April 2005 - Gardener's Journal
I'm not kidding, this has been the strangest, but nicest Spring I've experienced here since moving to Florida twenty years ago! The weather has been awesomely pleasant, staying on the cool side.
There was beautiful, if unseasonable cool, weather, I managed to pay all of the bills and I made a good start on programming Floridata2.0.
February's Journal. But it's not like I wasn't busy - I just kept plodding along working but again rewarded myself with time to work in the garden. If it took 2 hours to format a hard drive or an hour to do a virus scan - no problem - I went outside to dig, rake, plant, transplant, etc. while waiting for the task to complete. It seemed like a very therapeutic way to deal with all of the stupidness and reality that beset me.
There was in fact so much reality and stupidness that I got to enjoy a nice chunk of time outside and the yard is looking great from all of the attention.
Another nice thing that balanced out the hassles was the excitement of watching Floridata's traffic grow. On March 28, for the first time, we served 1 million web pages in a single month! By the end of the month we had topped 1.1 million pages and it was are real treat to reach this long awaited goal
Another happy even in March was when, with the help of friends and family, I finally got a new computer. At this very moment I'm joyfully typing this Journal on a nice new springy keyboard and making pictures on a crisp and color accurate monitor. As soon as I post this Journal I'll be able to get my programming stuff running and will get back to work on Floridata's new Discussions Boards and maybe some other new things too.
The weather wasn't too bad for the last couple of months either. North Florida enjoyed mild temperatures throughout most of February with the exception of a couple of cold snaps. A typical freeze for us here in Florida's panhandle (Zone 8) has temperatures falling into the high twenties (°F) for a few hours over night and it's no big deal. One night though, it got colder than predicted and burned the leaves of the Puerto Rico hat palm (Sabal causiarum) indicating that temps fell to around 20°F. Nearby the upper half of my bunya-bunya (Araucaria bidwillii) tree looks like it is dunya-dunya. Both are brown and raggedy but I expect them to bounce back and be looking pretty by mid-summer.
February's mid-month cold snaps were each preceded by rainstorms. Since then, there has been a storm or two every week. By the end of March the Big Cypress Pond out front was filled to the brim which has put an end to my "mining"the thick layer of mulch that covers the bottom. I didn't have a chance to rake enough before it filled but luckily my neighbor JM said I could rake pine needles from a stand of trees nearby on his property. I may get everything mulched despite high water in the Cypress Pond if I can accomplish it before the heat and mosquitoes move in.
My little beagle dog Sam died in early April. He was a rescue beagle so I never knew his exact age but he lived with me for more than fourteen years. Sam came to me from a guy I worked with who kept a pack of hunting dogs. Sam was a well bred beagle and an excellent scent dog and tracker but unfortunately (actually fortunately) the sound of gunfire scare him silly. He'd freak out and run away and hid under things whenever a gun went off. I guess this made the other dogs in the pack think he was a wuss so he was at the bottom of the pecking order and and was bullied all of the time.
I didn't really need another dog as there were already four Great Danes in the house but I felt sorry for the underdog beagle when my co-worker described him. I'm also sentimental about beagles because I had rescued another one named Mock from a neighbor who also had a pack of hunting dogs and one was a wuss who dug deep tunnels in the kennel and then hid in them when it was time to hunt. Mock was the sweetest dog but had an accident and died within a year so when I heard of another wuss hunting dog beagle I didn't hesitate to adopt him.
Sam didn't get off to a great start when he first came to live with me. I lifted him out of the car, set him down and a huge Great Dane puppy came bounding toward him. He bolted down the driveway, I bolted after him and a quarter mile down the road caught up with him as he had no idea where or what to do next. I picked him up carried him into the house and treated him to a piece of hot dog.
I then introduced him to the Great Danes and let everyone sniff everyone else while I held him. When I was a kid in the fifties there was a TV show called The Millionaire where and anonymous benefactor gave people money that changed there lives. Since Sam had a crappy puppyhood I thought that I'd spoil him and give him a wonderful dog life - it's just cool to be able to do that for a creature - like good karma...
Sam was a free range beagle, we let him run around and chase rabbits and whatever. His greatest fun was making the rounds of the neighbors mooching treats (and maybe sometimes swiping treats - he showed up with half a roast chick one time). Form more than a decade Sam ruled the place and best of all kept it mostly free of deer for he'd step out at night and chase them off. Sometime he would stay out all night hunting and I could listen to him running howling as he chased down deer or rabbits or coons or whatever was chaseable that evening.
Sam was crate trained and slept inside beside the Danes in his crate. The one thing he wasn't allowed to do was wander around inside the house. The reason is that he had an ingrained habit of peeing on any and every post, pole or stick to mark his territory. I didn't want him to have any territory inside and he'd get so hurt and confused when i tried to train him not to pee inside that I decide to give up. Sam was an outdoor dog anyway.
About four years ago he began to slow down with arthritis and he pretty much retired from hunting then (although he'd still chase armadillos from beneath the house). I wrote in my Journal several times about Sam getting beat up by armadillos and Sam feeling bad but he managed to hang on for a couple extra years. I moved his crate into the living room where he could snooze, watch TV and hang out without being tempted to whiz on anything. I also upped his daily quota of wiener treats which is what he lived for and made him special dog kibble with meat byproducts in a warm cream sauce of evaporated milk.
It's true I guess that I bought Sam's affection with wieners but I'm sure he really like me even without the treats. Until it broke (with us on it) Sam and I liked to sit on the chaise lounge with him sitting between my knees. When I would read he would face away and survey the environment protecting us from predators.
