Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's blooming in paradise

Their beauty makes them look fake, like brightly crinkled paper perfectly formed. My cranberry hibiscus plants are loaded with buds and I just noticed the first blooms the other day. 

They are a different species than the tropicals, these are more like a native plant, requiring less care, drought tolerant and propagating all by themselves. The flowers are a beautiful shade of purple/maroon with oddly shaped leaves and stems to match in a darker shade. 

I'm going to make a point of gathering seeds to get them started all over the yard for no-fuss beauty . . . the shrubs are pretty without the flowers with those beautiful green and purple leaves.

The photo is from another season since I haven't gone out there to take photos.   This past winter with unusual freezing temps for more than one or two days  destroyed all that I had.  I lost many of my plants, especially the tropical hibiscus and some of the gingers.  Anyway, the cranberry hibiscus babies started popping up here and there . . . they have had no care at all and need to be transplanted.

Awesome plant!  It was one of those plants that I acquired through plant swaps with local members of an old gardening group that I maintained online.  I'm really starting to enjoy native plants moreso than any others . . . they are the ones that bounced back quickly from the brutal winter.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Organic pest control

Someone left a comment on one of my posts asking the question . . .
"how do I keep bugs from eating my basil?"

I'm an organic gardener and don't use chemicals in my garden, especially on herbs and vegetables. 

There are several recipes that I've used to control pests, but the one that is very simple . . . a squirt of dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water (do not use Dawn or any other grease cutting dishwashing liquid). You can also add a teaspoon of cooking oil to make it stick to the leaves of the plant.

Something else I have learned to do is spray the plant with plain water with the spray nozzle on the hose . . . the spray of water will knock the bugs off the plant.

Another remedy is to utilize beneficial insects, such as ladybugs . . . they can be purchased at organic gardening centers and widely available online.

The key is to keep the leaves clean and check your plants often.

Most of these practices are good for indoor gardening as well as outdoors.

Check out my website,, for lots of gardening pages.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Calissia fragrans . . . thriving in my Paradise

This is an older post from another blog
 that I am currently restructuring.

The calissia fragrans are still thriving, although the
unusually cold winter knocked them down a bit this year.

I'm currently propagating them from runners and cuttings
in containers and will start another "farm" in the ground.
I love these plants!!

They are multiplying and blooming for the first time . . .
they must love acid since I have been feeding them coffee.

Calissia fragrans is an unusual and tropical semi-epiphyte (grows mainly in trees, but will root in soil). Individual leaf rosettes may be 8" wide at the center stalk. Snaking out from the stalk are runners that trail as much as several feet to find a new place to root. Fragrant white globular flowers on upright spikes bloom in summer, then fade and lose their fragrance, then perk up and become fragrant again on and on.

Flowering or not, it is a spectacular plant that would look awesome hanging from a tree in a shady spot in the greenhouse or in a hanging basket as a houseplant. I plan on lining my carport jungle with hand painted hanging containers loaded with these gorgeous plants.

This is where the plants in the carport jungle began . . . I cleared out a few of these plants that were growing in the pathway and placed them in this container that I use to start plants or experiment with my propagation projects.

At the moment, I am experimenting with the calissia fragrans in my carport jungle, planting the runners into individual containers. I've been doing this for several months and those babies are already putting out their own runners. I left the runners intact in this container and they are growing another rosette. How cool is that? You can see some of the runners in the above photo.

I have a few spots in the yard where I planted a few here and there and now have my "farm" of mass plantings. Hopefully, they will be one of the plants to start my mail order plant business.

It all started about 7 years ago when I had a gardening group on MSN and made some local gardening friends that I swapped plants with. These came from Sally in St. Petersburg . . . she is very much into native plants and I have some other plants I got from her that are still thriving through neglect. There is something to be said about native plants!

All my container plants in the carport jungle have been getting a regular dose of watered down coffee and water that I boiled vegetables in (without salt) . . . the calissia fragrans are especially responding successfully and I have never seen them looking so healthy and big. Keep in mind that I have not used commercial fertilizer on them at all.

