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Gardening Geek-out

Hello,my name is Amanda and I'm a plantaholic. Yes, I can admit that now, though it took some time. For instance, I've sworn off roses. Doesn't sound like much until you realize that my obsession with antique roses got so bad that ten years after buying my first one, I had sold my house in the city to buy acreage in the country so I had more room to fill it with over 600 roses grown from cuttings in my own greenhouse. Then when I sold that land and moved out of state, I filled half the moving van with roses at the expense of leaving behind furniture. So yeah, I'm a recovering rose addict.

Just because I've sworn off roses, doesn't mean I've given up all plants. For me, life without gardening would be like living without oxygen (actually, it kind of is). And as a plant geek, you can imagine how I spazzed out when I saw this pop up on my front porch yesterday:

succulent ready to burst into bloom
I've had this particular succulent for over two years and, though I've transplanted it twice and think it needs it again, I didn't even know it bloomed. Shame on me, but I'm just getting acquainted with succulents. Other than the obligatory kitchen aloe, I've admired them from afar but never really grew them. However, as I am wont to do whenever I decide I'm interested in something, I went all out, so this spring my front porch quickly became Succulent Central.

Succulent porch in April
It was all so clean and pretty. Then things started to grow, and well, now it's like all my other gardening adventures, controlled chaos.

Succulent porch in December
Controlled chaos
I really need to set aside a repotting day soon
As you can see, some have died, some have gone nuclear, and some just surprise me with their beauty. Like on Christmas day when I realized that within one of my succulent pots I had a Christmas cactus. Yay!

Christmas cactus in all her glory
Because I am currently renting, most--but not all--of my gardening has been confined to pots, though that doesn't stop me from throwing stuff in the ground. The great thing about gardening in Florida is plants are cheap and everything grows fast. So when I started hitting the plant festivals this past spring, I picked up some cheap common plants to put in the ground just to dress things up a bit around the back deck. We have a ratty old magnolia tree in the side yard (I live on a corner) and someone had surrounded it with those curved concrete planter barriers, so I dug them up and arranged them in front of the deck, then went to work filling in the new bed.

This is how it looked in April when I started:

Back bed in April
Back bed in May
Like all my gardening projects, it went nuclear, so this is how it looked in October:

Back bed in October
As a gardener, there's nothing like planting a seed or rooting a cutting and watching it grow into a healthy plant. And there's nothing like the joy of nurturing a plant for months with no reward then one day having it spontaneously erupt in beauty. Like these two hibiscus I bought at Lowe's last summer. They were so pretty when I got them, then they sat in their pretty new pots all summer and did nothing. They didn't die, but they didn't grow or bloom either, and blooming is what a hibiscus is all about. Then one day a couple of weeks ago I walked out back and was greeted with this:

Hibiscus in bloom

hibiscus in bloom

Happy dance ensued. Hibiscus are common in Florida--hardly a yard doesn't have at least one. I remember when we first moved here as a kid, I was in awe of them. The flowers reminded me of crepe paper and while each only lasts a day, the bushes are loaded with buds so they're always in bloom as long as it's warm and sunny. There are some serious hibiscus aficionados around (you always see them at the plant festivals) who breed for purple, chocolate, and other strange colored flowers, but for my money, the simple pinks, salmons, and yellows are just fine. I have a double red with variegated foliage that struggles to survive, a double salmon that is gorgeous when it feels it (the doubles are always a little more fussy), and a spectacular single orange that practically glows when the sun hits it, but these two little beauties were the most shy hibiscus I had ever encountered. However, once I saw those blooms, I forgave them.

When you have to confine most of your gardening to pots, you tend to look for something a little unusual. Hence my current foray into plants that fall a little off the beaten path. For instance, I obtained some seeds for a turquoise puya bromeliad this year and now have four plants about three inches high. The so-called bromeliad experts I've talked to say they won't flourish here, but we'll see. Can't wait till they grow up to look like this:

Turquoise Puya Bromeliad
And there's my porcupine tomato, solanum pyracanthum, which is still going strong and just rewarded me with seeds for next year.

Porcupine tomato when I first got it. It's about three feet tall and wide now
And I can't forget my bat flower, tacca chantrieri. My challenge has been finding a spot where it gets rainfall without direct sunlight. This past summer the area against the back of the house that was full shade until May suddenly became the bright side of the moon and fried some of the leaves, but despite the harsh conditions and an unforgiving attack by slugs, it still cranked out the flowers and at one point had nine opened at once.

Bat flower - going strong despite dual attack of sunlight and slugs

And last but not least, winter in Florida means the glorious reign of bougainvillea. This is their time of year - dry and sunny. I have a huge pot with three different ones - magenta, yellow, and red. I can't wait to get into my own house next year and put  them in the ground, but for now they are as spectacular as I had hoped when I put them together;

Bougainvillea - three colors in one large pot

So for all you suffering through the gray days of winter, I'm happy to provide a little glimpse of spring on this next-to-last day of 2013. Staring out the window at chilly, milky skies (yes, even Florida has its less-than-summery days), it's nice to dream of the garden.

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