U-pick your bouquets (for cheap) at this Michigan flower garden

blooming purple phlox, hand lettered small sign on stake, "Purple phlox 10 for $3.50"

I’ve done u-pick-em strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. But u-pick-em flowers? And on the honor system?

Omena Cut Flowers is the big surprise and happy highlight of my northern Michigan vacation this week. I stumbled on Carolyn Faught’s garden of phlox and sunflowers, foxglove and lilac bushes,while en route to one of the many wine-tasting rooms on Leelanau Peninsula, the “Napa Valley of Michigan.” We passed this sign and I warned the kids, “We’re stopping there on the way back!”

U-Pick Flowers sign and hand-lettered Bouquets to Go sign in front of perennial bed with pink, yellow flowers, green foliage

Good kids that they are, they were game.

My hub and son are visiting my daughter, a Florida native and now veteran of a “real” winter in Cadillac, Mich. The kids and I took a road trip yesterday to Leelanau, about 70 miles north of our Cadillac cabin.

I’ve been wanting to experience wine country since reading “Dial M for Merlot,” a great first novel by Tarpon Springs wine aficionado and funny guy Howard Kleinfeld. That book will give you the itch!

The road along the shore of Lake Michigan took us past vineyards, farms, and elaborate estates. And Carolyn’s lavish garden.

Garden with tall purple phlox predominant, yellow sunflower type flowers, hostas, arbor and more plants in background

A few miles later, we reached the tasting room that had been recommended — Leelanau Cellars. (Terrific, by the way. Tastings are free and they have a wide variety; we sampled 17 and left with half a case.)

from left, young woman, young man, middle-aged woman, casual dress, drinking from wine glasses, bottle of Leelanau Cellars Summer Sunset wine in foreground

So, we were in pretty good spirits when we headed back to Carolyn’s u-pick flower farm, but we would’ve been just as nuts about it without the vino! She has more than 40 varieties of perennials and annuals in 24-or-so beds. A charming potting shed welcomes visitors with everything they need for cutting, preserving and transporting.

white potting shed with window and flower box, doors open, table with empty milk jugs, on lawn in front of large, white wooden house with porch, flowers in foreground

Those are cut-down milk jugs on the table. Carolyn also has free jars and inexpensive vases — 50 cents to $3 — in the shed.

row of glass, thrift store vases, yellow price stickers on wooden shelf


shed door with chalkboard signs, Always Open, Change Box + Scissors in Shed, Bouquets to Go in Fridge, Flowers Marked by Row, Honor System. Large pot of yellow, red, purple annuals on step

As the sign says, it’s all on the honor system. No one was around to monitor when we visited. Carolyn says she hasn’t had a problem with people not paying; in fact, they often leave extra.

“People who pick flowers have the greatest karma,” she says. (I agree!)

Gray lock box with hand-lettered "please pay here" sign, two hand-written notes above "Honor system" and "Feel free to use the house" mounted on unstained wooden wall

Carolyn, now 58, says this is the 16th summer of her u-pick. She started it after picking up a bouquet of sunflowers at a farmer’s market for a co-worker going through a divorce.

“When I got back to the office, everyone said, ‘Where did you get those? I want some!’ But the market was sold out,” she says. “It gave me the idea that I could fill my entire front yard with flowers for people to pick any time they want.”

She’d hoped it would allow her to be a stay-at-home-mom, but that didn’t pan out. She still works four days a week as the communications director for Leelanau County’s land conservancy. In the garden, her husband, Dave, helps with the heavy lifting; 15-year-old son Will makes all the to-go bouquets, and Sam, now 24, used to make deliveries.

Carolyn says she has no complaints.

“It’s a lot of work, but I love gardening, and people love it so much. They leave me incredible messages in my guestbook: ‘You made my blood pressure go down’ and ‘This has made our day!’ Families come  back here year after year, taking pictures of their kids in the same spot. It’s just pure joy.”young caucasian woman, dreadlocks, brown and blonde hair, holding bouquet of pink, yellow and red cut flowers and basket

My baby girl picked this bouquet, which cost her $2.85 and gave us all priceless joy. It’s a sunshiny centerpiece on our otherwise very plain cabin kitchen.

