When summer and fall collide — beauty (You can grow that!)

purple mexican sage, yellow thryallis, yellow allamanda, blue to purple plumbago, blue birdbath, single bloom of belinda's dream rose bush

This is the time I wait for all year – when summer’s crazy blooms overlap with fall’s first show-offs. (I take pictures so I can fondly remember this come January.)

All of the plants in this corner of my garden (OK — pretty much all of my plants!) are tough guys that do well in full sun, somewhat sandy soil, and no fertilizer — except for the roses. I amend my sand with compost, and this is the oldest part of my garden, so the dirt has had a good 12 years of cow manure, kitchen scraps and dead leaves from the neighbor’s oak tree. My backyard faces east, but that same neighbor’s oak tree blocks the sun all morning in this spot. The plants appreciate it! They take a big, hot hit all afternoon.

In the background, from left to right, the plants are: yellow thryallis, huge purple salvia (I wish I knew the variety because it grows much bigger than I expected and is a bit of a pain!), pale blue flowers behind are plumbago trained to grow up the fence, double pink Knock Out roses, more thryallis (small yellow blooms), allamanda (large yellow blooms), Belinda’s Dream rose (a single bloom in the photo — a dream of an easy rose bush!)

Behind the birdbath is purple Mexican sage, and the little yellow/orange flowers in the foreground are orange cosmos. I’ve also got some pink confetti lantana to the right, and oh! There’s some pretty pink, well-behaved salvia coccinea to the left.

My “fall” bloomer is the Mexican sage, which has actually been blooming for months. This outburst, however, is particularly outrageous.

purple flowers, mounding shrub, mexican sage, lance-shaped green leaves, silvery stems

I love Mexican sage! The blooms have a woolly, velvety texture and such a beautiful lavender color. Even my husband notices them (which is saying something.) The first hummingbird I ever spotted in my garden was drawn to this plant.

Mexican sage is easy to grow. Don’t be afraid to whack back the leggy stems as the blooms fade. New stems will quickly replace the old. If you water it well after first planting (to establish the roots) it’s very drought-tolerant. Mine always dies back in the winter and faithfully reappears in the spring.

small, pale pink flowers, yellow stamens, jatropha, pink princess, jatropha integerima

My little pink jatropha is no show-stopper — yet. Jatropha Integerima ‘Pink Princess’ gets knocked back every winter and is slow to come back, unlike her livelier, scarlet cousin, spicy Jatropha. I’ve got several of the red variety and they’re huge. Small trees! This one’s only about 3 feet tall, though it’s a couple years old. Hmmm, that could be because I didn’t get the roots well-established. The reds grow fine in fairly sandy soil and take lots of sun. While the red Jatropha bloom year-round, this is the first big flush of flowers I’ve seen from Princess.

yellow chinese hat plant, small cup and saucer shaped bloom, bright yellow, dark green leaves, oval, pointed

Always my first sign of fall — Chinese hat plant’s first bloom! This one is teeny tiny (compare it to the wine-bottle opening to the left.) The blooms get larger and create a bright, frothy display. The yellow Chinese hat is less common than the pale orange-colored variety, but they all do well here. The wonderful plant vendor from whom I bought this (er, its mother — this one I started from a cutting) told me to cut it back by a third in August and fertilize for best bloomage.

small oval green leaves, tree 6 feet tall, mooring

The little tree in the foreground is Moringa oleifera — the most nutritious tree on the planet! (To the right is the little pink jatropha and the bright red blooms below left are red firespike.)

A gardening reader gave me this little guy as a rooted cutting two or three years ago. It stayed in its too-small grow pot way too long — I didn’t know where to plant it! I finally found a spot last spring, and look how fast it has grown! Everything about moringa is nutritious; it’s hailed as a miracle plant. The leaves are loaded with vitamins; the seed pods (which give it its nickname, drumstick tree) are used in stews and are rich in vitamin C; and the roots taste like horseradish. Part of the reason for its “miracle” label is it grows SO easily in harsh conditions (i.e., my garden, India, South Africa and eastern Asian.)

I’m fully enjoying my summer/fall garden. And judging from the buds, there’s only more good to come.



In search of garden art treasure on U.S. 41 in Lutz, Fla.

I’m so lucky to have patient friends who love to explore! Sherri, Kathy and I spent Saturday afternoon trolling the stretch of U.S. 41 that runs north of Tampa through Lutz and Land O’ Lakes, our countrified northern neighbors.  U.S. 41 was a main artery through Florida back when Lucy, Desi, Ethel and Fred drove down for vacation in black and white (remember that one?). And it still has reminders of its mid-century heyday — old roadside motels, art deco signs, and … cool little vintage shops.

old undated plaster garden gnome 18 inches tall holding axe lantern red green

Our first stop, Deb’s Whistle Stop Depot, 100 NW 4th Ave., Lutz (despite the address, it’s on U.S. 41), is only 2 1/2 years old, but it’s housed a home much, much older. It has six or seven rooms, plus a big covered back porch, full of knickknacks, furniture, dishes, art — tons of old goodies. It also had the gnome pictured above (note the past tense.)

