Progress and Fall Plans for the Courtyard Garden

As you may recall, the courtyard garden did not live up to expectations for my original plans, so I've rethought it and decided to turn it into a permaculture "food forest" type garden. Of course, it will be very limited in its scope, due to its size, but I've already made a lot of progress. The west side, which looked like this when I moved in... looks like this. The banana is over ten feet tall and has two large pups. I planted a pigeon pea next to it which I use for biomass and it seems to be working for nitrogen fixing, don't you think? I discovered that the elephant ear is edible, so I'm letting the little sprouts, which come up everywhere, live and eating their small leaves, also letting them grow to provide shade, which is sorely lacking in the courtyard. I also have basil, ginger and albemoschus manihot growing there, and I've just planted some sweet potato slips to become next year's ground cover.

The South wall now has taro, amaranth, butterfly weed, Ceylon spinach, Seminole pumpkin and sweet potato slips planted, but it's also a work in progress which will be my spring project, and too ugly to post pictures of at this point.

For fall, I want to work on the east side of the garden, the shadier side. This is where I want to plant my greens. It's a mess right now...

...and I was using it for a holding and potting area, but all that is going to go, and I'll start using it for planting. I already have the shampoo ginger growing there, which I will never get rid of since it's grown up under the wall, so I'm just going to keep cutting that back and use it for biomass, since it has no food value and I'm not interested in using it for shampoo. I already have the angled luffa growing in the corner, where all the gravel is, and while it's growing well, I've yet to see any fruit, so that may come down and be used for biomass too.

I'll be digging out and amending the soil for planting. I'll dig in as much organic matter as I can find, although I'll be limited by budget and availability until the leaves start falling. I plan to use kitchen scraps as direct compost in the beginning. I'll also be planting a few pigeon peas there for eventual shade, nitrogen fixing and biomass. I'm not sure if that side has earthworms, but if not, I'll move them from the other gardens into this one when I add the fall leaves.

I'll string some wire across the top of the wall and tie strings to it for beans to climb. Underneath, I'll plant spinach, collards, onions, and kohlrabi. I thought about seven-top turnips, but I really like collards more. In the very front, I'll plant my lettuces and carrots. Not too sure what to plant as ground cover right now, but I've had some suggestions from the permaculture sub on reddit that I'm looking at. I might use winter squash, even though there probably isn't enough sun there for them to bear, but we'll see. I can also just let beans run across the ground instead of staking them.

Eventually, I would like to put a gutter garden on the wall for the lettuce, or tower gardens. Like I said, it's all an experiment right now.

So that's the plan so far in this experimental permaculture food forest. I'd be happy to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Diary - July 8, 2016

Well, it's been a long time since I wrote in my diary. It's been extremely hot lately, in the mid-to-upper 90s every day for awhile now. I water every morning, and sometimes in the afternoons just to cool the plants and soil off.

The outside garden (top) has filled in very nicely, but some things aren't doing as well as others.

It's hard to believe that less than one year ago, this was the original outside garden. I remember carefully planting those little slips of plants and mulching them with Spanish moss. the lantana is gone now and that tiny little slip of lemon grass on the far left has gotten so big that I had to tear some of it out this year. Luckily, my next door neighbor took it and is going to grow it in her garden.

The Confederate Rose (top far left) was horribly infested with whiteflies, so I had to remove all but the top few leaves to save it. I've been treating the whiteflies that came back daily with a spray of dish soap, oil and cayenne in water and so far, so good. I've also been fertilizing it regularly, and it's started to put out lots of nice, healthy side growth.

 On the other hand, the bulbs I found discarded in a pile of leaves next to the dumpster turned out to be crocosmia, not gladiolus, and they are blooming beautifully.

The double purple datura that I grew from seed is also blooming finally. One put out a bloom in the spring, which is now a nice seed pod for fresh seeds for next year.

The coleus are all doing exceptionally well. I especially love the Japanese Giant (left back below) that I got when a neighbor moved out last year. This thing will get about 4-5 feet tall by the time it's done growing.