Omena Cut Flowers is open dawn to dusk from April through November.


Florida gardeners can find inspiration in … Montana!

What do Florida gardeners have in common with gardeners in the upper reaches of Montana?

More than you’d expect!

rusted bedspring being used as a trellis for a vine. close-up view of X's and O's in the springs

At Angie’s Greenhouse in the northwestern corner of Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, I found beautifully repurposed junk. Owner Angie Olsen is a wizard. I love the X’s and O’s of  this old box-spring (above) turned trellis.

green, red and orange heirloom tomatoes in a basket

She also likes heirloom fruits and vegetables. This basket of tomatoes sat among the plants Angie had on sale (great marketing!)

I often think we here in Florida have it tougher than other parts of the country. But when I saw this product, I realized we ALL have it rough.

white box with red and green letting, Plantskydd Repellent for deer, rabbit and elk

In Montana, gardeners do not rely on boxed deterrents alone!

vegetable garden surrounded by fence made of red posts and screen with deer antlers on top

Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for native wildflowers. They’re beautiful and many have a great back story. Fireweed was all over the place when I visited in early August. It’s edible, medicinal (need a laxative?) and pretty.

purple flowers fireweed, clusters of lavender blooms on a tall sake

At East Glacier Park. we visited the Glacier Park Lodge and found this wonderful cottage. A sign in front says “private residence.” It’s the home of Ian Tippet, who has worked at Glacier Park since the 1950s. (He talks about what he does to prep for summer on his Facebook page.)

dark brown cottage with bright red trim in northern Montana near Glacier National Park. flowers tin roof. summer perennials

Need a reason to visit Glacier National Park? This is Lake McDonald after a super rainy day.

mo lake mcdonald I love the yard art! Drive through the neighborhoods wherever you travel, and you’ll be entertained. We found this guy while cruising the neighborhoods surrounding Whitefish, Mont.

metal moose sculpture, life-sized, blue green and gray, moose sculture in whitefish, Momntana

Finally, you don’t need a fishing license to toss a hook into the many streams in Glacier National Park. My husband and I enjoyed a thoroughly heady afternoon (ah, the view!!) on a trout stream along Going to the Sun Road, Eventually, we were joined by a black bear (surprise!) and a wonderful family — the Grindlings.

Elliot, 8, and Simon, 6, were high-energy, non-stop explorers until two other young bucks became as curious as they were. All four stood stock-still for several minutes, checking out the wildlife.

mo boys bucks

(I’ve entered this photo in the national park servce’s viewer-votes driven contest — http://www.sharetheexperience.org/entry/12728181. If you want to vote, I won’t complain!)


Yard art inspiration from Tampa Bay gardeners

koi pond with orange and white koi in foreground. waterfall splashing from front grill of a silver 1995 Buick CenturyHalf the fun of gardening is finding, or creating, yard art to complement all those plants, like this koi pond waterfall created from the front end of a 1995 Buick Century.

It was the vision of Maryhelen Zopfi of Lutz, and the workshop project of her handy husband, Simon. Earlier this month, Maryhelen imagined her swimming pool-turned-koi pond with a cool old car front replacing the wooden bridge and fountain that had been in the spot.

“I looked on the internet and found six car fronts at the junkyard. I knew this was the one I wanted because it had the Buick hood ornament,” she says.

old wooden door painted with with pumpkins painted to look like mural. top half o of door is window. yard art placed in gradeJanice “Pumpkin” Vogt of Seminole Heights found this old door in an alley in her neighborhood. She asked her friend and neighbor, artist Bean Spence, to paint it for her. She paid him in oatmeal cookies.

Yard art requires no water or fertilizer. Occasionally, pests find it, but when they chew it up,  we just toss it! There’s no pain in that; only comfort in knowing we’ve gotten the most use possible out of something that would’ve ended up in a landfill.

This is another from Janice, a birdhouse crafted by her husband. He made the roof from an old AC duct from their home.

white birdhouse with metal roof made from discarded AC duct, surrounded by fat pink bloomsAfter spending time with a 20-something friend and newlywed just starting her own garden,  I asked some Tampa Bay gardeners to share their favorite masterpieces to inspire her — and give me a column for the Tamapa Bay Times.

