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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

We live in the wintertime in one of the most beautiful places in the world and often refer to it as Paradise.

Like any place, it has its pluses and its minuses. I don’t want you all to be too envious and think we never have problems.  No place is perfect.  But this place is oceanic beautiful.

And the people are wonderful, too.

Here, it is beautiful throughout the day.

What is not as well known is that next to the ocean, we have natural botanical gardens.  Here is an example:

Often the first instinct of some when they decide to build on this land is to remove all the native brush, resulting in this look:

Below, is the kind of greenery that gets plowed over and removed.
Or this:

The ripped up roots and all the valuable top soil from the land often ends up in a landfill at a nearby dump.

Sometimes after razing the land, one does not get around to building or landscaping and the land sits barren. This reduces the food supply for our native birds and butterflies.  Invasive plants take over. The abandoned land tries to return to normal, but is overwhelmed with invasive plants like Casuarinas and Hawaiian Grape that quickly grow, leaving little space for the return of native plants.

Entomologists teach us that insects and birds cannot survive on invasive plants.  Invasive plants do not carry appropriate insects and seeds to feed our local birds and butterflies.  Their leaves and seeds are not eaten by native birds. Also, fewer insects live on these plants, thus reducing the food supply for birds and butterflies.  This is why invasive plants reproduce so quickly.  All their seeds survive for further growth because local birds and butterflies are not eating them.

The more the invasive plants grow, the less diversity of plant life is found.

Many are now realizing the values of the original native plants on our properties and are trying to be more selective about what is removed.  More often, walking pathways are cut, perhaps with a machete, and carefully selected areas are opened for driving or building. The end result is very striking.

Homes are then surrounded by beautiful, mature, native plants.  The air stays cool from the shade of native trees, birds readily find their berries and bugs to eat and butterflies abound as they dip and fly through the bush.

By staying with native plants, tens of thousands of dollars may be saved in burdensome costs for purchasing of replacement top soil, high-priced charges for replanting the land with expensive and often imported plants and costs for purchasing of numerous bags of chemical fertilizer.

In addition, keeping native plants and original top soil eliminates years of frustration that comes with paying others for landscaping ideas on how to revive land that was injured by removing all its topsoil on already nutrient-starved beach property.

A number of us are wondering if there is something that might be done to encourage those who live on land in beautiful natural areas to know their options before they raze the land and have to spend years regretting what was done.

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When we  moved to a suburb in New York, we had a side yard we developed into a beautiful garden in which we  spent many long, happy hours working.  I wrote several blogs about the garden. Here is an example: Dressing Down to Dress Up

We have sold our big home with the garden and moved to a very enjoyable, easy to manage condominium.  In the process of moving, we no longer own land for outdoor gardening.

I am going to grow a garden anyway.

My inspiration to continue growing a garden without owning one, came from reading about people who took up gardening potholes!

I figure if somebody could successfully make a pothole into a garden, I ought to be able to find an plot of land for gardening in downtown Portland, Oregon.

I recently decided to adopt a four foot square area out in front of our condo that has a tree in the middle.  This small piece of land is right next to a main thoroughfare and cars often park next to it. Because nothing is on the land and it is shady, because people step on it, because dogs water the tree and wander freely across the dirt, plants haven’t grown.

Here is my chosen plot of land.

You may ask, why would I choose such a spot for gardening?  Well, for starters, I figure I can’t do much damage to this plot of land. And with a tiny bit of luck, perhaps I can do better.

It was already the end of the July when I decided I needed a garden which means that most of this year’s growing season is over, not leaving a lot of planting time. Harvest is already upon us.

Therefore, I have dug up the area and have started planting perennials, hoping to establish a base of greenery that will root in this year, and expand and flower next year.

An amazing number of people have stopped to speak with me while I work on the garden.  Many offer words of encouragement, saying they enjoy seeing the little plot of land change its design as plants are added.

It is a perfect-sized project.  I have dug up the dirt, planted a variety of perennials and the biggest goal I have now is to keep the plants watered.  I might also drop some bulbs in for spring flowering. Toward winter  this little plot of land will be composted and I hope at least some of the newly planted perennials make it through the winter and show themselves next spring.

As of today, the outdoor square area looks like this.

Will it survive?  I hope so, but if not, then I can start all over again next spring.  If it does survive, I will add many flowers in the spring.

After all, the entire purpose of a garden is to have something to look forward to in the future, to care for something, and to see the cycle of life as it rotates through all its beauty.

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One of my readers asked to see how our cottage garden looks in the winter, so here it is.

The garden now looks like part of the woods.  It is tamped down and waiting for more snow and freezing cold.  We will do nothing more with it until we rake some of the leaves off in the spring for mixing in our composter.

I will photograph the garden again in the spring and add it to this site.

