“We interrupt this broadcast…”

Do any of you listen to garden radio shows?  Most programs in this genre air on weekends, but if you can’t listen during broadcast hours I’ve found two that are available by podcast.  Both are particular favorites of mine for their common sense and informative approach.

First let me tell you about The Garden Rebel.

Robert Vincent Sims, aka The Garden Rebel, has been beautifying central Florida landscapes for more than 25 years, but his plant knowledge extends far beyond the tropics. Vince (as he’s known to callers)  hosts a local 1 hour show on Saturdays, and a 2 hour, nationally syndicated show on Sundays.  During his show, he often directs listeners to his public facebook page to see the plants being discussed.   Because he gets callers from Alaska to Maryland and in between, each time I listen, I learn something new.

Similarly, Neil Sperry from Texas is a gardener extraordinaire!  I’m in awe of this man’s knowledge. Be advised: his podcast page has alot more to offer than just audio. As you listen, be sure to check out the fully searchable “most asked questions” culled from the 200,000 he’s answered during three decades on-air.  Amazing resource, that!  If you live in place dealing with drought, I highly recommend listening to Neil: maximizing water usage is one of his top areas of expertise.  He also has a well vetted, excellent link page with resources ranging from plant societies to gardening equipment.

Now it’s time to interrupt this broadcast info……

I need to show you my agave:


This was one of my original purchases in January, 2010. When I say it’s grown exponentially enormous since then, I’m speaking the truth!  Now, check out the close-up:

Agave Flower Spike

Look at me grow!

Look at that flower spike starting!

I believe this is an Agave Guiengola, although I’m not 100% certain.  Earlier today I sent both pictures to the San Marcos Growers for help with an identification, but haven’t yet heard back.  Some agave spikes grow ridiculously tall while others top out at just a few feet….Alarming factoid….many of these seemingly strong plants die after flowering….How cruel is that??!!!  Needless to say, I’m curious about this one!  When I learn more, I’ll come back with an update.

It seems like forever ago when I posted about my super cosmos, and wondered how the next gen would grow.   Look at these pictures, taken yesterday:

Super Cosmos 2012

This is one of the “Super” variety. How about the size of that stem!  Here’s what it looks like from a different angle:

Super Cosmos Top View

Super Size Me!

Now for comparison, let me show you a group of three from a different part of the yard:


One of these things is not like the other  ;)

Can you see the difference?  The center plant is a “super;” the ones flanking it are the normal, everyday, (dare i say “garden!”) variety.   Although they are now in the ground, these four plants were grown from the seeds of one Super Cosmos and started in pots.   I was VERY careful with seed harvesting because i was so fascinated by the results of my original plantings.

Definitely one of those “you had to be there” kind of things!  :) :)

….back to the broadcast info….

If you can tune in to the Garden Rebel or Neil tomorrow, please do!  You won’t be disappointed!

until next time!

Zoned out? Turning over a new leaf?

Are you zoned out, or turning over a new leaf?  Time was, these were mutually exclusive propositions, but not anymore!

Yesterday, the USDA in conjunction with Oregon State University’s Prism Research Group, released a new Plant Zone Hardiness Map that divides the U.S. into 26 zones of average, annual, extreme, minimum temperatures, each zone varying five degrees from the next.  In addition to being 100% web interactive and searchable via zipcode, many things have changed since the last map was configured in 1990. New data used to compile the 2012 map includes the prevailing winds, bodies of water and slope of land in each of the 26 regions. The urban heat island effect was also taken into consideration, which may explain why 18 of 34 cities mentioned in the 1990 mapkey have higher designations.

So with most areas measuring 5° F warmer than before, yours may have zoned out, like mine did.  Yesterday, Vero Beach was located in 9b…today the USDA is calling it 10, which raises some all important questions:

Can you risk a zone 7-11 Agapanthus  if you live in 5b Binghamton, NY,?  Will that zone 10-11 Duranta Erecta Cuban Gold really grow in the formerly 9b Ranchero?

Who among us has the courage to turn over a new leaf?  ;)

For the time being, I think I’ll stick to what I know works best, which are plants like these::


and this:

Mirabiliand especially this:

Siam Tulip

Alamandas, Mirabilis, and Siam Tulips are three of my favorite choices, but NOT because I lack courage or a spirit of adventure!   They’re sure bets in my garden; they come back every year; they make gardening fun and relaxing, and that’s what this hobby is most about for me.