Of course, print is limited, so I couldn’t run all the wonderful photos, stories and tips gardeners shared. So here are a few more. I hope they’ll inspire you as they do me!

From Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, yard art created from actual plants! (Who’d a thunk?) Busch Gardens director of horticulture Joe Parr shared a parterre (I had to look that up — it’s a  low-growing, highly manicured planting design.)

This is just one that he and his staff created.

yellow and green swirls of marigolds and other plants parterre at busch gardens

bl Zagora Cafe Parterre detail“For our garden art at Busch Gardens, whether topiaries or parterres, we look for very compact and smaller plant varieties, especially annuals, that can be continuously sheared tightly and manicured on a regular basis,” Joe says.

“We pick annuals that exhibit excellent foliage and/or foliage color. Also it is very important that these plants contrast strongly to bring out patterns and details in the garden art that we are trying to create.”

Susan Gillespie of Riverview went another route with her blue bottle tree.

blue bottles turned upside down on a "tree" with numerous limbs“This started out as a project on branches of a lemon tree that didn’t make it. Then I saw a metal one made by a guy hawking his wares in Webster” flea market in Webster, Fla., Susan writes.

“Then the search was on, for a couple of years actually, for blue bottles. Some of my customers happily supplied me with their contributions to the cause, one party at a time. :) But the rest were from antique outings all over the place and part of the fun of putting it together.”

Bill Carr of Plant City notes that one person’s favorite art may not be another person’s (spouse!).

bl bill flamingo“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” writes Bill. “Here, in what I call my Heron Garden, is a plastic flamingo, which my wife hates and I think adds some whimsy. My wife visualizes it as fitting right in with the gardens around where we grew up that used old whitewashed tires and sinks for containers.”

And finally, one more from Maryhelen Zopfi’s garden: She put this fun face on a truncated tree limb that would have otherwise just looked very, very sad.

yard art on tree. Mask of man with big sunglasses, long mustache embed at athe end of a tree stump



Nursing homes need plants, too. Select with care!

My mom, who’s 80, announced her newest project (my new assignment) a couple weeks ago.

“The patio at Nan’s nursing home is just … bleak,” she said. “There’s nothing. A concrete slab and a white fence. It needs color. I want to put some plants there, starting with a big pot with a little tree that has flowers.”

elderly man in wheelchair at Dunedin, Fla., nursing home, sitting at patio table with white umbrella surrounded by tall white privacy fence on concrete slab.

My mom, a registered nurse with an active license (and, ahem, a 2005 inductee in the Florida Nursing Hall of Fame)  really likes Cross Terrace Rehabilitation Center in Dunedin. The staff are loving and kind, and the care is good. But that patio really bothered her.

Mom’s little sister, my Aunt Nanette, moved to Cross Terrace a few months ago, despite her son’s best efforts to keep her at home. She has some chronic health problems, but the one that finally crashed his resolve was dementia. Her son, my cousin Tony, is quadriplegic, so he couldn’t really jump up and chase after her when she wandered out into the streets at night.

Aunt Nanette may have some dementia, but she’s still Nannie — very funny with a big, generous heart, and so sassy, always ready to break some rules.

Here she is in February, on a visit to Tony’s, with my niece, Melli.

NH nanny

Mom — a plant-loving non-gardener — enlisted my help to transform the patio, which is very open and sunny. I thought crape myrtle might be good for her small tree.

Last weekend we visited Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes to shop. It was darned cold, so a slow day, which meant we got owner Pat Duncheon’s  undivided attention for a good long time! (I love Duncheon’s because, even if you don’t get Pat, you get really knowledgeable, friendly & helpful staff. I’ve learned a lot at that nursery!)

Turns out Pat’s Mom has been living in an Alzheimer’s unit in the Midwest for about 10 years. Pat has tried to introduce plants there but, since some residents may try to eat them, you have to make sure they’re not poisonous.

Crape myrtle, he said, can be trickier in a container than you might expect. The dwarf varieties are particularly  vulnerable to pests. He recommended instead a grafted gardenia, which produces fragrant white blooms multiple times throughout the year. (Non-grafted bloom just once.)

grafted gardenia, no blooms, and arm planting a siign that says "Water Me Mon. Wed. Fri." in terra cotta colored container

We got this one, covered with buds, for $19.99. He also suggested adding a colorful annual to the bottom. Mom chose violet Calibrachoa, which should soon mound up and spill over the container sides a bit.