Also in the above picture you'll see that the dwarf yellow poinciana planted out this spring to replace the lantana is doing well. It's grown almost a foot, and I'm counting on blooms in the fall. The sweet potatoes are taking over the garden and the Little Ruby alternanthera (front bottom left) that was one solitary sprig this spring is spreading like crazy.

Sadly, the New Zealand spinach is not doing well. I took cuttings hoping to root them, but although I had read reports of how easy they are to root in water, mine just rotted away. I've also read reports that it takes awhile to get started and will surprise me one day by growing like mad, so I just leave it there and hope that report is right, or that it at least reseeds itself for next year.

One last picture, then I really do have to go back to work. I bought some markdown plants at Lowe's last year, and while they aren't doing as well as I expected, they are still alive and growing. The Sallyfun Blue salvia is growing very slowly as is the Luna Red hibiscus next to it. The hibiscus bloomed today, which is nice, but the three spindly stems are so weak I had to stake it up so it didn't fall face-down into the ground. I'm going to be moving this in the winter, maybe putting it into a container.

That's it for now. I'll report on the inside courtyard permaculture garden soon. Happy Gardening!

I Would Have No Garden if Not For Free Plants

When I left SW Florida for the second time, I brought very few plants with me, around 12 to 15, if I recall correctly. most of them were mature plants I couldn't give up and some were pots full of cuttings from others that I gave away or sold. I also brought a bag of seeds I had saved or gathered here and there. Everything I brought was precious to me.

Along the way, some died or tried to die. I lost my beautiful pink Thanksgiving cactus, but I luckily had cuttings started, although it will take years to get it back to that size. My Clivia was almost eaten alive by snails, and is still recovering from it's near death. My beautiful pink orchid cactus died, and there was nothing I could do to save it. My yellow Thai Crown of Thorns almost died, and I still haven't planted out or potted up the remaining pieces. My staghorn fern was doing well until it got here and got sunburned and almost died -- for the fourth time. I'm keeping it indoors for the summer. My purple epidendrum orchid all but died, and is now struggling to come back from some tiny keikis that survived. Another orchid died altogether, but honestly, I didn't expect that one to live, because it was never really healthy.

I thought I would never have a beautiful garden again. I moved from here to there, never really finding my footing, picking up a few plants along the way. Now that I'm finally settled into a place that seems to love me and my plants, I decided to take an inventory and see how many plants I have and how I came about them. I was SHOCKED at the number and diversity of the plants I have which were gotten primarily for free.

So I made a list of the freebies. I have bought only a few plants since I've been back in FL; some half-price vincas from WalMart and a few 75% and 90% off plants from Lowe's. All totaled, those were about $5. This is how I got the rest:

List of free plants in my garden

From McCrorie Community Garden

  1. Lemon grass - grew from one sprig I got off a plant at the edge of the compost pile
  2. Tithonia - Dug up a volunteer plant from the pathway
  3. Mirablis logiflora (Sweet Four O'clock) - volunteer growing in my plot
  4. Sweet potatoes - volunteers in my plot
  5. Amaryllis - gift from a fellow gardener
  6. Red-leaf canna - gift from a fellow gardener
  7. NOID cherry tomato - grown from seeds from a fallen fruit
  8. Spearmint - Dug up escaped plants in pathway
  9. Red tropical sage - Grown from harvested seeds
  10. Rosemary from a cutting from a fellow gardener

From My Current Apartment Complex

From tenants moving:
  1. "Little Ruby" alternanthera
  2. "Japanese Giant" coleus
  3. Purple lantana
  4. Yellow/orange canna
  5. NOID white-leaved syngonium
  6. Red & White Amaryllis
  7. Purple wandering jew
  8. Dwarf oyster plant
  9. Kalanchoe luciae 

From around the property:

  1. Purple Queen
  2. Arrowhead syngonium
  3. Blue-eyed grass
  4. Clerodendrum bungeii
  5. Green spider plant
  6. Coral bean
  7. Loquat seedling
  8. Crocosmia
  9. Wild blue violets

In the courtyard when I moved in:

  1. Banana
  2. Giant Xanthasoma elephant ear
  3. Peppermint
  4. Red pine cone ginger
  5. Aloe greenii
  6. Asiatic dayflower
  7. Red, orange and yellow tropical hibiscus

From roadsides, vacant lots, parking lots, etc:
  1. Crinum lilies from a vacant lot
  2. Ruellia "Purple Showers" from escapee on roadside
  3. Wild Petunia - Ruellia caroliniensis from roadside
  4. Mimosa tree (seed) from roadside
  5. Agapanthus (tiny babies) from parking lot
  6. Variegated flax (babies) from parking lot
  7. African iris (seed) from parking lot
  8. Cassia bicapsularis from cuttings from city property
  9. Bulbine cuttings from parking lot
  10. Shrimp plant escapees from roadside
  11. Yellow butterfly weed escapees from roadside
  12. Florida roseling from the roadside
  13. Green wandering jew - Tradescantia fluminensis from the roadside
  14. Magenta four-o'clock (seed) from the roadside
  15. Coontie and seedlings from an abandoned lot
  16. Liriope from an abandoned lot
  17. Red and Yellow coleus cuttings from abandoned plants around a closed business

From friends, trades & free seeds:
  1. 4 NOID Brugmansias
  2. Peacock ginger
  3. Black coleus
  4. NOID Papaya (probably Miradol)
  5. Golden pothos
  6. Various bromeliads
  7. "Dart frog" caladium
  8. Taro
  9. Red stripe leaf amaranth
  10. Blue walking iris
  11. Everglades tomatoes (seed)
  12. Cayenne peppers (seed)
  13. Black cherry tomato (seed)
  14. Seminole pumpkin (seed)
  15. Angled luffa (seed)
  16. Albemoschus manihot (cutting)
  17. Various ornamental and veggie seeds not yet planted
  18. Red Thai crown of thorns
  19. Yellow dwarf poinciana (seeds brought with me)
  20. Dragon fruit (store-bought plant seeds)
  21. Talinum fruticosum - Ceylon spinach
  22. Datura inoxia (seeds brought with me)
  23. Datura "Double Purple" (seeds brought with me)

That's 75 kinds of plants I didn't have when I got here, and since some are multiples, it's probably more than 100 plants total. Some are just babies, and some were obtained by what some would consider "dubious means," but I don't ever take the whole plant, just offsets, seeds or starts, and I don't feel bad about rescuing plants from parking lots and around buildings that are going to die anyway.

Now if I can just keep the whiteflies and hornworms from killing everything, I'll be happy. 

Tomato Report

I only have a few tomato plants this year, because a) I'm not a huge tomato fan and b) I was trying to find just one good regular tomato to grow every year, since I have so little room.

I got a sample pack from Dollar Seed with 10 seeds each of ten different heirloom varieties. I bought it just for the Cherokee Purple seeds, but decided to also try Mortgage Lifter. This is my report on the tomatoes for this year to date.

Regular Tomatoes

Early Girl - I don't like this plant, other than that it is early bearing. It's way too tall and spindly and doesn't bear especially well. I didn't remove the suckers this year, and it still isn't filling out well, but it's early. I grew this year's from a sucker from last year's plant and overwintered. I don't think this is one I'm going to continue planting, but I may try the Early Girl Bush, which is supposed to be a lot more compact and easy to grow.

Cherokee Purple - Who doesn't love this tomato? It's absolutely amazing. I like its thick, sturdy stems and the fact that is is very prolific. The only thing I don't like is that the fruit tends to split, but I avoid that by picking it just as it starts to turn and ripening it on the windowsill. Beautiful, big fruit and nearly disease resistant. Awesome taste. Mine has 5 baby fruits on it right now, and is loaded with blooms.

Mortgage Lifter - This plant is pathetic, so I didn't even take a picture of it. Planted it in sterile soil, but it has picked up some sort of early blight which is killing all the leaves. It was the last one I planted, so I guess that's why it has no fruit to date, but I may have to pull it out and toss it due to the blight. The stems are weak and spindly. I may move it away from the other tomatoes just to see what it does, but I don't think I'll be planting this again.