The USDA can call the Ranchero any zone it likes, but for me?  I’m sticking with Comfort Zone.  :)  :)

Until next time……

Weekly Photo Challenge: Simple

When I saw the title of this week’s photo challenge,  I immediately knew which picture to choose. Although my selection process shared everything with the topic,  the reasons behind it do not, and are best described by the caption:


Simple can be complicated!

An American flag, a sunflower, and marigolds on a bright day…July 4th, Independence Day to be exact, but what I saw in my viewfinder gave me time tunnel vertigo, that cartwheel-into-the-past disorientation that toys with calendars and realities. Sure, I saw the flag and flowers in front of me, but mainly as conjurers of sunny days and holidays past.

I had to remind myself, “This is July 4, 2011.”

Simple can be complicated.

Until next time.

Seeds, Seedlings, Soils, Surprises!

Since last I posted, my gardening focus has been on seeds, seedlings and the all important soil preparation.  Actually, it goes back a bit farther….

I told you last month how we hard pruned our rubber tree, exposing a large bare area around it?  Initially, I wasn’t impressed, assuming the reclaimed space would be riddled with huge, barely hidden roots…well……you know what they say about people who “assume,” yeah?

When I commenced the soil preparation, I was shocked!  The huge roots I’d been expecting had all gravitated to one side, leaving a sizable area nearly root-free!  And better still, the soil looked and smelled “loamy.” (If you live in Florida, you know what I mean: good soil here has a VERY distinct scent!)

My oldest son and I had already encircled the area with pavers, so for the past week I’ve been busy amending the soil within. My initial plans of creating a disposable “annual” area have changed to this:

Watermelon Garden, Take 2!

Watermelon Garden, Take 2!

I say, “Take 2″ because our previous effort last spring was an enormous bust!  I believe I started the seeds too late (March) and by June we watched the vines and tiny fruits wither away before our eyes!!!  It just gets too dang hot here in summer!
With this in mind, I decided to sow some flower seeds, too.  It took 4 days for these Clarkia (garland flowers) to germinate:

Clarkia seedlingsand 6 days to see some sprouts from this Burpee Fordhook Mix of chartreuse and purple annuals.

Chartreuse And Purple Annual Mix

I also direct sowed Molucella Laevis (Belles of Ireland) and Larkspur into my perimeter beds…Pictures to follow when they sprout!

As seems to be the case in my garden, I have many surprises growing…some I can’t quite figure out, like this:

Who am I?

and this:

Do you know my name?

And these  “squatters”  who found their way to long forgotten pots of old soil:

Please don't kick us out!

We're happy here! Can we stay??!!??

This last unknown plant (below) may be a Celosia. Although I’ve never owned or grown any, they’re very popular here, so seeds may have blown in from elsewhere:

Am I a Celosia?

As you can see from the closeup, blooms will be opening  soon:

Possible Celosia Blooms

Soon I'll reveal my identity!!

Until next time………

Weekly Photo Challenge : Peaceful

From March through October, as they have for thousands of years, sea turtles emerge from the waters along Vero Beach in pursuit of ideal nesting spots. Early morning turtle walks are part of our local sightseeing. Sure, some tracks are disappointing U turns back to the Atlantic, but oftentimes an enormous leatherback or loggerhead liked what she saw and dug out a nest!  Soon, you’ve followed a path directly to her  hidden egg clutch!!

Exciting?  Definitely.

The marvels of nature?  For sure!

Peaceful?    Yes…but not in the “idyllic scene” way we typically use the word.

sea turtle nest

Peace is sometimes enforced.

Entire statutes have been written to enforce this peacefulness…..and then….there are these reminders:

sea turtle protection sign

This ubiquitous green sign is tacked anywhere the eye might linger:  we aren’t the only ones using beachstairs and boardwalks!

If you would like further info on sea turtles, the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to begin.  Prefer being more proactive?  Check out the many resources and programs at The Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Come out of your shell ;)  :)!!

Until next time…….

2nd Generation Greek :)

A day or so ago, I  told you about some favorite heirloom seeds that align nicely with my European heritage.  Now comes the tale of an unexpected traveller who arrived at my door from the fertile, far-away isle of Dionysius’s nuptials.  :)  But first, the backstory.

In August 2010, Maggie left Florida for a 7month trip around the world that commenced in Ireland and ended in Guam. There were stops throughout Europe and then it was on to /Russia/Mongolia/China/So.East Asia/etc.  From place to place, she collected little souvenirs for the folks back home.   Fast forward a few months, to December..