He told us it needs water every couple days for the first few weeks and should do fine with once-a-week watering after that.

Someone had tried to color up the patio with plants in the past. There were a few containers with dead and dying color. We found a stubborn Mexican petunia putting out new sprouts amidst lots of dead stuff in a broken pot. We put it in a new pot with fresh soil and WATER!

broken terra cotta pot, pot in back with Mexican petunia looking unhealthy and bag of Miracle-Gro potting soil

And, since I  just happened to have a couple little bare-root crape myrtles a friend had given me from their Arbor Day Foundation goodie bag, we figured we’d go ahead and give Mom’s original idea a try.

terra cotta planters clustered against a white fence on a nursing home patio. gardenia without blooms, small crape myrtle, unidentified small tree, small Mexican petunia

That’s the little crape myrtle in the big yellow pot. There was also a healthy looking small tree in a corner, so I added it to the group to make more of a focal point.

My plan is to add a bunch of larval and nectar butterfly plants and see if we can’t get a drama going on this patio! I asked Robert Bornstein, a horticultural therapist who works at nursing homes in Fort Lauderdale, for non-poisonous suggestions.

Here’s what he said:

“I don’t recommend poisonous plants due to the liability issues, but if you must use them — like scarlet milkweed, the only larval food for monarchs — you have to be sure  to place them in locations where casual visitors can’t easily reach them.”

Milkweed is easy to grow from seed, and inexpensive to buy.

“Keep the pot close enough for the residents to see the butterflies but far enough away so that they will not eat the plant. Or put them in an area where residents will visit only with supervision,” he says.

Same for lantana.

“I love the firebush. I also use native wild coffee but be cautious,” he adds. Wild coffee is another that should be in a supervised area.

He recommends this guide by the late plant guru Julia Morton.

What’s a kumquat — and WHY does it have a festival?

When I told a friend earlier this week that I went to the Kumquat Festival over the weekend, her reaction surprised me.

“KOOMquat? My baby was a koomquat! It freaked me out!”

Four years ago, she had signed up at BabyCenter, where pregnant moms can get alerts as their fetuses reach milestones. At 10 weeks,  it notified her that Mason-to-be  was “almost the size of a kumquat.”

Rachel was offended. She didn’t know what a kumquat (pronounced “kum-quat”) was, but it didn’t sound good.

I understand. I knew kumquats and I wasn’t a fan. The little citrus fruits, eaten skin and all, were too tarty-grapefruit for my tastes.

And then I tried a chocolate-dipped kumquat at Betty Cakes.


small orange oval citrus fruit half covered with chocolate

Betty Cakes co-owner David West was enthusiastically hawking the two-for-$1 treats outside his shop during the Jan. 26 Kumquat Festival. I witnessed  lots of newbie reactions while waiting for my friend, Sherri, to return from Betty Cakes’ very popular bathroom line.

This one was typical.

blonde 8-year-old with a chocolate covered kumquat in one hand and a lollipop in the other. Bowl of chocolate covered kumquats in foreground. At the 2013 Kumquat Festival in Dade City, Florida

Dade City, population about 6,000, is a quaint, old-Florida city. Come Kumquat Festival, businesses go kumquat crazy. Every window display is an ode to sweet-bitter tang.

storefront in dade city florida during the kumquat festival. orange kumquats in crystal glasses.

More than 400 vendors line the streets selling everything from handcrafted jewelry to puppets. I focused on kumquats. How many ways can this sassy citrus sweeten my life? I was surprised.

Lotions! Yup. Lather up. Quirky Kumquat lotion is “home-crafted” by  Sharon Guild, timeinabottle@tampabay.rr.com.

bottle of kumquat body lotion, white

Cindy at Heavenly Scent Soap had beautiful, translucent handmade soaps made with kumquats and other natural ingredients, like olive oil.

bars of handmade soaps, yellow, orange, red, made with kumquats and olive oil and mica, and honey. Lined up in a display tray

She was also pretty darned proud of her kumquats, which she gets from a Florida grower farther south. Hers put the little freebies provided by one of the event’s sponsors to shame!