Just after I took this photo, Joseph shouted from the deck for me to turn around and look at the lake.  Much to my amazement, when I turned around I saw a pair of Bald Eagles flying by, looking so magnificent.  Sorry that I did not catch a photo of them, but I will remember this moment for a very long time.  In real life and at this close range, they look very regal.

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Winter Rose Garden

Yes, it is winter in Portland, but the flowers are still beautiful.  

We walk for seven blocks through the city and suddenly we are on the edge of Washington Park, a 40 acre park we walk through to get to the Rose Garden.  

Today we hiked up the 220 steps to the top of a big hill on the way to the gardens.  The walk through the woods is so peaceful.  
It is hard to believe we just crossed Burnside Street in heavy traffic to get here.

We march up and across to the gardens, where things go from wild and natural to beautifully formal.  

The city looms in the distance.  
We take a few minutes to look at some of the flowers up close, then head on home.  It is roughly a one mile trek, and worth every minute.  

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Before we downsized and sold our suburban home, we kept formal gardens and they were wonderful.  But the care of our gardens took hours and days and weeks of work to keep them organized and flourishing.  The result was marvelous. But the time involved was not. At our new location, our little cottage, we are now experimenting with smaller, more informal gardens that largely depend upon native plants for their blooms and color.

Formal Garden

In our more informal setting, we let the native plants and flowers mingle with the grasses and plants that just pop up and join in for the fun, with the exception of invasives and poison ivy, which we remove by digging up  We added a few colorful flowers and bushes, mostly native to our North East area, that mingle next to the wilder plants.  We tell our plants in our garden to have fun, make room for everybody, move over, if necessary We wish them luck and tell them we hope that it rains so that they get some water. Surprise us, we say, with your arrangements. The end result is very joyful.

We mow a small amount of our yard to make the wild and wooly chaos of our plants look organized.  On one side of our yard, the middle is wilded and on the other side of the yard, the edges are wilded.  A stone path runs through the middle.

Informal Garden

Keeping large parts of the yard wilded is making a buffer, slowing down the flow of rainwater into the lake, thus reducing erosion.  The end result of simplifying our yard is that we only need to mow small portions of the lawn once a month, just to keep walking paths around the garden.  Birds and butterflies enjoy their newly found meadows.

The time we spent before pulling weeds is now spent swimming, kayaking, talking walks, researching and writing.

Wilded with flowers
Naturalized yard
When it comes to gardens, I say go wild.

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My neighbor  invited me to see how big a Red Cedar tree can get.  She knew from my earlier blog that I planned to plant one in my yard.  She had planted one a number of years ago in her own backyard and wanted me to see the size of it today.  She said that if she had known how big it was going to get, she would have planted it farther away from the house.  This is what she showed me:

Now I realize how much space I need to give this baby Red Cedar to grow! It certainly pays to plan ahead.

The tree is lovely and dense.  I think that it would be best to place it in a place where privacy is desired.
Here is a close up of its branches.

 I will plant it on the north side of our house, just as my neighbor did,  but a bit farther away.

My Red Cedar in a pot, ready for planting

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Rainy Day in Paradise

When it rains on this island, it rumbles.  
Last night lightening streaked across the sky, thunder woke us up several times.  Finally, early yesterday morning, it burst into rain.  We got up to watch.  Our electricity was off inside the house, but there was plenty of electricity in the sky.
Front road mud puddles
Afterward, bright grey water settled on the dirt road out front
quite different from the brown mud-puddle 
that we get in New York.  This water reflects softened coral rock.
After awhile, the sky broke open with scattered light.
The ocean was still but the sky was not.

Plants opened up and started uncurling from their parched positions, relaxed with water.

This coconut palm captured the joy of water received.

Our Birdhouse

The backyard looks greener, softer.  The birdhouse sits midst stunning greenery.

Sabal Palm tucked under old almond tree stump.
Native sea grape in rain.
Wet hibiscus overlooks native plants.
Our upper deck, as our neighbor call it, overlooking nature’s theatre.

A perspective on our home from the  point of view of the native sea grape.

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Posted by PicasaWhat grows well under those pesky Casuarinas or Australian Pines?  (Latin names: Casuarina equisetifolia and Casuarina glauca).

My neighbor plans to remove the Australian Pines in front of his house and asked how to prevent erosion. He wants to try the method that Martin suggested in his blog, of cutting them down slowly, allowing undergrowth to get started. And he wanted to know, what grows under Casuarinas? 

I got out my camera and decided to photograph some of the plants growing around the stump of a giant Casuarina in an area that we had  cleared of Australian Pines.
Stage One

Here is what our site looked like when we started.   One could see the ocean through the Australian Pine trees, but not very well.  Although there was other vegetation, it was well hidden and certainly not flourishing.

The first year, we started to remove the Australian Pines by removing many small, baby trees.  At first, we used a machete and just cut down the 7 to 10 footers.  Then I spent a number of days pulling out smaller ones by hand, roots and all.  Most of the ones that I pulled out were three feet high or shorter.   I counted that I removed over 700 small baby Casuarina plants, by hand  while using a pickaxe to pull the root out.  It was a tiring job, but the view of the beach and the ocean was beautiful making it a pleasant work site, especially in the cool of the early morning.

