I haven't written in a long while. I don't feel the need as much. I'm busy living and enjoying my life which is such a great thing! But with the start of this week celebrating new beginnings and the earth, I thought I would share my new garden with you. Please bear in mind that it is in its infancy — just three years — and I no longer have the gumption I did when I began the Violet Fern garden. I am much more patient and operate at a much slower pace than I used to, and so does this garden. Also, I am at a learning curve with a whole new world of new plants in a new planting zone 9.
So far, I have developed three to four garden "beds" or areas and I have been concentrating on those before going further. Two are off the back deck and two are off the front porch which we have screened in — so balanced.
This is the largest bed as seen from the back deck and it has a mix of shrubs, grasses and perennials that have a bit of growing up to do.
The beds are defined by wine bottles — my favorite way to repurpose. It is because in case we need to hire a mowing service while we summer up North, my plants will be protected by their "island mote." The Key Lime (just to the right of the ceramic tray aka bird bath with the glass bee saver/ball in it), took a hit last year with much colder temperatures then we are used to but has made a great comeback this year so I hope to see some growth coming on by next season. The Plumbago (lower right corner) started out small and has grown incredibly slow but increased in size this year and had a few beautiful blue blooms so I think it is still establishing. The old adage "first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap" is pretty true to form in this garden. I'm hoping for a great leap year next season! In this bed there is also Pink and White Muhly Grass both of which look pretty dead right now but always seem to have wonderful fronds come fall. I'm not sure if they're getting enough sun and may be moved in the future. Beauty Bush is pretty unremarkable until Fall when it dons its wonderfully bright purple berries. Its spring flowers are barely noticeable. Shrimp Plant has established itself and is full of blooms (the patch of red towards the top of the photo). I am happy with its contrast next to native Spiderwort which grows freely and is a beautiful drift of purple blooms except our most recent storm tossed it around a bit. A young Bottle Brush Tree is tucked next to those and no blooms this year but new growth so it, too, is still establishing. The Japanese Plum or Loquat (upper left) that I planted from seed "took" this year and is really shrubbing out. I'm hoping for the billowy flowers next year that attract all the local Monarchs! This year I've added a few more flowering perennials and self-sowing annuals to this bed such as Sages, Brown-eyed Susans, Standing Cypress, and Columbine. Still growing thankfully from last year, a couple of Lantanas still trying to establish and a type of Cigar Plant. A few herbs are also tucked in here like Cilantro and Rosemary. I really want to provide for the pollinators here. Butterflies are year round!
Although I haven't worked at Thousand Island Park for some time, before leaving I did rescue a Mandevilla vine from the cold North Country climate where I planted her as an annual display. She is living happily in this garden all the way from Hafner's in Syracuse, growing up the fence in this back bed along with a very small sprig of honeysuckle that was rooted from a cutting. It amazes me that some of the plants that are native in North Country are also native here in Florida like the Honeysuckle, Columbine, Brown or Black-eyed Susan and Spiderwort. Just goes to show you how incredible plants are!
There are some differences to gardening here ... You HAVE TO water, at least until plants are established. I have a soaker hose watering system in place (purchased from Gardeners Supply), in this back bed on a timer connected to my faucet. You HAVE TO fertilize. I always do my best to choose organic granular fertilizers that I sprinkle around the plants every so often. I'm hoping to improve my sandy soil over time and that the need to fertilize will lessen. I bucket compost here, meaning that I fill a bucket with compostable scraps and then dig a hole in the garden somewhere, empty the bucket into it, then bury it. Whatever I'm doing is working as I actually dug up a couple earth worms the other day which don't come immediately to mind in Florida. I was quite surprised! What I do tend to dig up are little cockroaches and sometimes they climb up my legs much to my horror but I'm adapting (says the girl who had to work up the nerve to crush Japanese beetles in her bare fingers!). I only screamed out loud once when I unearthed a rather large wolf spider the size of a tarantula.
I mulch with pine straw in the back bed. It's native and long-lasting and the birds and other garden friends seem to love it. It comes bound in twine much like a hay bale.