(Actually, the sponsor probably provided Nagami kumquats, which are smaller and a little more tart. Hers are more likely Meiwa, which are bigger and a bit sweeter. Both grow well in Florida.)

bl kum size

You haven’t lived till you’ve sampled a tiny spoonful of Queen Kathleen kumquat fusion honey, made with orange blossom honey and kumquat puree. So good! (I learned at this stand that the locals aren’t really big on growing kumquats. Nearby St. Joseph is the “Kumquat Capital of the World” thanks to commercial growers.)

Here’s Queen Kathleen. You can buy her honeys at a self-service stand in Dade City. Check the link above. They start at $5 for 6 ounces, and they’re GOOD!

Queen Kathleen of Dade City, blonde woman in t-shirt standing behind containers of her home-brewed honeys

After all the sampling, we got thirsty. Thank goodness Queen Kathleen also offers Gourmet Kumquat Soda. It has a mild grapefruit undertone that I actually found refreshing.

For dessert, a slice of the very popular kumquat cake, back at Betty Cakes. (I’m starting to figure it out — just add sugar and kumquats can be my new favorite fruit!)

slice of kumquat cake in plastic container. White frosting with swirls and yellow cake. from betty cakes in dade city florida

Of course, once you fall in love with the fruits, you’ll want to grow the little trees. They’re cold hardy in Florida and are easy to grow in the ground or in containers, according to the agriculture specialists at the University of Florida.  They get up to 10 feet tall and produce fruits after two years, from November to April. They’re heavy feeders, so be ready to fertilize!

Billie and Paul of Brandon left the fest ready for kumquat heaven — they paid $30 for this nice-sized tree.

elderly woman in wheelchair holding a bushy, 3-foot kumquat treat loaded with little orange, plum-sized  fruits. elderly man pushing wheelchair.

For the record, Rachel’s little kumquat, now 4 years old, got some sugar along the way. Perhaps his mom’s love of jelly doughnuts? (Not judging, Rachel!) He’s super sweet!


After the desert, no more complaining about my sunny, sandy Florida garden (maybe)

banana yucca, sand, red brown cliffs, red rock canyon, las vegas nevada, desert

I’m tempted to vow that I’ll never again complain about the harsh conditions in my Tampa, Fla., garden. (Not!)

But if they can grow this … heck, you can grow that!

I took my first trek into a desert this week and I was amazed by what grows in sand. This is Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, about 20 miles west of Las Vegas. (If you head to the Strip, know that even my husband loved this respite from the black jack tables). I saw lots more vegetation than I expected — and stumped two rangers at the Visitors Center, who whipped out reference books as we tried to ID the  plants I’d shot.

We do know the spiky stuff in the foreground, above, is banana yucca (Yucca baccata). The Indians who lived here ate the seeds, flowers and fruits. They made soap from the roots and used the leaves’ fibers to weave baskets and make twine. They were rich — this stuff is ALL over the place.

red rock canyon, prickly pear cactus, round green sections, cholla cactus, branches about 1 inch diameter, green, banana yucca, spiky green leaves, sandstone

180 million years ago, Red Rock Canyon was sand dunes. Now those dunes are rocks — and yet, stuff grows! In the foreground, prickly pear cactus (that grows here in Florida, too, and it’s good to eat); behind it to the right, a variety of cholla cactus (I love those branches!), and to the left, banana yucca (I think).

The rangers said Red Rock Canyon is looking particularly colorful right now because they’ve had an unusual amount of rain since August. These neon blooms, rabbit brush, were a hit with the butterflies.

bright yellow hassle blooms, mojave desert, red rock canyon, green lance-shaped leaves, butterfly attractor

On the 13-mile driving loop through the canyon, there are many places to park and hop out to look or hike. I took a hike on the Children’s Discovery Trail while my hub relaxed with the rental car. What could be hard about a children’s 1-mile trail?? Long story short, if you take a hike, carry water and a cell phone — even if you think a “children’s” trail is a no-brainer. I got lost, thought I saw a guy tying his shoe (thank God!!) but it was a mirage (!!), thought about all the Death Valley westerns I’ve watched, freaked, and high-tailed it back the way I’d come.

