is another good tree to remind us of idyllic ‘beech’ views. Blue beeches are handsome, deciduous trees with gray bark and blue green leaves. Native from Texas and Florida up through Maine.
         What’s a beachfront without palm trees? And what’s an Octopus garden without pirates?  A perfect choice is a Buccaneer palm tree, Pseudophoenix sargentii, which can be a container palm for those zones above 9 and 10.  Clustering fishtail palm, Caryota mitis, also works well in the Octopus’s garden.  
Buccaneer Palm
          You can use your shady areas for a nice tropical beach garden by using Rattlesnake plants, Calathea lancifolia, which has incredible markings on it, and the Cast Iron Apidistra, Aspidistra elatior, that suggests types of underwater grass.

Rattlesnake plant, Calathea lancifolia

Cast Iron Plant, Apidistra elatior

              If you enjoy eating fruit, your whimsical seashore can include Key limes to reference obvious geographical locations such as Key West, Key Largo and the rest of the Florida Keys, and navel oranges – all right, navel oranges are a stretch, but they succeed in two ways:  1), what do you see at the beach? Right…navels, plenty of bellybuttons, 2) is that you can’t have an ocean garden without the presence of a maritime navy – ergo, naval orange. Hey! You have to work with me here – I’m being resourceful.
            Speaking of being resourceful, even the busy or uninspired gardening enthusiast can have an Octopus’s garden. Just stick a broken boat plank sign up in your front yard with “crabgrass” on the sign to explain why you have such fitting weeds. If you really have a sense of humor, just wait ‘till Chapman’s Skeletongrass, Gymnopogon chapmanianus, finds it way to your pseudo-seaside retreat and display it with pride next to a nautical treasure chest filled with gold doubloons and Mardi Gras beads.
       Designing your maritime flower, shrub, and tree placement depends on your height, depth, and color preferences. It’s your Octopus’s garden – don’t be afraid to have contrasting colors, sizes, and leaf textures. Set out your choices in their nursery pots and move them around until you are satisfied. Don’t hesitate to stand back and look at your design from every angle, including an upper story floor or neighbor’s yard if you can.

Accessories
If you live in zones 3 through 7 and you can’t have a year-round tropical paradise, you could display your coastal plants in nautical containers that will help contribute to the ambiance of your oceanscape. Containers for beachfront yards can include various red, white, or blue plastic containers with thick hemp cord handles. Make sure you have good drainage. You can integrate oversized conch shell planters or employ unused rowboats -- either real or unused children’s toys -- to beach on your sandy berms. Plant your ornamental shrubs, flowers, and even your trees and palms in them.

       Create a post with different directional signs pointing to your favorite botanical gardens or island resorts.  Attach a seagull to the top of the sign post or hang a parrot swinging from your tree.

Photograph by Danielle Aquiline
          Plant labels can highlight the jewels of your sea garden and provide humor in setting the stage for a summer of fun. Place your labels with the common names on paper resembling torn flags under your plant selections so that the writing is easily legible from a few feet away. Making the mailman, milkman, pedestrians and neighbors laugh as they pass your house will earn you buccaneer points.
          If you have a deck or patio, wrap round poles together with thick rope to represent a pier.  Plant around the base of the poles or add a container of nautical-themed plants. Accessories will help expand and unite your ‘under the sea’ theme: lighthouses, sea shells, sand pails, shovels, umbrellas, parrots, skull and crossbones flags, Union Jack flags, model ships, marine flags, tiki torches, assorted crabs, fishing nets, fishes, and lobsters, seahorses, bamboo fencing, oars, aft and stern portions of a rowboat, round plastic life preservers, flip-flop sandals, rafts, mermaid statues, treasure chest, skeletons, cement sand castles.  Look for these items at your local craft stores, statuary businesses and catalogs, party supply stores, and boating centers.

          Finding these plants may take a little work, but if you know what you’re looking for, get in your little Yellow Submarine, haul out your plant catalogs, search the Internet and with a little effort, create a treasure map and mark an X where you think you will find your plants. I’m sure you’ll be rewarded for having a little imagination and digging some treasures in your own backyard, no matter where you live. 