The garden creatures are a bit different. Spiders are moving in like Spiny Orb Weaver and the Orchard Spiders are quite abundant. Box turtles also frequently visit the garden. Last year a Black Racer snake was sneaking around but I haven't seen him or her this year. I have a lot of these little lizard guys running around. Most are invasive but a few are native. I've learned the native lizards will climb higher than the invasive ones so if you have high shrubs or trees you provide better habitat for them. I've also learned they love to eat those horrifying cockroaches! Hi my lizard friends.
The back bed ends with a newly planted small Cedar Tree. We have a large one out front and we have named our little cabana in Paradise here Cedar Kottage (purposely spelled incorrectly to have the same initials as our town which I don't mention in the hopes of keeping it a secret).
You may remember my road side rescues from last year? This Sago Palm is one of them and has obviously, lived. I spontaneously created a tiny island around it near the back bed. (The other one didn't make it but gave me a little baby!) Newly planted in the island with the Sago (to the left) is a Cassia Tree/Shrub. It is native and a butterfly host plant. Another difference gardening here — plants bloom in winter (like the Cassia)! Around this island will eventually be some sort of hardscape. I am slowly creating a ground level patio beneath the deck (which you can see in the next photo where the back bed extends around our deck). I have visions of a small bistro table for morning coffee. So all that scraggly weed stuff that isn't really lawn will eventually be stone or cement.
The island with the road rescue Sago Palm and Cassia
The back bed begins at the right of the stairs from the deck and extends along the deck and into the back. Here you can see the beginning of what will be a future patio to the left.
The patio will extend all the way to the back bed and stone pebbles will surround the island.
I am really into the tropical foliage. My favorites so far are the Sago and the White Bird of Paradise (above and below). I also dig those Loquat leaves.
Native Carolina Jassamine grows on the deck rail and blooms in February! I have a nice collection of pots going. The banana and succulents live year round. I like to sit here with my morning coffee.
The back deck
Leaving the deck stairs a path (that still needs some work) runs to the stone path that flanks the fruit trees. I finally finished the stone path this year. I wanted a path that took me from the front to the back without walking through the weeds because we have a lot of nasty sandspurs. The end of the stone path marks where I will be creating a bog garden from an old tire that was on the property when we purchased it. I painted it coral for some punch and to dress it up a bit. I will plant pitcher plants, sundews and flytraps in the bog. I'm pretty excited about it. The fruit trees are holding their own despite my neglect. I need to weed their boxed frames — again — but am thinking a new strategy of planting ground covers within their frames.
Once the paths, frames around the trees and back patio are in place, cleaned up and running efficiently, I will begin solarizing the areas between the fruit trees for new plantings. I don't want any "lawn" which really is currently all weeds. A lawn would require irrigation and mowing. I would rather have hardscape, mulch, ground cover, and plantings.
The front bed off the screen porch and beneath the large Cedar Tree is where I began and it is showing some promise. I just planted some native Indian Pink in here, a plant I've longed to grow for quite some time! So far, so good. A lot of the plants here are former house plants and rescues off the side of the road here in town. My Spider Plant is doing very well (all the way from Maine) and has become a mini drift. My Amaryllis is currently blooming. I recently added some Wire Vine which I always grew in a pot in the Violet Fern garden. The Begonias next to the bird bath I planted last year and they're still going! I put my Paperwhite Bulbs out here as well. The Passion Vine by the turquoise trellis is not thriving. I'm not sure it is getting enough sun. It has some new growth this year so maybe it is still establishing. If it doesn't improve by October I will move it. I am hoping it will host our state butterfly the Zebra Longwing. I am enjoying collecting pots of all sorts because I can leave them out year round!
To the right of the screened porch is the newest bed. It was going to be the lizard garden but has evolved into a hummingbird garden. Newly planted Pentas (will grow as perennials here) and Tropical Milkweed already attract the hummingbirds. Spring planted bulbs Crocosmia, Foxtail and Pineapple Lily are just coming up — all plants I've longed to grow. Also coming up is the Ornamental Ginger I grew at the lake last summer! It went dormant but I just discovered some new shoots. I have a small Windmill Palm establishing as well as some dwarf Yaupon Holly shrubs. Also added, perennial Wild Petunia — I read the box turtles like it! Non native Firecracker Plant grows here, too, because it grows well here in town and the red flowers attract the hummingbirds. It's fern-like foliage attracts me. I have some small ornamental Purslane plants I hope to establish as ground cover. I made the stepping stone in a workshop here at the local art center. I have a new watering system to install here for the summer.