BUT, since I wasn’t carrying much, I had little to lose. Unlike my fellow hikers.

At the head of almost every trail we ran across was a lost item very kindly retrieved and “posted” by a fellow hiker at the trail head. (How sweet, right?)

car key stuck in post at head of calico hills trail red rock canyon

sneaker tennis shoe on rock at head of trail at red rock canyon mountains in distance

blue hair bow on sandstone rock at head of trail red rock canyon nevada

One more surprise: evergreens! I was stunned to find this pine tree — sorry, can’t tell you the cultivar.

evergreen, pine cones, red rock canyon, mojave desert

Supposedly, we should also have seen wild burros and horses, tortoises and roadrunners, among other desert wildlife. We saw some lizards that look a lot like our Cuban invasives here in Tampa, butterflies, and two chipmunks with wide silver stripes down their backs. Also, a strange man, all dressed up in a yellow pullover sweater and slacks, who seemed to be hiding in a rock crevice. For wildlife, he was our most exciting sighting.

This is a “You Can Grow That!” post — an effort by garden bloggers all over the country (maybe the world?) to make it easy for anyone to get growing. Find more You Can Grow That! posts at Folks – the official You Can Grow That Site .











My new workplace — where office plants go to die

I wish I’d thought to take a picture when my husband and I got our first look at my new office in Wesley Chapel.

Back in October, I got a job as Creative Director/Writer at a EMSI public relations, then located in a charming old two-story house in Clearwater. Over a weekend earlier this month, movers relocated us to brand-spanking-new digs and we all headed up there on a Sunday to put our offices in order.

I hadn’t gotten a chance to fully explore the old office — I don’t walk into bedrooms uninvited and if I must, I politely avert my eyes — but I did see enough to know there were some sad plants at EMSI. I saw crusty old potting soil;  long, leafless, vines; brown leaves. When Ben and I walked into my office that Sunday, they’d all congregated there.

How did the movers know?

Like I said, I didn’t take a picture (darn it!) before administering emergency resuscitation. CPR first, photos later; it’s how we life savers roll. So here’s just a few of the plants after they’d been watered, clipped, repotted, and set outside in indirect sunlight for a few hours. (And after it occurred to me — I should take pictures!)

office plants, dracaena tall woody stems narrow variegated leaves, philodendron peace lily? dark green glossy leaves wilts without water

That’s a dracaena, (I don’t know the variety) to the left — clipped a bit, but still in its original pot; a philodendron sporting a nice new haircut (and pot) on the desk, and I think the one on the right is a peace lily, also repotted.  All of these, by the way, are great plants for your indoor office. They don’t need much light, and as these neglected souls prove, they’ll struggle to please under the worst conditions. Looking for some other ideas? Here’s a great list. 

I brought old containers and potting soil from home, washed off dusty leaves with wet paper towels, fertilized, and cut back leggy, overgrown plants. My office started filling with such pretty plants, co-workers who’d mocked my plant purgatory grew envious. They all wanted one! One guy was so amazed by a plant’s transformation, he called over EMSI’s owner to take a look. Turns out she loves plants — that’s why there were so many — but she had no one who’d care for them. She told me to buy whatever I needed and give her the receipt. (Yay Marsha! You’ve got a plant caretaker now.)

corn plant, long dark green leaves, indoor office plant, philodendron, heart-shaped leaves,

So I bought potting soil and pots, and enjoyed the heck out of taking little breaks outside, repotting, clipping, washing, fertilizing. The big old corn plant above (another dracaena variety) was in Marsha’s office. It’s extremely photogenic considering it was not at all a happy corn plant. See the basket it’s in? A lot of the plants were in pots set in baskets lined with plastic. On the rare occasion they got water, they sat in it forever. Yuck! Better to put your office plant pots in saucers (and dump the saucer if they fill with too much water.)

Here’s Marsha’s corn plant cleaned up and repotted.

corn pant dracaena indoor office plant long dark green glossy leaves

One of the worst-looking plants was the little dracaena you saw in the first picture. Even after I’d clipped, cleaned and watered, one of my co-workers insisted it was dead.