Stage Two, opening up to undergrowth

After doing all this we began to see other trees emerging around the remaining Casuarinas.  Then new groundcover started to show, but not very clearly.  We got a view of the ocean.  And the baby plants got some sunlight.  But we still had more work to do.

Stage Three, New Growth

The next year, we cut down a giant Casuarina that was out in front of our house.  Now the other plants really started flourishing.  We added some Coconut Palms.  In addition, the Seagrape (Coccoloba Uvifera), Coco Plum (Chrysobalanus Icaco) and the Bay Geranium (Ambrosia hispida), among others, emerged and started to grow everywhere, on their own.  I took a series of shots below showing all the plants that now grow naturally around the old Casuarina stump.   Here they are.

Thatch Palm
Bay Cedar  (Suriana maritima)
Palmetta Palms
Bay Geranium
Coco Plum
Sea Heather

It is so wonderful to have all this diversity of plant life. The birds and butterflies like it too. They flutter from plant to plant, eating seeds and lighting on them, probably enjoying the ocean view, as do we.

You can see that I have yet to learn the name of all the plants in my front yard. This is because I did not purchase them at any nursery.  They emerged naturally, once the invasive plant was fully removed. In other words, they did not arrive in containers with plastic labels showing their names. But my neighbors are teaching me the names of these native plants.   As I learn their names, I will add them to the photos.

We recently bought two additional plants that we will be putting into the ground around our house.   They are highly recommended and are great native replacements for the Australian Pine.  They are Lignum Vitae (Gualacum sanactum) and Red Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana). We just bought one of each from our local nursery called Wonderland Gardens in Marsh Harbour.  Here is what they looked like when we bought them.

Baby Lignum Vitae
Red Cedar

These two plants are natives that like the native soil, the sunlight and the ocean salt.  According to our book from the Friends of the Environment, Abaco, Bahamas called  ” A Guide to native and Invasive Plants in Abaco”, both the Lignum Vitae and the Red Cedar plant are protected trees of the Bahamas.  We will be planting them in the next few days.  For the longest time I could not find them in the local plant nurseries and was very pleased to find them available for sale this year.  

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Sunrise under an Australian Pine in the Abacos

One way to control the problem of the proliferating Australian Pine tree in the Bahamas is to eat the seeds!

But I cannot find a single recipe calling for Australian Pine seeds.

Australian Pines line the beach of Eight Mile Bay

Unfortunately, insects in the Bahamas don’t eat them either.  Thus the pines proliferate.

Australian Pines are free to reproduce in the Bahamas because there are no people or insects in our area that eat their seeds . Hundreds of thousands of these uneaten seeds are dropping to the ground and growing spontaneously, everywhere, uneaten by either humans or insects, or even fish.  Now that is a special kind of problem, a population problem.  If we could learn to control the population of Australian Pine, then perhaps we could live happily with them, mingling in their shade, burning their wood, and crafting them into tables and chairs, as needed.

A group of researchers, mostly entomologists, are hoping to find a good set of bugs that will eat Australian Pine seeds.

I am happy to report that Australians are involved in the research project.  In my opinion, it makes sense to have them collaborate with us on this problem since they are the culprits who, several hundred years ago, sent us these trees.  I figure they ought to know a lot about them or at least might have a few pine seed recipes that they could share.

But now we have another problem.  Australians don’t necessarily have the same issue with the trees that we do, because in Australia, there are a group of insects all eating Australian Pine seeds, thus controlling the size of the Australian Pine tree population. We, on the other hand, acquired the trees without the natural controls.  This helps explain why Australians like their pines and we don’t always share their viewpoint.

Which bugs eat Australian Pine seeds and how do we get them?

Wait a minute, not so fast!  There is a bit of work to do before one takes a new bug into our environment.  For example, we have to make sure that something eats the bug and that it doesn’t become yet another invasive problem.  We also have to be sure that that bug over there in Australia is going to like the specific “Australian Pine” seed that we now have here in the Bahamas.

Until this is resolved, and we decide who or what is going to eat the seeds, I ask:
What can we do with Australian Pines? 
Stay tuned. 

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The Australian Pine

Recently, I asked  Martin,  an Australian friend of mine to write in his blog about how Australian Pines might be used here in the Bahamas.  The Australian Pines, or “Casuarinas”  have the reputation of being “invasive plants”, rather unmanageable and growing everywhere, with and without permission, thus being largely viewed in the Bahamas and in Florida as giant weeds.

He replied with some very thoughtful commentary.  Here is what he said:

Thank you, Martin, for your thoughtful remarks.

Let’s see if we can’t get some additional good ideas about how to manage and use these pines from both sides of the world.

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