A Tampa Garden Diary

3/22/2009 Movin' - I hope you've made a note (i.e.changed your bookmark) for the new location for Central Florida Garden. We have moved to http://www.garden.bsewall.com. Moving the site has saved me some money and will allow the site to remain on line for several more years.

Also, I ran across a great article on the revised USDA Hardiness Zone Map that should be coming out later this year. You can find the article at dailyclimate.org, which has an abundance of excellent resources on how our climate is changing. Aside from the article's excellent discussion of the expected changes to the map, there is a great quote from Michael Dosmann of the Arnold Arboretum, "We always try to test the limits. All gardeners are in zone denial." I'd like to think I'm not in denial, but when I look at the my garden and all the tropical plants that were killed or decimated by this Winter's unusually high number of killing frosts, I have to agree. But it is a very tempting form of denial if you want spectacular color in your garden during the summer.

11/05/2008 - Change of Plans - If you are a reader of my posts over the last two years, you've probably noticed a continuing theme - Life and Nature are unpredictable. It is this unpredictability, in part, that makes gardening so enjoyable, both in the challenges it creates and the excitement when something truly unexpected and beautiful happens. Regretfully, there is a downside - Unpredictability equates to a lack of control and a lack of control sometimes leads to results you would prefer did not occur.

And so it is with this site. My plans, unexpectedly have changed. We will be selling our house and moving back to California in the next few months. It makes me sad that my dreams did not turn out as I had expected for the house and my garden in Central Florida. But in every ending, there is a beginning. And so I will be making a new life for myself in the San Francisco Bay area.

As for www.centralfloridagarden.com, I have moved it over to www.garden.bsewall.com to save on support costs and will keep the site active as long as it gets visitors. However, I will not be updating the gardening information nor making any future posts. If you have a bookmark for centralflorida.com, you should change it to this page (http://www.garden.bsewall.com).

This site has brought me a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction and it is hard to let it go. But things change.

9/14/2008 - Leaping Lepidopteras! I've been distracted the past few months with work and have not paid that much attention to the Butterfly Garden. Then this morning I happened to spy something moving on the window overlooking the garden. It was a Gulf Fritillary emerging from its pupa! Intrigued, I went out to the garden to look more closely and found the whole area bursting with activity. There easily 20 Fritillaries hoping about the Pentas. I looked under the eave of the roof and saw why. It was coated with an astounding number of pupas, like a maternity ward with babies popping out everywhere. For more pictures, click here.

Gulf Fritillary Pupa

8/26/2008 St. George Island Sunrise - One thing I really love to do is go some place special, sit down on the ground with my camera and see what happens. A couple of weeks ago the family spent a few days up at St. George Island (before we were driven out when a waterspout took down the power for the whole island). I was able to spend one morning on the beach watching the sun rise over the Gulf. You can click here to see the pictures.


8/25/2008 God Sometimes Isn't Subtle - There are moments when the Almighty seems bent on hitting you over the head to get the message across.

Life just goes on. You get in a rut. Everything seems the same. Perspective fades into a hazy horizon. And then God nudges you in the ribs and says to get out and look around. If you can't see his beauty in a single flower, how about an Angels Trumpet in full bloom? Is the message loud enough for you?

Appreciate the moment, for all too soon it will be gone.


8/4/2008 - Interesting Article on Hardiness Zones - The San Francisco Chronicle recently published a piece on why we have had to wait so long for an update to the 1990 USDA Hardiness Zone Map. As to the reluctance of the Bush Administration to move forward on an update, the Chronicle stated:

"Although the USDA denies it, there is also lingering suspicion that the Bush administration's discomfort with the concept of global warming played a role in the rejection of [a proposed 2003 update from the American Horticultural Society]. 'The fact that the [AHS] map shows warming put a big exclamation point out there,' says Kramer. The draft map remained on the AHS Web site for several months until the USDA's Kaplan asked the organization to take it down or alter it: 'We wanted them to make it clear this was not the official USDA map.'"

Since 2003 the Bush Administration has gradually reversed its approach. The Administration now appears more open to accepting global warming as a threat and has authorized a second attempt at a Hardiness Zone Map update.

This second attempt will have to address another deficiency that the Administration found in the AHS version, the lack of GPS compatible geographic references in the map. Huh? Since when did anyone expect a hardiness zone map to be accurate down to 5 feet? I can understand using a large scale geographic reference like a zip code for finding your hardiness zone, but hardiness zone maps are ultimately gross predictors. A couple of miles is not going to make much difference in what you can plant. Yes there are microclimates in many locations (check out the Sunset Magazine Hardiness Zone Map of California as an example), but nothing on the level that you would need a GPS.

So as it now stands the USDA has contracted out to the PRISM Group to generate an update to the 1990 map using data from the last 30 years. Currently the expected completion date for the revision is February 2009, but no one seems to be saying that is a firm date.