Repotting was a sad affair. At left, the overgrown bottom of the pot. At right, the roots in search of sustenance.

rootbound dracaena, roots grow out of the pot, dead leaves, long, narrow leaves, tropicalrootbound, roots growing out of pot, dracaena














This little guy cleaned up just fine. The guy who insisted it was dead is now all about rehabbing the sad schefflera that’s been pruned to a standard. (I’m thinking that’s just wrong. Am I wrong?)

dracaena, variegated, dark greet with light green stripes, tall stems, tropical, Florida

I am more than happy to have plant care added to my new job description. It gets me out of the office and into that — mmmmmm — good-smelling dirt during the day. I love the results, and so do my co-workers. (They may not be able to take care of plants, but they sure do appreciate them.)

I’ve started some watermelon peperomia leaf cuttings for the office (that’ll get them talking!) and I’m on the lookout for more outside-the-cubicle plants that can green up our new space. Suggestions welcome!


Winter monarch babies — yes, believe your eyes

monarch butterflies on purple porterweed in Katy Carlsen's Tampa gardenthree black and yellow striped monarch butterfly caterpillars on milkweed in Brandon, Florida

I’m hearing surprise from some dedicated Tampa butterfly gardeners that they’re    seeing monarch caterpillars pupating so late in the year.  (Above, monarchs Kathy Carlsen shot recently on porterweed in her Westchase garden.)

The three little guys at left were on Kelly Schubert’s milkweed in her Brandon  garden  late last month. She found them wandering aimlessly the day before I    took this picture, and kindly guided them to their favorite food.

My butterfly friends are thrilled to see new chrysalises forming but worry they’re       so late in the year, the cats won’t develop into butterflies. And they all think it’s very  odd.

Below, a brand-new monarch chrysalis — shot today by Kathy.

new monarch butterfly chyrsalis on dec. 11 in tampa florida








Laura Barber of South Tampa, like Kathy, creates “safe nests” for some of her little cats

to protect them from wasps, lizards

and other predators. (I wrote about her butterfly adventures in the St. Pete Times a few weeks ago.)

She sent me a great email yesterday, complete with photos, about a really wonderful monarch experience (OK — wonderful, but a little sad, too) last week.

She wrote:

“I had had a stressful day on Wednesday, and when I came home I was delighted to find (this newly emerged monarch)  healthy and resting. It was a true blessing.

“This was the final monarch (of 13) who emerged Wednesday. Many of the ones before him were ill and had to be euthanized (very common for them to be infected with Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a parasite affecting only monarch and queen butterflies). OE is aggressive and will spread to other monarchs if the ill butterflies (who have little chance of survival) are in the yard spreading the disease on the plant leaves and stems.

“The other 12 butterflies had emerged long ago, and I was worried this chrysalis was never going to mature.”

It was cold and rainy the day this guy emerged, and new butterflies need warmth, so Laura coaxed him onto her sweater to take him inside.

newly hatched monarch butterfly dries wings dec. 7 tampa florida

“He crawled up my sweater to the top of my head and wouldn’t leave,” Laura wrote. “I came inside and worked for about three hours with him on top of my head (it tickled!). I could not get a good photo of him on top of my head (difficult to take a photo of your own head, I learned).”
I think she got a great shot!
newly hatched monarch butterfly drying out on a person's head. december 2011 tampa florida  “He was very attached to me and didn’t want to leave my  finger yesterday when I tried to release him,” she wrote.
   She posted the picture below on Facebook with  the  caption,  “Laura Miller Barber with some  outside help for her writer’s block.”monarch butterfly hatched dec. 7 dries out on laura barber's finger as she types. tampa, florida












The next morning, when it was sunny and a good time to release her new friend, Laura found him (and yes, it’s a him) he appeared to have died overnight!

“He was so still and motionless and no longer clinging upside down to the screen mesh, but laying on his side on the bottom of the nest,” she wrote.

She did the only thing she could think of — she took him outside to the sun. And her butterfly came back to life.

As for whether it’s strangely late to see monarchs pupating in Central Florida? I found a University of Florida article that indicates it’s perfectly normal.

And Edith Smith of Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm in Brooker, Fla., (near Gainesville) says the monarchs will keep laying and feeding as long as the milkweed is green.

