Reclaiming a Garden


Brug Blog 07.2014

Reclaiming a space in our yard is always exciting. It takes a lot of work, and is never easy. When Gino and I came here, it was mostly sand, with some grass but mostly weeds. In summers it would green up with weeds, and in winter return to sand. The kind of sand that does not hold water, and gets kicked into your sandals with each step. I dreaded walking out back...

A lot of the yard is still like this. But little by little, we are at least reclaiming small spaces, turning them into little green garden spots that are focal points, and a pleasure to walk through and enjoy.

I start by picking out an area that I feel will be used by wildlife or us, and then either draw out plans or study it for months on end, imagining the plants I will have growing there and how they will take the Florida heat. A larger endeavour took us a few years to get any good results, and is still ongoing. It ended up with 7 or 8 Spindle palms, 1 towering 20 foot Bismarkia palm, a nice sized wildlife pond and small 'rock' fountain, and various canna and butterfly plants. It's now a lovely area to admire, and home to many a Southern Fowlers toad and Cuban lizard. Constantly removing the large Bufo Marinus (Cuban cane toad) is ongoing, but worth it to provide a breeding spot for our beloved Fowler's.

This area is also adjacent to an already established area of some Butterfly plants, so this will be an expansion of the Butterfly garden.

So last week we began tackling a spot beside the Greenhouse that always needs weeding, and is close enough that it will get constant care once cultivated. It's a narrow strip, about 16 feet wide and 30 or so feet long. On the fence flanking north, is Snail vine. At the feet of the Phaseolus, are well established Jasmine bushes. The Snails have to be pinched back every now and then so as not to overtake them, but are unusually easy to train off the Jasmine. The tough and tall Straw grass you can see peeking out of the snail vine below (to the left) is much harder to get out and I'm working at getting the roots out a little at a time, as some of it is actually in the crowns of the Jasmine. Just to the east and also on the north facing fence, is a well established Ruellia. Big black and yellow bumblebees love this plant, and from the sun's first morning rays until noon, they dive headfirst into the one-day blooms, seeking out the sweet nectar.

Intermixed with the Phaseolus giganteous is Passiflora foetida, and growing up a large Cabbage palm is a 4 year old Passiflora edulis. Both plants draw in butterflies for larval food, as well as the sweet blooms.

On the east side and what will be the edge of the new garden, is a large Firebush. I love this plant. It attracts every kind of butterfly with the sweet nectar hidden within the tubular flowers, and seems like it is constantly in bloom. I planted it about 4 years ago, from a 3 gallon pot bought at a local Big box store. So glad I did. It sprawls well over 6 feet at the base, and is as high as it is tall. Gino wants to trim it, I like leaving it wild, at least for now.

The western end of the garden has yet to receive a defining end. It is open to the back yard and only has the back side of the Greenhouse to make the statement that it will stop there. The other sides have the actual area where I keep my mother brugmansia under shade cloth and the Greenhouse itself. I think I'll put a raised bed facing north and south, and plant Joe Pye weed there. It will help to create some shade for the other plants in the garden, and create a nice false barrier.

After several days of using a pitchfork to loosen roots, and then turning the soil and shaking lose and tossing all the greenery, we are now ready to take a look at what might be. I will have room for a Peanut Butter Bush, or Clerodendrum trichotomum, whose crushed leaves do smell of Peanut Butter, and petite flowers attract Nectar seeking wasps, butterflies and honeybees. Kept pruned, this tall shrub will provide a nice focal point and interest to the eye. We have also decided to add a Durantas erecta. Because it will be across from the Jasmine hedges, I will also train this one to standard.

Gino is going to build us at least six, mostly Perennial and perhaps an Annual raised bed(s). These will be placed lengthwise, and house Asclepias, Pentas, Bachelor's Buttons, Fennel, Basil, Sunflowers, Calendulas, and other miscellanious Butterfly attractants. We will place out Passiflora on the back screening of the Greenhouse, to complete the habitat for butterflies. Passiflora incarnata and P. caerulea will be that inhabitants. I might even have him build a few square boxes for a different look.

Florida is notorious for soil borne parasitic nematodes, so raised beds are a great way to avoid this problem. I don't put bottoms in the raised beds, but after the plant's roots reach that level, they are hopefully strong enough to take on any parasites. If not, I just replace the plant.

Some of the raised beds will only house Butterfly host plants, like Fennel and Tropical Milkweed for starters. In this manner I can place small, custom screened boxes over them after the butterflies lay their eggs. I have had quite a run-in with the parasitic wasps this year, and lost most of my Black swallowtail caterpillars to them. No more!

Last night we made the trek to Lowe's, and picked up several of the plants we will need. Instead of one Hamelia, we got one of each, the non-native and the native Firebush. I will grow them together on the western edge. The Durantas does not seem to have stickers, which I hope remains true. We also fell in love with an unusual plant, called Tibouchina. I have not studied it before, but the strange blossoms beckoned to us. I don't know if it will fit in this garden, but I know we can find it a place somewhere on this sprawling landscape.

As mentioned, I already possess a nice sized Peanut Butter Bush, and so the main plants are all here and ready to be placed out. A 3 year old Mexican Flame Vine will be added, after I decide where to place a free-standing trellis to hold it. The dainty orange-yellow and black eyed daisy-like blooms are loved by small insects. That just leaves Gino to begin mulching up the pine needles to make us pine fines as a mulch. And of course, make those raised container beds.

Well, day 4 of the New Butterfly Garden. I planted seeds of Goldenrod and Passiflora incarnata this morning. Yesterday I started seeds of more Fennel and Tropical Milkweed. I have seeds coming of Joe Pyeweed, Early Goldenrod, Calendula, Dandelion, Italian Chickory (Cichorium intybus) otherwise known as Italian Dandelion, Wild Bee balm, (Monarda), and 'Double Dandy' Pink small Sunflower. We shall see how all of this goes.

Gino's just finished building the first two raised beds. Both are 18 inches across by 4 feet long. These will house the Dwarf Pentas in one, and the Fennel and Tropical Milkweed in the other.

It takes 4 bags of regular compost, one-half bag of Pine bark mixed into soil, the other half for mulch on surface. Also one-third of a bag of milled Peat to fill a 12 inch tall bed of above size. It took 3 boards, each 8 feet long, at 15.00 each, to make the two beds. There is a small bit of scrap left over.

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