LOVE my creepy gnome!

I spotted this guy in the window as soon as we walked in. The $30 price tag thrilled me, and Laura — the helpful employee on duty — happily allowed me to talk her down. I got Creepy for $25. When I asked what she knew about him, she happily called the owner. (Laura was very nice.) I learned  he came from the estate of a woman who died at 98 and had hauled him around for years.

Other good stuff I didn’t buy: Old phone for $20 — how cool would that be by your Adirondack chair?

black hand-set phone rotary dial 1960s

Sherri said, “These old iron bedsteads would make nice trellises.” (Nice trellises, I’ve learned, are hard to appreciate after they’re swallowed by vines. So unless they’re SUPER cheap, I save my money.)

woman looks at old iron bed headboards, footboards painted white in antiques store

In Deb’s back yard is Annie’s Potting Shed , a place I’ve heard local gardeners rave about forever. And now I know why!

potting shed at annies potting shed lutz florida large brown purple shed with blue glazed containers

We found lots of plants, herbs, containers and garden art in an area designed for a relaxing visit. Patti Schaefer is the owner — Annie was her grandmother. A big draw here, Patti says, is Helen, the Scottish gardener who creates stunning containers. (I’ve been to Scotland. They’re big on great containers!)

They had lots of plants I’m familiar with and — better yet –surprises. Among them, Australian violet ($5.50 for an 8-inch-or so pot).

small white purple blossoms on low growing plants ground cover Australia

Never saw this before! Patti says it’s a sturdy ground-cover for part sun to full shade. It needs rich, well-draining soil

She also had some cool garden art made from what looks like welded railroad spikes by karynsart.com. How cool would this be for Halloween? And the spider plant in the spider? Cute!! (Sorry — I couldn’t find a price tag.)

spider plant container karyns art iron spikes giant

Patti says she has something special happening once a month — free workshops on container gardening, herbs, whatever you’re into. If you want to create a spectacular container, bring your stuff and play around on shade-covered picnic tables. Want a fairy garden? She’s got the cutest stuff — from $2 for tiny terra cotta pots to $25 for a big fairy house.

fairy garden supplies, gazing ballsl, tables

A couple miles up the road at 2020 Land O’Lakes Blvd. , we found EspiWear Thrift Store in a strip shopping center. This is interesting! Entrepreneur Joe Espi says he had a men’s clothing business that tanked with the economy. While he couldn’t get men into his shop once things went sour, he did have a great international on-line clientele for his low-price men’s designer clothes.

So he turned the brick-and-mortar shop into a thrift store. He buys stuff from estate sales, auctions and unclaimed storage units, and sells them for cheap.

“I’m not a non-profit , so that hurts in some ways,” he says. BUT, he can be choosy about what he puts in his shop. “I don’t have to take all the stuff people want to donate.”

I can vouch for cheap prices — I don’t like to spend a lot for stuff I know will eventually disintegrate in the sun and rain. And he says the stuff moves so fast, there’s always something new.

I was really tempted by this great old drop-leaf table for $25 — much more picturesque than my current cuttings table. Can’t you see this covered with terra cotta pots sitting in colorful metal trays?

old scratched dropleaf table plank top thrift store

I was ready to head home by this time, but Sherri was tapping the spurs. “Just a little bit farther,” she said. “Don’t worry — you won’t get lost. Let’s find something out in the country!”

As usual, I’m glad I listened.

Waaaaay up U.S. 41, we found Shabby Abbie’s, a sweet little shop — another former house — that opened April 2. Owner Helen Kinyon has several designers who repurpose old furniture and other goodies they find. Like Joe, she shops estate sales and other bargain opportunities, but unlike Joe, she aims to repurpose many of her finds.

We pulled in just as they were turning off the lights and getting ready to leave. But Helen and Melissa, one of the designers (she laughs when Helen reminds her that’s what she is!) graciously re-booted so we could explore. It’s a beautiful place with artsy displays. Who knew Mason jars could be so pretty?

mason jars old

I was thrilled to death (!!) to find a metal tray just like one I’d seen a few years ago at a plant fair — and lost because I dithered too long.  I was excited not only to see this again, but to see it for cheap. $8!

I’m going to love this hanging on my patio wall.

19-inch metal platter black red white man at barbecue grill other illustrations

Shabby Abbie’s also had beautiful furniture — including a mid-century china cabinet that Sherri, Kathy and I fell in love with. It was $595, but Helen told me next Saturday it’ll be $300-something. They’re having a big sale 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 29. Oy vey! If only I had a place to put it!