I'm also developing a traveling garden of my plant pets that hang out on the porch and travel with me summers. One of them is my prized Nepenthes Pitcher Plant which has grown considerably. The Staghorn Fern still travels but will one day reside in the large Cedar Tree. I have collected a few new orchids, too. Newest plant pets include a Bead Plant and Hoya. I used to think that maybe I would get another dog but my heart still breaks for Mojo. I wouldn't know what to feed a new dog or how to treat for fleas without fear of cancer. So I've decided my pets will be plants from now on and I'm collecting plants I've long admired. So far they are immune from cancer.
Nepenthes Pitcher Plant
WARNING: This post contains tropical scenes which may be damaging to your well being if you are in the Northern climates affected by the storm. Then again, these scenes may lift your spirits. You decide.
Two months have passed since my last blog post ... and a lot has been happening ...
Usually I set aside sometime to ponder a New Year — to reflect, project. Last year I rang in 2018 at a live Jimmy Buffett concert in Nashville — very far from my norm. This year I rang in 2019 downtown in Paradise South at 9pm. Yes, 9pm. You see "Paradise South" drops the ball at 9pm instead of midnight so everyone is sure to "make it." It was a rather large celebration for a small town and the ball is homemade and dropped via fishing pole by the mayor from a second story balcony. It is not my norm to celebrate in any sort of crowd but the rest of it is keeping in line with my lifestyle from homemade to the fishing pole, all quite unconventional yet attainable. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I'm developing a new norm? A crowd, loud?
The Ball Drop New Year's Eve
It is now January 15, and I am just beginning my reflecting and projecting upon 2018 and 2019 (and it will probably take me days to pull this post together). Whereas 2018 began as a party, 2019 began busy. I spent New Year's Day not recovering from an early 9pm night, but by matting and framing six new art works I painted throughout 2018 for an art show at the community art center. Artists know what work it is to mat and frame if art admirers may not. I am fortunate to have my own mat cutter that I acquired several years ago and that I finally dragged down to Paradise South where the main energy of all my painting is now my focus. In this bit of minimal reflection I realize that 2019 will be a year to carry on aka keep on keeping on what I started in 2018 — paint, plant, cook. The past couple years have been working up to this mantra and now that my life has finally clicked into place, I hope to really enjoy the process of painting, planting, and cooking.
I spent my wedding anniversary, the following day 01/02 (easy for the husband to remember), hanging my art show with the help of two terrific gals. The evening I spent with friends (one of whom helped me hang the show) at a local restaurant in great company. It was a fun, memorable anniversary if not our norm of a intimate dinner at a restaurant or at home cooking. I worked for the next three days at my favorite studio/store (loving my second career!) right up to the art show opening reception in which I appeared by walking across the street at the close of work into the reception. It was well received and I am very grateful for and thankful to those who came to support my artwork and myself — thank you! https://www.facebook.com/157460394588986/posts/779283939073292
The next morning began at 4am with a trip to the Gainesville airport only to arrive, on time, and wait to be checked in to, er bumped from our flight and placed on stand by for another flight to be missed again and to stand by to make a third flight to Atlanta. Then we arrived in Atlanta to the news that there weren't any more flights that day to our final destination, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We took the sky train to a nice hotel and made the best of it knowing we were guaranteed a flight the next morning to Puerto Vallarta.
On the wall in our hotel ...
I haven't been to Puerto Vallarta in a good while — maybe five years running now. My first few trips were due to my parents discovering and making PV their winter stomping ground. My parents are also the reason for this current trip. I want to spend precious time with them. We are all getting older. That evening upon arrival enveloped us from the balcony of our rented condo and we collectively sighed with deep contentment and realized what paradise Puerto Vallarta is cradled between the ocean and mountains. We breathed in rhythm to the sound of the surf and completely relaxed.