For more than ten years this happy beagle always met the car at the entrance to the driveway and raced it to the house so he could give a happy welcome home the moment I arrived. [Update 2016: I still miss him.]
At this time of the year planting takes precedence over all over gardening activities. Here in Florida its important to get most seeds and transplants in before the onslaught of hot weather. When Sam died though I took a break Of course I was bummed and didn't feel like doing anything anyway. I wrapped Sam up in a towel and carried him down to the Dog Cemetery. I decided to bury Sam just in front of where Mock which is under a 25 ft tall 'Savannah' holly. About twelve years ago I planted these hollies atop a couple of favorite Great Danes. It looks pretty and it will look even better when I plant some of the white azaleas on top of Sam and beneath the hollies.
After I buried Sam it seemed like a good time to clean up this bed which was filled with a bunch of weeds and pasture grass. There's some Texas sabal palms (Sabal mexicana) seedlings there too - I hope they'll benefit from the weed clearing and will put some size on this year. In May I plan to mulch everything so Sam should have a cool looking resting place.
Out in the front I planted the last of the that I grew from seed a couple of years ago. I planted five of them way out front by the road. I hope that within my lifetime (if I live to 100) will grow into a grove of big burly palms to serve as a backdrop for a Chinafir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) and plantings of chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and red crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) that I have planted in front of them.
In mid-March we had another rainy period that I took advantage of to plant some seeds up in the Fence Garden. It is a little late in the season but I planted some Sugar Snap peas (Pisum sativum) because they're my favorite vegetable. I hope to have a whole fenceful of them alongside a miniature cucumber called 'Sugar Crunch Hybrid'. Along the perimeter of the garden I planted patches of two varieties of sunflower 'Chianti Hybrid' (dark red) and Evening Sun'' (oranges, golds, yellows, bronze). Alongside the sunflowers I put in some okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) which, next to peppers, are my favorite summer vegetable. Yes, I know they are slimy and weird but for some reason I love them and the best ones (as usual) are those fresh from the garden.
My current favorite (healthy) sandwich now is tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaf with olive oil - mmmmmm. I planted two kinds of basil (Ocimum basilicum), sweet (regular) and Genovese (the big leafed one) to make certain that I had a good supply (it's too expensive and wilty when bought at the store).
Just for fun I planted some nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) too whose flowers are edible (anything so colorful must surely be nutritious). This is a great plant for kids to grow, they have big round seeds and were a part of my first garden when I was five. I've only grown them a couple times in the fifty years since and decided I'd try the dwarf double flowered 'Jewel Mix'. I know the bunnies and deer are going to enjoy eating this stuff but I think I planted enough that I might get to share a little of the crop with them. But just in case I'm also going to install another set of my deer bafflers in April to discourage their presence.
This month I have more pictures of plants that we're planning on profiling in the coming months. Lately I'm spending more time watching the native plants that grow around my place. One of my favorites is and evergreen shrub called shiny lyonia (Lyonia lucida). It started blooming in late March and for about a month they were covered with clusters of pinkish white flowers. This is a handsome shrub (to small tree) even when not in bloom and grows well in both wet swampy soils to dry sand - even in difficult places that experience both conditions.
I mentioned that the sky and light have been so brilliant this month. In the morning and especially in the evening there's a golden hour when the sunlight floods down so bright and mighty that the new greens appear to fluoresce against the sky.
There's a bathtub size sinkhole in the front that has become home to a colony of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). The foliage jumped up one day and not long after the cinnamon colored fertile fronds unfolded. They're translucent and when sunlight shines through they become take on a translucent golden glow.
The fringetrees took over the show in early in the month and for a week or so they stood along side the piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens) and the place smelled like heaven might. I think I mention before that April is the most (delightfully) fragrant month here. Many large woodies bloom now and the temperatures have stayed mostly mild enough that the fragrance isn't all cooked off the flower by ten o'clock in the morning.
At mid-month, just as the piedmont azaleas was dropping its last blossom the Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) burst out back by the Catfish Pond. I planted it about five years ago and it has some size on it now and was loaded with flowers this year. It was so pretty that I was inspired to at last get around to do a Plant Profile (not too mention take a bunch of pictures of this photogenic beauty).
Also back by the Catfish Pond are two other fragrant woodies that are in bloom. I really like the sweet viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum), it's a fast growing evergreen and its looks sensational when in bloom. I removed the lower limbs on mine turning them into small trees that I think looks cool and also provides a view of the pond through the gnarly stems. For some reason though, the flowers don't smell very good to me this year. Other years I recall thinking it had a very appealing perfume but for some reason the sweet viburnum flowers seemed harsh. Just a few feet away though the Japanese mock orange (Pittosporum tobira) shrubs were also blooming but I found their fragrance very appealing and, like the common name indicates, resemble that of the orange blossom (Citrus sinensis)
One of the best accomplishments of April was that we have Floridata's new Forums up and running. It has new features that make it cooler and better so please register as a member (anyone can read the forums but only members can post). [Update 2016: removed forums years ago becuause they are too expensive to manage. Now working on an alternative.] This is the first of several new web applications that I'm working on for Floridata. Since (for now anyway), Floridata has limited computer horsepower, I'll be limiting the number of users that will be able to use the new features.
Floridata hit the million page mark again in April. 1,118,231 page views were served which is a records for us! Thank you for visiting and I hope you'll visit even more often in May
Have a beautiful Spring, be good and grow.
Jack Scheper April 2005; reposted April 2016