Octopus's Garden
(Lennon/McCartney)
Abbey Road (1969)

I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade.

 I'd ask my friends to come and see
An octopus' garden with me
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade.

We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus' garden near a cave.

We would sing and dance around
because we know we can't be found
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade.

We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
(Lies beneath the ocean waves)
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they're happy and they're safe
(Happy and they're safe).

We would be so happy you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden with you.


Updated and originally published  August 13, 2006 
Central Florida Yards ; Neighborhoods Newsletter, and Icangarden.com

Teresa Watkins, 18-year Master Gardener, author, speaker, garden writer, landscape designer, horticulturist, and environmental consultant. Watkins also hosts the award-winning gardening radio show “In Your Backyard” on My790am.com every Tuesday at 1:00pm EST.  You can contact and read more of Teresa's posts on her website at www.she-consulting.com

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weedin' The Worries Of The World Away

Teresa's note:  The following is an updated excerpt from my upcoming book on Florida-friendly landscaping. Look for it on Xulon Press, December 2015.


Weedin' The Worries Of The World Away

Okay, it’s hot and humid; I am cranky. One of the best ways to get rid of my crankiness is to pull weeds. Yes, I get thirsty and ache from pulling weeds out of my yard all day but when I pull weeds, I can contemplate all the horticultural mistakes in my world. I focus on grabbing them by the roots, ripping them out, and throwing them in the compost pile to make the neighborhood a better place to live in. It works for me.

The landscaping ills of the world are visible when I drive to and fro in my daily wanderings and have me shaking my head and wondering, “What are people thinking?” I can only do so much good on this little globe of animals, minerals and vegetables by myself and as the old adage “clean up your own backyard before you clean up someone else’s” works for advice, so weeding my own yard and airing my personal pet peeves may help some new homeowners before I can set out to help the world.
 
My first pet peeve is seeing landscapes with wilting, sunburned, tropical and common indoor plants located out in the Florida yard in the full sun. A burn-tinged foliage of Hawaiian ti or a miserable four-foot tall diffenbachia surrounded by lots of drooping impatiens without an irrigation system leads me to believe that either the landscape designer was a good, kind, decent snowbird-retiree who was misled into thinking they were creating a tropical paradise, or someone who is the inherent descendant of the Marquis de Sade who does not believe in anything living for more than three weeks. I know this is Florida ‒ most of the landscapes desired are drastically different from the Zone 5 through Zone 7 evergreen, snow-tolerant standards everyone has up North. But if new residents think they want Florida sunshine all winter long and beautiful evergreen southern ornamental shrubs and flowers, they need to think first about their yard’s ability to handle those plants before buying and installing; shade-loving tropical flora just can’t tolerate eight to ten hours of full sunlight a day.

Please take time to design your landscape with regard to the now everyday common “right plant, right place” mantra. Determine your sunlight and soil conditions as well as your size and maintenance requirements in selecting your plant palette; then, if you really desire a more professional landscape, make sure you consider dimension, texture, color, and fragrance in your final choices.
 
My second pet peeve relates to the first peeve. Someone is misleading these trusting souls into purchasing the wrong plants. The primary suspects are retailers in an entirely different line of business than horticulture. Would you buy a tugboat from your telephone company? How about buying medical insurance from a truck driver with a semi-load full of fiberglass insulation? Buying indoor houseplants or a blooming fuschia from a do-it-your-bad-self store or a grocery store that has a special sale going on out in the parking lot falls under that category of watching a fender bender in slow motion knowing you can’t do anything about it. Not only are the plants suffering, but also being out on the cement walkway or the asphalt parking lots for a week with the full sun beating down on them with inadequate water under those conditions decreases their chances of survival, even if you take them home and provide the best of care. By the end of a week, most of the plants are unfit for any landscape reality show or even dead. I understand the grocery store wants to make an impulse sale. I am an avid impulse buyer myself, especially of plants, but please buy your plants from a reputable garden center or nursery that can give proper instructions on what your plants needs are. Your landscape will be less expensive, will require less maintenance and have a better chance of thriving than dying.