I will be here until the end of January (pinch me!) and so far it has been absolutely rejuvenating. Now, I can pause and reflect on the past year which has been life changing and gather my thoughts. Once again, I reflect on how selling our big house up North and becoming FL residents has allowed me to get on with life! Obstacles have been removed. It is somewhat of a shock that the very thing I thought so important to me — the house and Violet Fern garden — was the very thing that was in my way and weighing me down.
Previous visits to Puerto Vallarta inspired several paintings especially when I visited the botanical gardens.
Older paintings inspired by previous trips to Vallarta: Jardin Botanico Vallarta Study I & II, A Las Luz de las Velas
This painting, although recently painted just this past summer was also inspired by my previous trip to Jardin Botanico Vallarta years ago.
The Orchid House, a recent painting
This visit is no different! I see inspiration everywhere and I am excited to paint more botanicals. Because I packed so haphazardly I don't have any painting supplies or even a sketchbook — arrrgh! What I do have is the ever present phone to record pictures of what inspires me. I will be thrilled to get back to painting when we return to Paradise South and also curious to see what paintings develop five years later. Sort of like the aging trend on Facebook going on now, I will compare paintings then with the new paintings now. I also want to explore painting botanicals with acrylics as well as watercolor.
Inspiration is everywhere!
Oh yes, I would like this to be my new norm! Starting the year off with a pause and rejuvenating in beautiful Puerto Vallarta. I can project that this will be a year I am kinder to my body and will concentrate on better health and fitness like so many of us. I need to drop some weight — that's what is weighing me down now. Mornings I have been going down to the marina for gentle yoga 50+ classes with Michelle Williamson (she is awesome!), and I am becoming somewhat addicted! I am amazed how much mobility I have lost and hope to get back.
I also love the food here, of course, being the foodie that I am. I consume food but food also consumes me. I hope to turn my constant cravings to more whole plant-based foods and not addicting process foods. I love this area where we can walk to the marina and pick from the many restaurants. I am finding that there are many more vegetarian and vegan options than I remember. One of my favorite places for brunch after yoga class is The Yogi Bar. They also offer yoga classes but I haven't worked up to their level yet — maybe next year.
Unfortunately, I can't just eat out for every meal so I am also cooking: beans for less than a dollar, chopping fruit, homemade pico de galo, and guacamole all fresh. I purchase warm corn tortillas out of a cooler (!!!) at the commercial (grocery store) after a good 30 minute walk there. We cab it back and unload our groceries into available shopping carts at the condo and wheel it right into our kitchen! The tortilla chips are not coated in granular flavor enhancers that mess with your brain and taste buds. They are simply tortilla chips. I feel I am in detox and I'm feeling good! Tequila has been my beverage of choice. No wine, no gin martinis or tonics. Just lots and lots of tequila — straight, with club soda and lime, margaritas, palomas ... hmmm, maybe that's why I'm feeling so good!
Did you catch that I wrote "maybe next year?" We have already reserved our spot in beautiful Puerto Vallarta for next January 2020. You kinda have to if you want to stay near the marina. You can bet next year I will have painting supplies! If this is carrying on, well then let me carry on! I think 2019 will be another great year and I wish you the same.
So, it's here, finally. That elusive balance I've struggled to achieve for the past few years. I feel I have arrived. I'm there!
I find myself singing The Who ...
don don don don don don ...
And freedom tastes of reality
I had the guts to leave the temple! I cannot explain the sense of release in letting the big house and garden go. Something I felt so entwined and entangled in, and have untangled, dropped, and walked away from. The first weeks full time at the cabin in the woods were bliss! A simple 12x12 foot space without electric power, septic, tv/internet ... and it was bliss! It was also a test run to see if my husband and I could spend at least four months living there next summer. We have come to the conclusion we CAN, and not only that, but look forward to it!