These are my new perfect plant . . . as you can see from the following photos taken from previous seasons, I have them growing in my "trash to treasure" book rack lined with moss. They went through one winter night freeze, neglect, no watering, no fertilizer with minimal damage. The ones in the carport jungle look much better since they are being pampered and I will soon transfer some of them to renourish the rack. I'll take some recent photos soon.

I'm getting the gardening bug again . . .
it makes me smile!

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Screening with container plants

My gardening theme for this month
is container gardening.
We plan on restructuring the carport jungle and the surrounding area this month and look forward to starting many herb and vegetable plants that we will grow in containers.

Container gardens can add a green privacy screen to a balcony or an open area.

A trellis gives vines a structure to grow on and stakes added to the bottom of the trellis help support it on the outside of the planting box. Trellises and stakes should be attached to the containers with galvanized bolts.

Water-sealed redwood and cedar are good choices for planter boxes. To help them last longer, line boxes with landscape fabric which has the added benefit of preventing soil from washing out the drainage holes. After the fabric is in place, add a mixture of half potting soil and half compost. Fill the box to within 10" from the rim.

Select a fast-growing evergreen vine to cover the trellis. Once you've selected a vine, remove it carefully from the nursery container, and place the back of the stake supporting the vine against the trellis. Cut away the plant ties from the support stake, and disentangle the vine. Tie each stem to the trellis, fanning out the stems as you go.

If you like, add other plants to your container for additional color and interest. Make sure the additions have growing requirements similar to those of the vine.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Container gardening at Busch Gardens Tampa

Inspiration for our garden is one of the reasons I love visiting Busch Gardens.
Container gardening is my preferred method of gardening since it allows for quick changes to the landscape and makes it easy to move plants into the greenhouse or indoors in the event of cold snaps or hurricanes.

I've included some older photos of the entrance at Busch Gardens . . . one of the few disappointments I've encountered at BG is the whole revamping of the entrance.  I loved the old entrance with the festively tiled water features and sitting areas adorned with lots of container plants.  It was gorgeous!  A portion of the old facade now resides at the entrance of the Moroccan Theater.

The following video was created with photos we have taken of container plants at Busch Gardens.

Hope you enjoy it and find some inspiration for your garden!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blooming Bromeliads in October

Blooming Bromeliads were featured on this blog at the end August . . . the plant photos were taken from Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.  When we visited the gardens this month, I thought it would be interesting to chronicle the life cycle of the blooming bromeliads from one month to the next.

The title photo was taken in August.  One of those flowering bromeliads is gone and the pink flower is not as vibrant, actually almost done as seen in some of the following photos.  All in all, they are not as vibrant as they were in August, but still very beautiful in the landscape.

This one appears to be almost done!

Awesome placement of bromeliads between the rocks that form the waterfall.

Check out the following video made from photos taken from the gardens of Busch Gardens to enjoy the lush and tropical beauty of Central Florida landscaping in October . . . this is subtropical gardening at its finest!

More posts and videos to come on container gardening
 and specific plants in this subtropical paradise . . .
subscribe to this blog for updates!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tin-can & Glass-jar Lights

Set your backyard, porch or terrace
 aglow with these fun lights.

There is something about candle light in the darkness that is magical.  One of the things I love best is taking something that would normally be thrown away and make something useful from it.

I have also taken tin cans that I have painted and made candles directly into the can, placing them all over the yard on those inexpensive bamboo stakes.  At one time I loved using those tiki torches until I had one catch on fire and I swore to never use them again . . . this was my alternative.

Using citronella candles is best used in climates where mosquitoes are a problem . . . they do help!

This is a repost from Birds and Blooms . . .

Outdoor lighting doesn't have to be complicated or expensive to install. All it takes are some everyday materials and a little imagination to set your backyard, porch or terrace aglow. Below you'll find instruction on how to make both tin-can lights and glass-jar lights.

Tin-Can Lights

Step 1: Make a pattern of holes on paper to wrap around your can by using a photocopier to enlarge one of the three designs shown at right. You can also cut a piece of paper to size and copy a design onto it freehand. Or make your own original pattern!