During the week between my birthday and Christmas, I received quite a surprise: an envelope mailed from the Cyclades Islands!  Inside was a wonderful letter detailing Mag’s travels and a little black pouch containing a small opuntia pad snapped from a cactus at her Naxos Hotel!

naxos mother plant

I'm the mother plant!

The offspring opuntia was approximately 3″ round and already calloused over (overseas travel isn’t easy you know!!)  ;)  so I immediately potted her up in the good ol’ American sunshine to establish new roots:

naxos opuntia pad

I'm second generation!

Thirteen months have passed, and Opuntia seems happy in her new digs!   She’s not only rooted…she’s growing a “family!”

opuntia is growing!!

We're Greek Americans!!

Sigh……Don’t you just love a good immigration story???

Until next time, enjoy this short video of Opuntia’s birth land….it’s as pretty as she is!

Pepperin’ to show you!!!

I’m really loving this winter vegetable growing!! I imagine it willl seem old hat in a year or two, but for now it’s a fascinator I can’t wear often enough!  :)

After having great results with our spinach, we’ve been waiting for just the perfect day to bring in some peppers.  Yesterday seemed like a good time:


Sharpening the knife, I got busy, taking both!

cutting the pepper from the vine

After slicing off the second one, we noticed a teeny tiny newbie starting! (dead center, photo below)

pepper plant after cutting

The irony here is that I really don’t like eating vegetables! (wierd, I know!) Thankfully, Maggie isn’t wierd, so she’s become the official taster for both of us.   Being that it was lunchtime, she immediately got the cutting board:

pepper on cutting board


While we’re waiting for the tiny pepper to grow, take a look at what’s next from the Ranchero:


I actually LIKE these!!

Until next time……

“Stars” and Stripes!

Now that we’re halfway through January, the planting catalogues are arriving fast and furious!!  Although I’ve ordered flowers from Vesey’s, Michigan Bulb, Farmer’s Seed and Nursery, my bias is toward different seed houses when considering vegetables!  Let me tell you about two who rate 5 stars for quality, product, and business philosophy;

First on my list of resources is The Brown Envelope Seed Company.  Owner/operators Ruth Bullough, Mike Sweeney and Madeline McKeever run the company from their farm in West Cork, Ireland; it is certified by The Organic Trust, meaning no chemicals are applied to anything they grow. In addition, every seed in the catalogue is open source, and has been harvested at this ONE farm….Amazing!  I like everything about the place!   From amaranth and aubergine to tomatoes and turnips–the Brown Envelope Seed Company has it all….well…..everything except potatoes…..but I kind of like that lack of cliché, too!!  ;)  FYI–for an interesting update on growing onions from seed, check out their blog.

Since the other 50% of my heritage is Italian,  I’m partial to Seeds from Italy, the exclusive U.S.mail order distributor of Franchi seeds. Owned by 7 generations of the Sementi family, Franchi boasts 400 plant varieties! 70% are certified organic, and nearly all are open source heirlooms passing unchanged through 200 years.  Great care has been taken to preserve the regional purity of tomatoes and zucchinis, essential when creating authentic Italian cuisine .  As a side note, Seeds from Italy was purchased last summer by Dan Nagengast,. a family farm owner himself, and former executive director of the Kansas Rural Center. Obviously Dan is someone who knows seeds and cares about their integrity. The 2012 catalogue carries the seal of the Safe Seed Initiative, pledging to never knowingly buy or sell genetically modified seeds or plants….And that’s a good thing!  :)

Back at the Ranchero……

It’s been awhile since anything new or unusual has bloomed, but then Friday the 13th brought this:

Oxalis Versicolor

Yikes!! Stripes!!!

Oxalis Versicolor: I planted ALOT of these little bulbs exactly 2yrs ago, in an area that’s developed into a back cutting garden.  Strange that these two should emerge for the first time now!!  Makes me wonder what they’ve been doing under there all this time..and where are the other 18?  sleeping?  :)

Until next time……







Nick the Node and Tiny Toad!

As I mentioned already,  Master Gardener classes began yesterday!  After a brief orientation and student introductions, we received a Botany syllabus, along with related handouts: Latin binomials, the international code of nomenclature, common Latin and Greek roots for the nomenclature, botanical families of importance, etc. etc… Sounds alot more complicated than it really is. We also got books and printed materials.

Class materialsMain textbook.

(Does that newspaper say Farmer and Ranchero?  It didn’t…until I added the “O”  ;) ;) )

After lunch we had a lecture on Plant Identification, during which many native plants were passed around and discussed. The branch in the photo (above right) is from a wild coffee plant, which I took home to try propagating. Let me show you my typical process.