Off the grid living is pretty convenient, really, with solar panels for power to charge the phones and tool batteries, etc. We have a two burner propane cook top, a propane on-demand water heater, propane heater for chilly days/nights, and a compost toilet from Nature's Head. We have our laundry serviced as in drop off and pick up (thanks Nicole!) — nope, not terrible at all. We haul water in and store it in a 35 gallon holding tank for dishes and showers (outdoors) which, honestly, IS a chore and something we will work on changing next summer. A solar powered pump runs the water through the water heater. We converted our chest freezer into a solar-powered refrigerator with the use of a special thermostat regulator (whaaa?). The chest freezer is better insulated and opens from the top so is much more efficient than a refrigerator. It works quite well but we still buy ice for cocktails which is something we need to figure out because I am a ritual believer in happy hour and ice is a good 40 minutes away round trip. A bag of ice in a good cooler lasts a couple of days if it's not terribly hot.
Our solar "refrigerator" on the porch aka "The Green Room."
Our cabin kitchen as viewed from the bed in the "bedroom."
Our cabin was built to last by us with minimal maintenance in mind, a refreshing change from the 100 plus year old house we left behind. The garden will be a raised bed, standing height (see plans here), for veggies and a SMALL area of flowering perennials that will be easy to tend. If I'm repeating myself it's because I believe in what we say comes true!
I have so much time! Time to focus on myself, my health, painting, kayaking. Such change! I completed three paintings before we left for our winter digs AND completed one I began in 2017. Before, I would be lucky to complete three paintings in a year! Best of all, there aren't any onlookers! No one is there to watch or hear what I am doing aside from the deer, porcupines, raccoons, birds ... it is so liberating!
Fast forward travel South ... Now, we are at our little cabana, as I like to call it, in Florida's Nature Coast. It is a little larger than 144 square feet at a whopping 660. We will spend time here through May(!), and I'm getting good and settled in. There's been a lot of packing, moving, shuffling, sorting, storing these past couple years ... I'm ready for things to be in their place, a bit of routine and a little fun! We have neighbors, but it's a different, completely laid back pace. They don't give a hoot what I, nor anyone else, does. I walk everywhere because the weather, and folks, are usually pleasant.
The main living area of our little cabana - really it's all one needs. We actually have a separate bedroom off to the left.
The garden is a bit of work but fun ~ tropical vibes ~ believe me, I've learned not to over extend. It is manageable. Nature surrounds, after all it is the Nature Coast, so I don't feel the need to create a forest in my backyard which I think it what I was subconsciously attempting to do at the old house. The veggies are grown at the community garden and that helps. The fruit trees planted by the previous owner, which I intended to try to keep alive and thriving, are going to be replaced as they decline (from lack of special treatment) because I am a habitat/wildlife gardener and the trees are not natural in this environment. They require fertilizer and water and extra care. I've already replaced two, one already dead before me, with native trees to this environment; a live oak and a redbud. The live oak looks great! The redbud looks as if it is struggling a bit and I believe it is because our irrigation system was not working for much of the summer. Luckily there was ample rain. I will make sure to water it while I'm here until it gets established. I have other native trees in mind, too, such as Yaupon Holly and Wax Myrtle. Eventually I will replace the irrigation system with a soaker hose system like the one I placed in the back of our property from Gardeners Supply ~ so easy! Most importantly, did I mention that I am in no rush to "finish" the garden? It is a perpetual work in progress. Pictures to come!
So here I am, living the dream. The dream that took quite a few years to whittle down to, which sounds ironic because usually one builds up to a dream. I've downsized to a dream. Trading in the big house for two smaller ones, to live in only during the best of weather. It is like good design — pairing down to only the finer essentials.
I have an art show coming up in January at the local art center! I've already set up my work space so I can create some much needed new work for the show "Flora, Fauna, Fins & Feathers" which I've somewhat incorporated into my newly updated web site as you might have noticed.
My little corner studio space. Not the luxurious dedicated whole room, but quite comfortable and efficient.
I'll be painting and gardening as usual but with much more presence and focus. I'll have time to play creatively, truly enjoy the earth, er, sand, and being outdoors. I'll have time to work on my health and wellth. I try my best to eat and live Vegan. I enjoy preparing and cooking plant-based foods. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about a Vegan lifestyle or plant-based eating ( ; by the way unless, of course, if you ask where I get my protein from.
Lunch! Spiralized carrot and purple cabbage salad with hemp seeds, golden raisins, cashews and tahini lemon dressing with a side of olive bread with sunflower artichoke spread purchased from the Hendersonville co-op on our travels.
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