‘Sall right. I’ve already spent my “disposable” income. And I have a rule: If I can’t pick it up, I don’t buy it.




Early spring brings a small (small!) bevy of blooms

I almost don’t know what to do this spring! My garden didn’t get Terminatored by freezes, so I don’t have to cut the whole thing back. Instead, I have freeze-nipped plants like this Clerodendrum shooting star. What to do? It still showed signs of life!

Clerodendrum shooting star, after mild freeze, March, 6-foot bush, leaves are green on top, deep purple underneath. Blloms in spring

Pretty sad looking, right? But I’ve been growing this thing for at least 4 years, and cutting it back after freezes every winter. Since it blooms in spring, that means I’ve never seen the first flower. On the upside, every year when it comes back from the roots, it grows even taller and wider. The foliage is unusual and pretty — deep green on top, deep purple on the bottom. I can’t be give-up on this trooper.

I covered shooting star with a duvet for our first freeze. Then we warmed up and, even though it lost a lot of leaves, it had buds in February. I was thrilled! Another mild freeze and I had freeze-dried buds. But one … ONE … sprouted anew and I now have my first shooting star bloom.

shooting star clerodendrum bloom, near white small blossoms with five petals on long deep rose stamens. One bud forms clusters of several small blooms

Another first this year is lavender firespike. It’s supposed to be “easy” plant, at least that’s what Meems of Hoe and Shovel fame told me when she passed it along a few years ago. She lives in Lutz, just a few miles north and east of my home in the northwest Tampa area. You wouldn’t think a few miles difference would mean a lot, but in Tampa’s Zone 9abcdef, there are no givens!

Meems said she has to practically mow down her lavender firespikes, they proliferate so readily. I had to transplant mine three times before I found a spot where it would grow more than a foot tall. (Which just happened to be next to the hose and a Louis Philippe antique rose that gets regular doses of  high-fat fertilizer.)

Meems’ lavender firespikes start blooming in December. Mine had a teeny tiny bud in December. It has taken a long time, but I’ve finally achieved flower.

bright spike of small lavender-to-pink small petals, Small shrub with oval, pointed leaves about 4 inches across at the widest point.

The tweedia below I started from seeds mailed to me by Joan in Riverview a couple years ago. (She wanted Vietnamese hollyhock seeds. We traded. I’d never heard of tweedia!)

This member of the milkweed family has a strange growth habit. Some websites say it’s a vine; others call it a shrub. It has long thin limbs that sprawl out horizontally. Seedlings grow slowly, but once they get several inches tall, they take off. The sky-blue flowers bloom from spring to fall.

This beauty is the one and only plant that started from Joan’s seeds, so I’ve babied it in a container. I’ll be setting it free in the flowerbed, where I’ve spotted a couple of little volunteers. There’s a blue butterfly clerodendrum near the volunteers so I’m having visions of blue.

daisy like bloom with five petals, pale blue with deeper blue center. long stems, triangular leaves, milkweed family

The Vietnamese hollyhocks Joan coveted are also known as fig-leaf hollyhocks. These are not your Yankee Grandma’s variety; those don’t grow here. These beauties do really well, though, especially if you have good soil. (I don’t, so mine live in pots.) You can start them from seed but be patient, they take months (many) to become flowering plants Cut back the dead stalks and you can coax this plant into growing for two or three seasons.

deep pink vietnamese hollyhock blooms, also called fig leaf hollyhocks because of leaf shape. saucer petal on tall spike, up to 5 feet that grows from a base plant.

And finally, one of my favorite new annuals this year, the Phantom petunia. I got these in January and they’ve been beautiful ever since — despite our sometimes super warm days. I know they won’t last forever, but I enjoy looking at them, whether it’s from the kitchen window or while I’m puttering around the garden.

Normally, these have a yellow star pattern within the bloom. Some of the flowers get that yellow, some don’t. I don’t care — I love ’em.

phantom petunia, black, usually has yellow star pattern in the bloom

Last but certainly not least, I can’t say enough about the walking irises, which are blooming in sun-baked medians, along roadsides and in him gardens all over Tampa. These are stalwart plants with lots of different looks. I have the yellow freckled variety, the giant apostles Regina purples, and these “African iris” purple and white types, not to be confused with the non-walking African irises, which have a different flower.

All of mine were ripped out of gardens and handed over by friends in garbage bags, which usually is an iffy proposition for blooming success. They’ve proven incredibly tough. The last batch was blooming in a bucket of water that sat on the patio for a week!

I’m loving the pre-spring irises. Keep your daffodils and tulips, Yankees! We’ve got flowers, too!

iris with white outer petals, three purple petals in interior, yellow stripe across white petals. about 3 inches in diameter. walking iris. not to be confused with non-walking iris