Although I’ve tried many specialty mediums over the years, I’ve found mixing equal parts of these three gives me the best success NO MATTER what I’m rooting!

Rooting Mixture

Miracle Gro Garden Soil, Miracle Gro Cactus Soil and American Seed Starter Mix.  I also use a clay pot when rooting cuttings, on the assumption that breathable, porous containers are more nurturing of tiny emerging root hairs.

After filling the clay pot, thoroughly mix the soils together;  give it a really good soak and mix again.

Mixing the soils well!

Set the pot aside to finish residual draining while you work on your cuttings.  The books say to snip just below the node, but I’ve had better luck EVERY time I nick into the node a bit:

Nick the node!

Count up your cuttings. Using a pencil, poke the same number of “holes” in your previously mixed soil.  Sprinkle some rooting hormone into the cap and lightly tap each cutting in the powder, until the end is well covered, like so:

Cuttings with Rooting Hormone

Place the powder-covered ends in their corresponding holes: be careful…you don’t want rooting hormone sloughing off along the inside walls!  When you feel some resistance, use your fingers to push dirt against the stems, working from the bottom up, ’til they stand straight and secure:

Coffee Plant Stem Cuttings

Because the coffee plant is tropical, I’ve shown a plastic bag behind it–use it as a greenhouse “tent” to ensure adequate temperatures/humidity around the cuttings if your zone requires it.

Have you noticed a continuity issue in the last few pictures?  I broke the God-damned clay pot in the middle of this little exercise!!!  Knocked it right off the stacked pavers I  use as a work space and cracked it in a bunch of pieces…dirt and all!!!  Look closely at the last photo—-I repurposed the largest piece as a prop for the plastic bag!!!!  :)

Moving along…..Remember how I told you about my love of fringe-science and all things Coast to Coast AM?  Today the Coast website has a news story about the discovery of the tiniest frog in the world, Paedophryne amaunensis

The Paedophryne genus consists of a number of  species found in the eastern sections of Papua New Guinea, an area largely unexplored due to the thickness of its rainforests. You can read more about it here or here but I’d surely be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of such a cute little friend:


Why am I on a dime?


Until next time…..

A Thorny Issue!

Today was a day for real yard work…not the roam around, isn’t-it-a-nice-afternoon, snip-here-clip-there primp fest; no, no….I’m talking SERIOUS diggin’!!!  Moving this guy has been long overdue!

madagascar palm

Meet Pachypodium Lamerei, aka the Madagascar Palm I bought two years ago, when it was half this height and not very thick.  I’ve always loved this genus, so positioned it where I could see it from the backporch when we sip our morning coffees.  Over the past year, it grew completely obscured by a Groundsel tree that “volunteered” directly in our sightline!  For months now, I’ve been debating which plant to move and where–a thorny issue if ever there was one!   ;)

Today I noticed available real estate (open floor plan!! “full-sun!!”) in the Ranchero:

Ranchero open real estate

So I decided it was “moving day,” and prepared a new hole:

new holeLook at all those orange streaks: when you dig 3″ below the surface, you reach an icky layer of orange, crumbly, Florida sand!  Naturally, the soil needs to be amended before planting takes place, so I added a few inches of cactus soil.

6" hole with 3" amended soil

Next, I dug up Mr. Pachy P, as he’s affectionately known in the blogosphere  ;) , but I can’t show you that part… my helpers have gone home, and I can’t dig and hold a camera at the same time!  This is what it looked like “bareroot” before transplanting:

barerootI positioned it carefully in the prepared hole, propping it against a shovel for support.

Madagascar Palm propped against shovel

Then, using both hands, I spread the roots out (like the spokes of a wheel) to allow for growing space as they settle   Next comes several more inches of cactus soil to secure the roots before watering them in:

watering after transplanting

After the water drains, it’s time to fill in the rest of the hole, tamping the dirt THOROUGHLY with each addition. An air pocket is a root’s worst enemy, so bear down hard!

After one last good soak, the transplant is done!

Madagascar Palm in Ranchero

I like my new home!

Before I close this entry, I have to say this: I’m looking forward to tomorrow!  Its the first day of Master Gardener’s Classes!  I’ve got my notebook and pencils ready to go…now it’s time to lay out my “first day of school” outfit!   ;) (Remember how FUN that was?!) Wish me luck!!

Until next time…..