8/2/2008 - What a Difference Six Months Makes - One of the frequent themes on this site is my wonderment over the power of patience and faith in Mother Nature. A perfect example is the Silver Leafed Princess Flower (tibouchina grandifolia or tibouchina heteromalla) I purchased at the USF Tropical Plant Festival in early summer of 2007. Even though I covered the Tibouchina with a sheet during the frost in early January of 2008, it was severely damaged (see below), enough so that I thought I'd lost it. But with patience, by April the Princess Flower had completely recovered. What is truly wondrous is the profusion of flowers with which the Tibouchina has now graced our house. Oh me of little faith.

January 2008 (after the Frost)

April 2008 (recovering)

August 2008

7/28/2008 Texas Phoenix Palm Decline Spreading to Sabal Palms - In case you haven't heard, there have been several articles in the local press on a new disease impacting Sabal/Cabbage Palms. The disease is called "Texas Phoenix Palm Decline." It is caused by phytoplasma or small bacteria that are spread by insects. In the past the disease was limited to non-native palm species, but recently there have been several reports of infections to Sabal Palms in Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

Tom MacCubbin, the garden columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, has a good article on the problem in his blog. What I found really interesting was a link he had to an IFAS article on the subject. There are several pictures in the report that give a good idea of what a sick palm looks like.

Texas Phoenix Palm Decline
Source: A Lethal Phytoplasma Disease of Sabal palmetto on Florida’s Central West Coast

At this point I can find little in the media to indicate that the State of Florida is taking any formal steps to combat the spread of the disease or aggressively informing the public. Regardless, there is a good article in the Tampa Tribune that provides advice on prevention from the Local County Extension Office.

I have three Cabbage/Sabal Palms in my front yard and I live not more than five miles from where diseased palms have been found in Brandon. Since there appears to be no simple solution to preventing the spread of the disease, I guess it's just a matter of time...

7/27/2008 Further Proof - In the previous post I talked about the confusion with hardiness zone maps for the the Tampa Bay area. My conclusion is that St. Petersburg is in Zone 10, while Tampa is in Zone 9. To prove the point I went out to the NOAA web site for the Tampa Bay Region and pulled down the annualized data for the number of days each year with temperatures less than 32 degrees. If you compare the data for Tampa and St. Petersburg you can see a distinct difference between the two cities, even though they are only 15 miles apart. From 1948 to 2005 St. Petersburg, on average, experienced freezing temperatures once every two years (.5 days/year), while Tampa was nearly five times more prone to freezing temperatures (2.3 days/year).

There is something about weather data that mystifies me. I've sunk countless hours into researching Hardiness Zone maps and looking at NOAA temperature data. I've come to realize that I don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, since most of what I've found was pretty obvious from the outset. Want another example of the patently obvious (i.e. we get a lot of lightning around Tampa)?

Lightning strikes in Florida

The image is from an American Meteorological Society article and shows the distribution of lightning strikes over the study period (1989 - 1998). The darker the coloring the greater the number of lightning strikes. Aside from central Africa, the Tampa area is one of the leading areas in the world for lightning.

7/23/2008 Hardiness Zones - There is an interesting discussion of hardiness zones over on the Gardening in Florida forum of Gardenweb. The original post on the "Pinellas County is not Zone 9 !" thread contains a copy of a letter to the County Extension Office asking if Pinellas County is in Zone 9 or 10. The conclusion was that most of Pinellas County is in Zone 10, even though the current USDA Hardiness Zone Map says the area is in Zone 9A! The post lead to several comments about the confusion in Hardiness Zone maps for the west coast of Central Florida. Click here for a more detailed analysis.

I live in Lithia, south of Brandon, and I couldn't agree more with the contributors to the thread on Gardenweb that this area of Hillsborough County is in Zone 9, despite what several of the Hardiness Zone maps suggest. When I put a plant in the ground I assume it and I will have to live by the rules of Zone 9 - expect a minimum of one or two killing frosts each year and forget about planting a Mango in the backyard.

What I find intriguing is that everyone on the Gardenweb thread agrees about what should be the hardiness zone designations for this area of Central Florida, but none of the official sources for the various maps can agree amongst themselves. So I basically ignore the maps. Apologies to Bob Dylan, but you don't need a weatherman to know how cold the wind blows.

I had hoped that some of this confusion would be resolved with a new project by the USDA to update the official Hardiness Zone Map for the US. The project was supposed to be completed earlier this year, but if you look on their web site, it now says a new map won't be available until 2009. That confuses me even further. Hardiness Zone Maps are just compilations of existing data. Granted, it's lots of data, but that's just what computers were designed for. It should be a relatively simple data crunching exercise, not some drawn out project. Instead, the almost decade long attempt to update the USDA Hardiness Zone Map is looking increasingly like a bad political intrigue novel. The Bush Administration has suppressed the issuance of a new map (speculation - it would have been an embarrassing confirmation of global warming) and other claimants to the throne (like the American Horticultural Society) have issued their own challenges to the USDA version. I can just picture a bunch of earnest meteorologists and climate change experts sitting in a back room with a cigar chomping Dick Cheney telling them that the oil industry needs a map that shows Zone 9 bordering on Miami.