Step 2: To copy the circle designs from the patterns, use a compass and pencil to draw concentric circles and mark equidistant points around the outer circumference. Draw lines from the center to these points to divide the circle into even sectors. A dot at each intersection indicates where a hole is to be made.

Step 3: For the diamond design, draw a small diamond shape made of two equilateral triangles, and enclose this in two proportionately larger triangles. Add dots to the outlines at evenly spaced intervals to indicate holes.

Step 4: Tape the paper pattern to the can. Place one end of the dowel lengthwise in the vise; slip can over the other end.

Step 5: At each dot on the pattern, make a divot in the can with a large nail (this will help guide the drill), and then enlarge with a 1/8-in. drill bit. Make holes for the handles near the top of the can in the same way.

Step 6: Make a handle by bending a 20-inch length of wire at its midpoint, then bending small hooks at each end to attach to can. Twist other end into a small loop for hanging. Paint cans if desired (avoid water-based or latex paints). Insert a candle.

Glass-Jar Lights

Step 1: Measure circumference of jar neck, add 3 in., and cut a piece of tie wire to this length. Bend the wire around the jar neck to form a loose circle, and use pliers to hook the two ends securely together. With a screwdriver, twist the wire to form two eye loops on opposite sides of the jar.

Step 2: For the hanger, cut another piece of wire, 3 ft. long. At its midpoint, use pliers to twist a loop for hanging.

Step 3: Thread 1 in. of each end of the hanger wire through the eye loops; secure the wire by twisting the ends back on themselves.

Step 4: If desired, embellish jar with glass paints, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make a bed of sand 2 inches deep in each jar, and insert a candle.

Source: Birds and Blooms
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Composting autumn leaves

Leaf mulch made from the leaves of my oak trees make an excellent mulch for acid-loving plants like hibiscus. My method is ridiculously easy . . . rake the leaves and place in a garbage bag (shredding the leaves is recommended, but not necessary), water the leaves before sealing the bag . . . and let it sit. The back of my storage sheds were the perfect spot to line them up and let them "age" . . . if you have the room, it is an excellent use of those leaves.

Leaves are also an excellent source for the compost pile, if you have one. The following is an article on the process of adding leaves to the pile . . .

This article is a repost from eHow

Think about shredding leaves before you compost them. Shredded leaves are much easier to turn in a compost pile. These leaves will also break down much faster than whole leaves. You don't need to shred leaves, but it's easily done by running over them with a lawn mover.

Add your leaves to your compost pile. You should try to bury the new compost material deep into the pile, just like you do when you add any new material to it. Covering the leaves will help the compost pile turn into soil quickly.

See if you need to add manure or a supplement to your compost. If you have a new compost pile, a supplement like bone meal or manure can help speed the compost process. These materials are rich in nitrogen, which is essential for the natural composting process.

Turn your compost pile every 4 or 5 days. Using a manure fork, mix the compost so that the material that was on the top is now shifted into the middle of the pile. Also try to bring some of the compost from the bottom up to the top of the pile. Turning is much easier when the leaves are shredded before they are put into the pile.

Consider putting a tarp over your compost pile during the late autumn and winter. This tarp will help keep heat in the compost pile and keep moisture out of it. You'll still need to turn the pile every week.


There's really no limit on how many leaves you can put in a compost pile. If you want to add all the leaves in your yard, you'll really need to shred them first and add a nitrogen supplement to them to be sure that they all turn into compost.

Save some of the shredded leaves to insulate your perennials during winter. Shredded leaves can also be saved and used as mulch in the spring.

Add a tall wire fence around your compost pile. You need to keep animals like skunks and raccoons out of your compost pile. A fence is especially important if you are putting food scraps in your pile.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Outdoor design ideas

Image Source:  HGTV Website

As the heat and humidity calms down a bit here in Florida,
my increased desire to get outdoors inspires me to work
on some outdoor design ideas

For more outdoor design ideas, click here for a
 slideshow of over 500 photos . . . very inspirational!

Sorry, the link no longer works :(

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Gorgeous Bromeliads in bloom

Now is the time to visit
Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida
if you love blooming bromeliads!

The clustering of different types of bromeliads
mixed in with caladiums and orchids arranged
in varying heights is breathtaking . . .