Did I mention I was cranky? Let me pull a few more weeds.

My third pet peeve probably is the root of the problem of the first two ‘ills’, with developments and realtors who sell new homes without providing the home’s landscape list with plant names, maintenance details, and educational brochures on the importance of water conservation, ( which by the way, are available free of charge from any local utility or water management district). It is very unfair to the newest residents in our state to let them believe that it is okay to waste our diminishing water supply or to make the fresh homeowner work harder in their yard than they need to.

Let’s not even mention the unnecessary shock of their first water bill. The current state of potable water availability is finite and residents should know as they move into their new house what their watering days and guidelines are, how to set their new irrigation system, and how to take care of their new sod, flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees. The final contact person should not only congratulate the happy homeowner but also encourage the new residents to contact their local extension offices with any landscaping questions they may have. With more and more people moving into Florida, agencies and businesses encouraging growth and more economy, need to help preserve our diminishing precious resources (native soils, potable water) through education.

Providing water conservation education should not be a scary sale-blowing conversation more so than explaining new taxes or higher impact fees will be needed to provide alternative water sources to potential buyers.

Getting my final pet peeve off my chest is just as rewarding as pulling that last wretched weed and looking at my weed-free garden. That is people who just don’t use their common sense. They ignore or don’t care about the watering guidelines, watering whenever they feel like it. They don’t understand how inefficient irrigating during daytime hours is or don’t realize that their landscaping problems are probably being aggravated by their watering abuse.
 
There I said it and whew, do I feel better. For me, feeling frustrated by irrigation irritation is worse than road rage. It is something that really doesn’t hold up logically when someone tries to rationalize watering during the hottest part of the day. How does that make sense? If a plant is languishing from dehydration, hand watering is the quickest and only permissible way to reduce their need.

For the most part, grass just doesn’t suffer from being watered only once a week. It’s the landscapes that are watered more than twice a week or for hours that see disease, excessive weeds, or their grass dying, even during the summer. It’s the overindulgent caretakers or willfully ignorant lawn maintenance companies that have caused their own lawn’s demise. Watering during the hours of 10am and 5pm with summer temperatures means you are losing over 75 percent of the water to evaporation. You are paying for water each month—whether your plants use it or not.
 
When I see my neighbors with their sprinklers running full blast, watering sidewalks and roads, I want to jump out of my car, put my hand up in the air, quickly flash my official water conservation badge, and shout: “TERESA WATKINS HERE, SWY! Stop watering your yard!” I want help save them the cost of the water, the foolish appearance of being duped into thinking that they are doing a good thing, while the silent future enemy of unavailable, potable water supply creeps up on them slowly. They will pay the price eventually. Will they be the loudest complainers of their $700 a month water bills with a future of ad valorem taxes raised to help pay the cost of alternative water methods? They better not be.
 
We need to educate everyone who lives in Florida that we can make the best use of our water resources now—and for the future, and still have a beautiful Florida-friendly landscape. There, my soul doesn’t feel as cranky anymore. Thank you for letting me vent. I think I will fix some lemonade, head on outside to sit, and enjoy my beautiful yard. I am not going to even look for more weeds. At least not until it’s cooler.

Monday, February 02, 2015

You may have noticed I haven't been blogging for nearly a year. Where have I been for the last ten months?  Well, my landscape design business has exploded, my radio show is going strong, and I  have published my first gardening book: A Gardener's Compendium: Gardening In A Twitter World In 140 Characters Or More, Volume 1 - Gardening In Life.


Whether she’s preparing for her gardening radio call-in show “In Your Backyard”, writing an article based on her “Gardening with Soul” philosophy, planning her next landscaping workshop, or contributing to a horticultural database, Teresa Watkins scours the digital world to make sure she has the most current information to share and to find bits of wisdom, wit, and/or whimsy to share with her audiences.  In the process, she has discovered quotes and facts are occasionally shared with incorrect attributions or out of context. This set Teresa on her quest to identify not only who said what but how, why, and when.  As Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t trust everything you read on the internet.

