Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First Finish of The Year! Or, The End of a Beginning.

You know how the natives in the Arctic are supposed to have something like 200 words for snow? I don't know if that's true, but I know for a fact that there are something like 150 different kinds of sand in Florida. Seriously. For real. We even have an Official State Sand - Myakka Fine, in case you're wondering. When you've got as much of the stuff as we do, you get to be something a connoisseur of silica before it's melted into glass. I'm not sure what the sand in my yard would officially be called. I've heard it called sugar sand, I've heard it called ball-bearing sand. But I know for a fact that it is the very dickens to find anything that can actually grow in the darn stuff. So when I find something that doesn't go belly up within a matter of weeks of being put into it, I get all excited. And so we enter into the saga of the Beach Sunflower. Or East Coast vs. West Coast.

Beach sunflowers are a Florida native. They do exactly what their name implies - grow on the dunes - and are well adapted to whatever Florida cares to throw at them. I got some a couple of years ago for the back, and was quite happy with them. They handled the heat, the sun, the sand, got bushy and strong and bloomed profusely. But the husband is from the MidWest and does not share my love for things that sprawl loosely and freely and trimmed them down with the idea they would grow back more neatly. Flowers are not shrubs, so I had bare ground again.

East Coast Beach Sunflower before Tom took the shears to it.
So I got myself some West Coast Beach Sunflower. Here Tom and I found a plant we could agree on. They bloom in all but the coldest weather and can handle the sun and heat and require little to no care, which makes me happy, and they stay low and form a tidy mass, which makes Tom happy. I had a chance to go to Pinellas County couple of weeks ago, so I got to by to my favorite nursery and get more West Coast Beach Sunflowers. Half of them went in the back to fill in the spaces left by the Great Sunflower Whack Job, and half in the front. I had to be careful to make sure I removed any remnant of the East Coast sunflowers since the two are closely related and when they cross, the taller, bushier East Coast variety is dominant.
Last year's  planting of  West Coast Beach Sunflower - Much tidier!
Then Sunflowers in the back will be growing in front of and around my Peggy Martin Roses, aka "Hurricane Katrina Roses." I set these out two and three years ago with hopes of having them climb the 3 center pillars of the pergola and get into the rafters a bit. They've started to do that, and well, you just have to love it when a plan comes together. Some of the canes have already hit the top 15' long mark and are draping prettily in the rafters. They have 2 really big blooms a year, but they bloom off and on in all but the coldest weather.I babied them a bit their first year; now I fertilize them about twice a year, water them occasionally during the worst of the dry season, and that's about it - you really do have to be tough to live in my world. But this is what they in return for that modicum of care. You just have to love these guys.

My Peggy Martin Roses
The story behind these roses is amazing. They came from the garden of a gardener name of Peggy Martin who lived in Plaquemines Parrish near New Orleans. Nobody really knows where they came from originally, but she was always glad to give cuttings to anyone who admired it. When Hurricane Katrina roared through, the Martin family was devastated; the flood waters swept away her parents, her home, her husband's commercial fishing boat. Her garden was under 20' of sea water for more than 2 weeks. When she was finally able to return, this rose was growing back. Inspired by its story, people who had these Peggy Martin Roses used cuttings from their bushes to help growers like the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas to sell these roses and donate part of the proceeds to a fund to help restore gardens destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. That is how I got my first two, and I was so impressed with how well they did that I got a third. You have to be tough to survive on my patch of ball-bearing sand, and these guys have the right stuff!
So delicate looking, but so tough.
The front yard has been a whole other battle. There had been a yew hedge in front of the house, but it had gotten tattered and scraggly, so we'd had it taken out and replaced it with plumbago last spring - another plant which has done well for us. We also planted a Cracker Rose, an antique species rose. I've another in the yard, great plant in completely the wrong spot. It did not read the part of the book where it's supposed to top out between 4 and 6 feet; I think it wants to be 8 feet or so. I have to keep cutting it in half so we can see out the dining room window. I'm afraid that one will have to go. But you have to love a plant that does so well in such hostile territory, so I've sited another Cracker Rose where it can get as big was it wants to be. Once the Beach Sunflowers spread out in front of the plumbago and new Cracker Rose gets some size on it, this space should look a lot nicer.
These babies have a lot of growing up to do!
So bit by bit we're getting the yard a bit more up to snuff - though we have no intention of ever having one of those perfectly manicured St. Augustine grass ChemLawn things some of the neighbors have. Our yard will never look like the greens of Augusta. But as long as it doesn't bear too close a resemblance to the first turn at Churchhill Downs, we're doing okay!