Living on the Edge
How I Learned to Live between Two Zones

Before I moved to Central Florida in 1998 I lived and gardened in California, specifically Half Moon Bay - a small town on the Pacific Coast just south of San Francisco. The temperature seldom, if ever went below freezing or above 70 degrees in Half Moon Bay. If you didn't mind the frequent fog, it was a wonderful place to live. Roses grew like weeds and you could always depend on the Daffodils and Bearded Irises to provide spectacular color.

As a gardener, I depended on Sunset's Western Gardening Book as my guide and detailed reference. We lived in Zone 15, one of the 24 zones designated by Sunset for the Western States. If the Western Gardening Book said a flower would thrive in Zone 15, I needed no further reassurance.

Then we moved to Tampa where I assumed I would find the same level of specific, reliable guidance. I bought a copy of the Southern Living Garden Book (the equivalent of the Western Gardening Book), found that we lived in Zone 9b or the Tropical South (as defined by Southern Living) and assumed that every plant with a "TS" designation beside it in the book would thrive in my yard. I took it on faith when the book said, "Winter ranges from momentary to entirely absent in the Tropical South" and assumed I had little to fear from killing frosts.

Instead, there were three killing frosts during our first winter in Tampa. My fantasies of growing delicate tropical plants withered and died - as did many of my plants. I then switched to an approach that favored plants that were cold hardy, only to see those plants expire in the suffering heat and humidity of the summers in Central Florida.

Finally, I came to realize that we lived in a schizophrenic world of heat and cold, an area that is neither the Tropical South (TS) nor the Coastal South (CS). Marlys Bell describes this well in her book "Gardening and Landscaping in Central Florida" where she states that Zone 9 is, "[I]n a climatic transition zone, neither tropical nor temperate, but some of each, and sometimes one or the other... That means that experience that works in the tropics or even southern Florida and what works in cooler climates is largely irrelevant." If you would like some suggestions for how to better understand schizophrenic hardiness zone of Central Florida, click here.

Then in 2009 I moved back to California and the San Francisco Bay region. And to be honest, I love being back.

Florida Hardiness Zones