These type of tightly clustered beds are
scattered throughout the grounds at
Busch Gardens.

Love the pairing of this bromeliad with the
varying colors and textures of other tropicals
in this flower bed. AWESOME!


I will be posting more photos featuring bromeliads
and plant profiles on this awesome plant!

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Growing Basil

One of the benefits of gardening in central Florida (zone 9) is no time is a bad time to start basil from seed . . . and a benefit of growing basil after not doing any serious gardening for several years is the instant gratification. It is one of the most foolproof herbs in this area.

Growing basil from seed

Sow the seeds in spring in seed trays and keep indoors or in a heated greenhouse until the seedlings reach the four-leaf stage. Keep well watered at all times whilst the seedlings are growing.

The seedlings can then be easily handled and transplanted out into pots or containers or directly into the garden in a well drained soil, where they can continue growing with the benefits of all the nutrients from the soil.

Plant the seedlings 50cm apart and keep shaded for the first few days and water regularly throughout to ensure healthy growth.

Conditions for growing basil

Although basil likes sun, it must be planted in a sunny, sheltered spot away from wind and draughts.

Don't plant basil until all risk of frost has disappeared. During midsummer basil likes semi-shaded growing conditions.

Growing basil in the garden

Growing basil between tomatoes and other vegetables in the greenhouse or garden will benefit both the basil and the other vegetables.

Basil will enhance the flavors of the other vegetables growing around it and will also deter insects.

Growing basil in your garden will attract bees and butterflies if planted outside.

Growing basil under glass in a cool summer is a good way to ensure a lush and healthy plant and supply of leaves. Remember though, if you are growing basil in your garden, you should not plant it next to rue.

Growing basil in the kitchen or greenhouse

Basil can quite easily be grown inside as long as it has a light and sunny spot on the windowsill or shelf in the greenhouse. If you keep the plants indoors you should be able to keep your basil growing well into the cooler months.

Harvesting Basil

Once the basil has grown to a height of about 15cm, you can start to take off the top sets of leaves. Pinch them out to the next set of leaves growing below. This will ensure a continual growth and should encourage a healthy, bushy basil plant.

Prune your basil every 2 or 3 weeks to ensure a healthy bushy plant.

Basil will continue growing throughout the summer and can ultimately reach up to 60cm in height. If the basil is left to flower, it will produce long spires of small, white tube shaped flowers.

To encourage a supply of leaves throughout the summer and autumn, pinch out the buds as soon as they appear.

Basil Foliage

Depending on the variety of basil you are growing, the juicy, oval leaves will grow up to10cm in length and will be a glossy rich green. Basil is highly aromatic with a strong scent reminiscent of cloves.

Basil plants will cross pollinate very easily so if you are collecting and planting your own seeds year after year, you should notice some slight variations which makes growing basil an interesting hobby and pastime.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Aucuba . . . the plant with the look of the tropics

It is one of those plants that thrived in my father's garden, a successful result of his passion for propagating plants collected in his travels. The shrub in the photo from my garden is a result of several years growth from the cuttings I took from his yard. The aucuba plant is one of my favorites.

Our aucubas were severely damaged from the unusual cold winter . . . the first year this happened as our mild winters in Tampa usually don't damage the plant. Being the resilient plant that they are, new growth quickly appeared this spring and are on their way back to the beauty the brightly colored leaves bring to the landscape.

Scientific Name
Aucuba japonica

Common Name
Aucuba . . . Gold Dust Plant

Native to eastern Asia, this evergreen shrub has dense, glossy foliage that appears splashed with yellow paint. The shrub can grow up to 10 feet tall.

The ideal soil is moist, high in organic matter and well-drained, although it will tolerate almost any soil condition. Plant in partial to full shade (summer and winter), as its leaves will "burn" in summer and turn sickly green in winter.

It competes successfully with the demanding roots of other shrubs and trees, and
transplants easily. The aucuba plant also performs well in containers.

Avoid overhead watering to reduce incidence of disease. Prune occasionally to restrain growth or eliminate dead or dying branches caused by disease.