But in the end, update or no update, I'm resigned to accepting that I live in Zone 9, regardless of what the maps say or don't say.

7/16/2008 Pencil and Leaf - There are something like 75 to 80 million blogs on the Internet, of which maybe 15 to 18 million are updated regularly. The "blogoshere" is an immense cloud of people fervently trying to write meaningful observations about life. The problem is that most of life is not that interesting and, if you're lucky enough to find something unusual, it is the rare person who has the writing skills to effectively communicate the experience. For this reason, I've avoided structuring this site as a blog. I'm not that good a writer and most of my life is pretty mundane. I do enjoy taking photographs and I have better than average Internet skills, so I've opted to focus on those talents.

This begs the question, "Are there any good blogs on gardening in Central Florida?" The answer is a enthusiastic, "Yes". Of the 10 active blogs I've found that focus on this region (see the Links page), Gardening in Central Florida is by far the best. Aside from the crisp writing and the site's support for sustainable gardening practices, the author of this blog has an enviable eagerness to experiment, especially with vegetables and fruits. His adventures with blueberries, peppers, eggplants and obscure varieties of tomatoes make me jealous. I can not recommend this site enough.

I recently stumbled across another local gardening blog that has an interesting twist - Pencil and Leaf. The author has an excellent writing style along with the ability to find something interesting in even the most commonplace aspects of gardening. What sets this site truly apart from other blogs is the artwork. Her pencil sketches of leaves and flowers that she finds in her trips around Orlando are gorgeous in their simplicity and their ability to capture the essence of the subject. The blog is a true joy for the eye and the mind.

7/15/2008 I Lied... - I have not had a good history with Ligustrums. When we moved into our old house in 1998 I took on 12 established and ancient Ligustrums. Two of them were head high and neatly trimmed. The rest were unruly monsters that exceeded the reach of my clipper and my energy. They quickly got out of control and for the next nine years it was a constant battle to keep them in check. Last year I chronicled my misadventures with the Ligustrums on my Plant page. I swore that I would never plant another one.

A year has passed and things have changed. What can I say? Despite my sincere oath, I went ahead and planted two Ligustrums at our new house. We were concerned about screening two of our bedroom windows and the Ligustrums were the best (i.e. easiest and cheapest) solution. We considered and rejected Feijoa, Podocarpus, and Holly (too expensive and slow growing), Wax Myrtle and Viburnum (we already had enough on the property) and Hydrangea (not tall enough).

While Ligustrum was the best decision on an objective basis, it presents a subjective, almost emotional, dilemma for me. Ligustrum is a tree that yearns to grow free and unfettered. Yet for the foreseeable future I will spend a good deal of time trimming the two trees. I don't believe that man should ever try to be supreme over Nature, but that's just what I will try to do. Or maybe I'll just get lazy and let them run amuck. Time will tell.

7/14/2008 Belinda's Dream - While the Knockout Rose is exceptionally easy to grow and maintain, its flowers are not that spectacular. Belinda's Dream takes slightly more care, but is far more rewarding, especially as a reliable bloomer during the hot summer months. This is not earth shaking news to most gardeners in Central Florida, but it gives me an excuse to post the picture I took this morning.

Belinda's Dream

7/1/2008 A Day in the Life... - I decided to spend an hour in the Butterfly & Hummingbird Garden this afternoon trying to capture all of the activity with my camera. It may be a Butterfly Garden, but that doesn't seem to stop every flying insect within the neighborhood from stopping by. I've even seen swarms of Lovebugs in the garden when the goldenrod is in full bloom.

While I sat patiently waiting to take pictures, the hummingbird visited twice, but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to capture it. However, there were plenty of butterflies, bees, dragon flies and wasps that were more than willing to oblige. Click on the image for some pictures.

Gulf Fritallary

6/24/2008 Peace - I couldn't resist - a recent Peace Rose bloom:

Peace Rose

6/22/2008 - I love those unexpected moments in the garden when something truly beautiful suddenly pops out at you. After a morning of digging up my drainage system and getting hot, dirty and cranky, I happened to glance over at the Butterfly Garden and noticed a blur of green skipping from flower to flower. It was a hummingbird, the first one I'd ever seen in Florida! After running in the house, grabbing the camera and rushing back outside, I was surprised that the female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was still flitting about the garden. I was able to get several decent pictures (click on the image below to see them) before she flew off.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

6/10/2008 - A year ago I bought a small Brugmansia or Angels Trumpet from Burpee through the mail. I must admit that I was distracted a good deal of the time last year and the Brugmansia did no receive a lot of care. Despite my abuse, the plant survived and even set a few flowers by January of this year. By April the plant had almost doubled in size and set a profusion of flowers. I repotted the plant in a much larger container and moved it into the pool area to show it off. The Brugmansia is now going through yet another flowering cycle and looks spectacular. You can click on the thumbnail below for a larger image.