I have a treat for our garden readers this week. Due to an overzealous scheduler—ME—I have not one, but TWO A Writer’s Garden features. Kathy Bryson will start us off, followed by the regular Thursday post. Double the pleasure this week! Kathy’s going to talk about her Florida garden. Take it away, Kathy!
Last year, I decided to go organic in my garden. I’d been reading about the problems with honeybees and butterflies and came across an offer for free butterfly weed. What gardener can resist free plants, even if they are called weeds? Without chemical sprays though, I ended up with long, spindly St. Augustine grass taking over all my flowerbeds.
This wasn’t the disaster it might seem. The backyard was barren when I first laid out raised beds of compost over cardboard. I was stunned to see the compost actually sink into the ground. Turns out the previous owner used white sand to level the ground for her kid’s swimming pool, trampoline, and swing set. On top of Florida’s naturally sandy soil, it acted like a sponge, sucking up 3 years of composting before supporting anything other than a burst of annuals.
Besides sand, gardening in Florida has the unique challenge of hothouse conditions all summer. Perennials become leggy biennials, tropicals thrive and take over unless they’re cut back ruthlessly, and everything from saw palmetto to the aforementioned grass seems to send out runners! One queen palm in the corner grew taller than the house before I realized it was there.
Wildflowers, however, love Florida’s heat and humidity. Last year’s butterfly weed was annuals, so this year, I seeded the central bed with both annuals and perennials. The cosmos and poppies grew 1st, long feathery stems with bright pink and orange blossoms. They’re drooping as the summer heats up, but the perennials are starting to push up around them, penta, Indian blanket, and coneflowers. Ginger and lily of the Nile add more color.
I don’t worry about the pesticides. Left alone, spiny-backed orb weavers or kite spiders spin giant webs from the eves to the bushes. They’re dapper little spiders, tiny tuxedoed mites in black and white. They have competition for the flies, moths, and mosquitoes from the brown anoles, lizards originally from South America that have overrun the place. I rescue the lizards occasionally from the cats and they’re feisty, flashing orange dewlaps, hissing, and even biting though they haven’t got nearly the teeth to harm anything, most definitely not the cats!
The St. Augustine grass is taking more work. I gave myself tennis elbow weeding, so while the central flowerbed was resown before the summer rains, the beds along the perimeter are still getting cleaned out and mulched. Melaleuca mulch has become my go-to mulch. Not only does it slow down St. Augustine grass, it’s helping to clean an invasive species out of the Everglades and prevent overharvesting of native cypress trees. I’m gardening on a mission!
Gardener/writer Kathy Bryson has been gardening since she put a pot out on her 1st apartment balcony. Her favorite thing about gardening is the anticipation, the surprise of seeing what will actually come up. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing sweet and funny, fantasy romance. You can learn more about her at https://kathybryson.wordpress.com