“They don’t always live to adulthood,” she notes, and they’ll take longer to emerge from their chrysalises when it’s cooler.

“In mid-summer, it takes about seven days. In late fall, in north Florida, it can take up to three weeks.

“They don’t do well when temperatures are below 60 degrees. BUT they can survive cold nights and a couple of cool days.  They survive temperatures in the upper 30s without trouble as long as it warms up and they can eat again.”

Plenty of monarchs make their homes here year-round (just like people!) and they breed year-round (just like people!)

So keep the milkweed growing and keep watching for monarch cats.

In search of an English cottage garden — a few more nots

Of course I have more vacay pix — who goes to England and doesn’t come home with a memory card full of flowers?

Here’s just a few more from those wacky Brit gardeners.

The stoop garden

I strolled some alleys in Marlborough, a beautiful market village of centuries-old stone buildings. (We stayed in an inn built 1452.) I saw mostly narrow, not-so-well-tended backyard garden spaces behind rows of attached homes. But one alley was all front doors of row houses, and that’s where I found this.

Violets growing between stone front steps at a home in Marlborough, England

A zero-effort garden, I suspect. If my patio weeds were this pretty, I'd keep 'em.

 The yarny garden

Not so very nutritious — and probably more work than the real thing — but you gotta love this little veggie garden harvest in a storefront in Tintagel.

Tiny, knitted vegetables, part of a display in a Tintagel, England storefront, advertising knitting classes.

Knitting classes -- upstairs!

The ancient-as-heck garden

We trekked through the woods to the ruins of a centuries-old chapel that was totally unprotected and unmolested, with no sign people even knew it was there. Amazing! But what thrilled me most was seeing foxglove growing from the crevices of those old stone walls.


You can see the foxglove plants sprouting from the crevices of the wall -- most weren't blooming.

lavender, bell-shaped blooms with white speckled interior foxglove southern england

A close-up of the blooms you see in the upper, righthand corner of the photo at left.

In search of a genuine English cottage garden

My mom, sisters, brother and bros-in-law visited southwestern England earlier this month in search of King Arthur. Actually, only Mom, who turned 79 on Sept. 5, was actively seeking the studly lord of Camelot. What I really wanted was an authentic cottage  garden. I found lots of thatched-roof cottages (adorable!), surprising gardens and gardens in surprising places in the land of Jane Eyre, Daphne du Maurier and Marion Zimmer Bradley. But a true cottage garden crammed with roses and hollyhocks, veggies and moss-covered paver paths? Not a one! Still, I wasn’t disappointed. (OK, a little bit. I guess it’s like coming to Florida and not seeing a dolphin.) Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites. 

The storefront garden

pink, red hollyhocks, purple allium cottage garden in Avebury England

Pink and red hollyhocks, purple allium (want 'em!) and roses were the only plants I recognized in this lovely cottage-style garden in front of The Henge Shop in Avebury.

The original vertical garden?

Vertical gardens, also called living walls, are all the rage. Of course, I want! I have the containers for creating a hanging succulents arrangement (thank you, Becky Perry), but that’s going to be a project. It would be so much easier if the plants just rooted themselves in my ancient (circa 1979) concrete block walls.

white flowers growing out of stone walls small petals dangling cape cornwall england

Unidentified plants cascade from crevices in a stone wall at Cape Cornwall on the southwestern edge of England

The floating garden

The Kennet & Avon Canal is an 87-mile long waterway of rivers linked by canals winding through southern England. Built in 1810 and once plied by work boats, today, it’s home to 7-foot-wide houseboats, called narrow boats. A colorful sight! And how better to brighten things up even more than a boat-top garden.

A houseboat on the Kennet & Avon Canal in Pewsey sports the popular way for boaters to get their flower fix.

 The beer garden

If I lived in England, I could get used to the lunchtime half-pint. And, apparently, I’m not alone.

Beer kegs in Pewsey, England

The bicycle basket garden

Spotted this parked in front of a bed-and-breakfast in one of the villages where we stopped by for lunch.


Bike with a Garden in it's basket

The basket frame would require some effort, but who needs it? A wire windowsill basket would easily do the trick hung from the handlebars.