A Gardener’s Compendium: Gardening in a Twitter World In 140 Characters Or More, Volume 1 ~ Gardening with Life is a collection of garden facts, quotes, anecdotes and history categorized by context into themes and appropriate hashtags. The broad scope of this seven volume series and the painstaking efforts Teresa has made to ensure the accuracy of the content and its source will make A Gardener’s Compendium an invaluable resource for new gardeners, garden writers, bloggers, trivia fans, teachers, researchers, newsletters, social media enthusiasts, speakers, and anyone who desires to provide an interesting fact for presentations or is just looking for a source of like-minded inspiration.
 
Available now at www.she-consulting.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, local, Xulon Press and my website.

All the books you read are so many gardens where you stroll.
 — Blessèd Guerric d’Igny (c.1080-1157) Cistercian abbot
Liturgical Sermons: Volume1 and 2 
Introduction and Translation by Monks at Mount St Bernard Abbey.
#Belgium #library #literature
 
 
You can contact for signed copies and speaking events: Sustainable Horticultural Environments
 
 
 
 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Urban Wildlife

With the exception of Disney's Animal Kingdom and Sea World, you don't think usually think of Orlando, as Wildlife Central.  But right here in The City Beautiful in your own backyard, you can see plenty of oppossums, raccoons, alligators, pileated woodpeckers, black snakes, red-shouldered hawks, bears, coyotes, and eagles. 

As more and more development occurs in Florida taking the place of valuable habitat and migration corridors, wildlife will try to survive with man, venturing into communities and neighborhoods that offer easy access to food (outside pet bowls and trash cans) and instead of risking their lives crossing highways, wild animals know they can safely migrate through a development's mandatory conservation areas.

It's important to remember even if you have a fenced-in backyard, you might cross a path with a wild animal that has climbed over, across, or torn down a structure to find its way into your area.  Being vigilant while walking in parks, at dusk and dawn, and during mating seasons is recommended.  Another reason to watch out for wildlife is protecting your family pets. Small dogs and cats are a source of food for coyotes and alligators.  Always watch out for your pets, especially at dawn and dusk which is when wildlife looks for something to eat.
 
Mama bear and baby meandering through a Seminole County gated community.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has posted a free curriculum for teachers and parents to teach children to be prepared when meeting bears.

Even here in College Park, an urbanized neighborhood, with the I-4 corridor going straight through the city, has seen bears traveling in search of food or a mate.  Another wildlife species causing havoc in College Park are coyotees which are venturing out of the local woods to eat cats.

Coyote killed pet cat.
National Wildlife Federation provides these safety tips:
Important note:
Teach children early on to observe through quiet observation and to never approach, try to touch, or feed wildlife. As stated elsewhere in this book, animals that become habituated to humans eventually become aggressive and may have to be euthanized.
          Respect Wildlife
  • Observe wildlife from a distance.
  • Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals (store food and trash securely).
    Control pets at all times.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Winter Park Horticulture

Winter Park, Florida is the ideal town to window shop and absorb culture in unique ways. From the great Saturday's Farmers Market, to dining al fresco with tapas and fine wine, finding great spices or the latest cooking tool then buying local artwork for your home, Winter Park is a shopper's paradise.  Walking is easy in Winter Park. Large sidewalks allow you (and your pampered pooch) to stroll under large Southern oak trees, espying landscape vignettes of themed gardens, and tropical plants softening the architectural façade of the quaint shops eager for you to stop in.

Chuck Trice, Winter Park's Assistant Director Chief of Landscaping oversees the landscaping crews as they maintain the trees and gardens throughout the city's parks while businesses create their own floral gardens in window boxes, containers, and landscape beds for their clients.

Take a stroll as we meander up and down, in and out of Park Avenue.  Do you know where you can find these great plant combinations?


 

 


Peacock topiary
 






Japanese garden




Eucalyptus tree






 








 
The little Carolina wrens love these flowers.






 
 





 
 
Helichrysum spp. Licorice plants in hanging baskets
Big bouquets of appreciate to Chuck Trice and his landscaping crew for bringing horticulture to Winter Park.