Insects are not a significant problem!
Propagate from softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings.
In my opinion, they are the perfect Zone 9 plant (although they thrive in Zones 7 through 10).

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Florida Gardening . . . what to do in June

After a very unusually cold winter, summer has crept up on us. The poor bushes have put out new growth amongst the bare sticks that still need to be pruned from the winter damage.

After years of neglect, we have the overwhelming task of starting over again with the landscaping.
As we rebuild "The Paradise" I will be posting before and after photos as well as articles on projects we are working on.

In anticipation of starting over, I visited an excellent website by one of my favorite Florida gardening gurus, Tom MacCubbin, for knowledge, inspiration and motivation.

Here are Tom's tips on what to do in June . . .

Lawn Care Needed:

Check for lawn care ordinances that prohibit lawn feedings June until October.

Where permitted and needed regreen lawns with a feeding of a slow release fertilizer.

May is a good month to seed bahia lawns.

An iron only feeding, if permitted, often regreens yellow lawns and prevents excessive growth.

Fill bare or weedy spots in the lawn with the help of summer rains.

Reseed, plug or sod as the rainy season returns.

Avoid sodding shady areas during summer to prevent rot problems caused by the wet weather.

Cold weather did not stop the chinch bugs; inspect yellow spots and treat if needed.

Use a rain gauge to track the water your lawn receives.

Mow lawns frequently but don't catch the clippings.

Keep the mower blade at the highest level recommended for your lawn type.

Dig out or spot kill weeds in turf.

Replace constantly declining turf in dense shade with a mulch or ground cover.

Change the oil and air filter in gas powered equipment as instructed in manuals.

Landscape Care:

Most plants are recovering from winter damage; otherwise replacements may be needed.

Established plants usually do not need watering during the rainy season.

It won’t hurt to let most plants wilt a little before you water.

Hurricane season begins with June; it’s not too late to have your trees checked and trimmed.

Fill in low areas or add drains to prevent flooding during summer storms.

Establish moisture zones within the landscape to help conserve water.

Groom roses to remove old flower heads and weak stems.

Feed roses monthly and control black spot with a fungicide.

Add the tropical look to the landscape with heat loving foliage plants.

Plant hydrangeas where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.

Complete azalea and gardenia pruning by month's end.

Replace declining cool season flowers with rain tolerant summer color.

Trim back 4- to 6-inches of new poinsettia growth to keep the plants compact.

Root tip cuttings of shrubs and foliage plants.

Transplant palms and sagos.

Feed shrubs and palms.

Give container gardens a weekly feeding or use a slow release fertilizer as instructed.

Spot kill weeds and add a mulch to prevent new growth.

Plant declining Easter and Asiatic lilies in the sunny garden.

Feed lilies and other aquatic plants in home water gardens.

Remove sprouts from the base of crape myrtle, maple and similar trees.

Vegetable and Fruit Plantings:

Harvest maturing crops and replant with heat loving vegetables.

Keep weeds under control as gardens decline to prevent pest problems for fall.

Keep weeds under control as gardens decline to prevent pest problems for fall.

Bake out nematodes and diseases by covering moist soil with clear plastic for 8 weeks.

Turn gardens and vacant flower beds over to edible sweet potatoes.

Continue to plant fruit trees, shrubs and vines.

Expect some fruit drop from citrus trees – it’s normal and often called the June fruit drop.

Feed summer vegetable plantings every 3 to 4 weeks.

Complete late spring citrus feedings.

Prune lower limbs that interfere with maintenance from fruit trees.

Feed bananas monthly harvest stalks when the first hand begins to yellow.

Feed pineapples in containers weekly; in the ground monthly.

Obtain seeds for late summer and fall vegetable plantings.

House and foliage plant care:

Give house plants a rest outdoors in the shade.

Repot plants needing a new container.

Feed plants outdoors every two weeks and indoors monthly.

Use a slow release fertilizer as instructed to stretch the time between feedings.

Control insects with a soap wash.

Remove declining leaves and stems.

Pinch the tips of lanky shoots to cause branching.

Trim faded flowers from blooming plants.

Add new foliage plants to indoor displays.

Source: Better Lawns

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