Friday, January 11, 2019

My Year of Orchids: Loving the heat

When I told people I was moving down here in July they looked at me like I was crazy. “you are coming for the worst of the heat,” was their universal quip. But it’s what I came here for. And really at least this first summer, it didn’t seem so bad.

We are on a quarter acre lot. Not huge by Florida standards but not that small either. And two owners ago the person ripped up the lawn and planted native trees and shrubs all around the periphery of our property. So the shady protected jungle extends ten or fifteen feet from the street. We have birds galore, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, titmice, wrens, warblers, thrushes, and the usual players, doves, bluebirds, cardinals, and mockingbirds. Two owls visit the property, a screech owl and a great horned owl, so we must have rodents besides the awful squirrels. There’s a black racer snake who lives on the property. And a teeming beehive back by the compost, packed with honeycombs, where the bees started their own colony in an upside-down plastic flowerpot.

When the previous owner left two years ago a new couple lived here for a very short time. They irrigated the property with St. Petersburg reclaimed water twice a week while they were gone. Well if you know anything about native plants of Florida you know they don’t need watering twice a week. So when we got here things were weedy, overgrown, and just a little bit scary. I had my work cut out for me from the start. There were plenty of sweaty days and weeks spent clearing a path and just getting things within a hundred miles of tidy (not my strong point anyway). There were whole sections of weeds, six foot tall horse mint among them, loaded with flowers and humming with pollinators. Tickseed of every variety and other weeds whose seeds stick right to your skin, especially when you’re sweaty.

On mornings when I’m working outside next to the street, weeding or trimming gigantic sea grape branches, people always stop and we laugh about how the garden will certainly win. But this overgrown jungle did have one great advantage. There were hundreds of spots where I could hang epiphytes.

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