Cherry Tomatoes

Everglades - Of course, this one is always amazing. I have planted several outside the wall, which I just let sprawl all over the ground and they put out fruits like crazy. This is my absolute favorite cherry tomato ever

NOID Cherry - grown from seeds I got from a tomato from McCrorie Garden, I have no idea what it is, but it looks a lot like Husky Cherry Red and is delicious. It's not very prolific to date, though. I planted it out in the outside garden staked to the pigeon pea, and it got a little spindly. I cut off some of the pigeon pea's lower branches to give it more light. We'll see what it does. It has an Everglades planted close by that might be stealing all its nutrients.

Black Cherry - these are seeds from a friend's tomatoes, so they may not come true. Cut worms got the first seedling I planted, so I put foil around the next one and it seems to be doing well. It will be interesting to see if it actually IS a black cherry tomato or not.


I did grow a couple of Roma seedlings, but I'm not sure I'm going to plant them. I'm running out of space, and although I had planned to put them into my neighbor's garden next door, he doesn't seem very interested in really DOING any gardening, in fact, I think he thought I was going to do it for him. No thanks. I have enough to do. I may just put these into 1-gallon pots and try to keep them going until Fall, or I may toss them. I don't want to waste a 5-gallon bucket on one of them, since they probably won't do much this summer.

So the verdict is that this fall, I will only grow Cherokee Purple and maybe try the Yellow Plum seeds I have. Of course, the Everglade stays, but the rest are pretty much history, especially the Mortgage Lifter.

Happy Gardening!

Florida Gardening 101: Planting Grafted Roses

Growing roses in Florida is a challenge, which is a lesson I learned well after killing a few. After you have chosen your grafted rose bushes, you must learn the proper way to plant and fertilize them. Except for some heirloom old garden roses (OGR), most roses will not thrive on their own roots in our native Florida soils. In order to get optimum growth and bloom from your Florida roses, you will have to plant them properly.

I learned this technique from a rose expert in South Florida, and it gets raves from everyone I've taught it to.

How to Plant Grafted Roses in Florida

Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day, preferably with some morning sun. Roses can't get too much sun, so don't hesitate to plant them in full sun if possible.

Nematodes are the main enemy of roses in Florida. These microscopic worms attack the roots, leaving them gnarled and knotty, unable to absorb nutrients. The best defense against nematode infestation in your roses is organic matter in the soil.

Roses need rich, loamy soil to thrive. To ensure that they have this, you have to totally replace the native Florida soil with organic peat. Organic peat is not the same as composted manure, however, you will also need composted manure when planting your grafted roses.

NOTE: Planting container roses and bareroot roses is different, and both will be explained in this article.

How to Transplant Container Grown Grafted Roses

First, you will dig a hole twice the diameter of and 3" deeper than the pot the rose bush came in (i.e., if the pot is a 10" pot, the hole should be 20" wide). Add 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole, fill the hole with water twice and let it soak in.

Remove the rose bush from the pot and cut the rootball with a box cutter or other sharp knife on four sides, going from top to bottom. This will loosen the roots so that they can spread. If the bottom roots have grown into a tight in a circle, and you cannot loosen them, you may have to slice off from 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the bottom, but if possible, just tease the bottom roots away from the rootball.

Place the rose bush in the center of the hole, spreading out the bottom roots as much as possible, and fill halfway with organic peat. Fill the hole with water, and let it soak in. This serves two purposes: to wet the soil and rootball, and to settle the soil so that there are no air holes.

Continue to add organic peat to the hole to within three inches of the top, and water again as before, letting it soak in well. Fill the rest of the hole with organic peat, making sure that the top of the rootball is approximately 1" above the top of the hole.

Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts around the top of the hole and water in well. This will gets your roots off to a good start, just as the composted manure in the bottom will feed your rose until it is established.

How to Plant Bare Root Grafted Roses

Dig your hole to a diameter of at least 20 inches and 3" deeper than the rootball. Fill with water twice, and let it soak completely in to moisten the soil around the hole.

Put 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole. Now, you must build a cone shaped mound in the middle of the hole with the organic peat, and spread the rose roots out over the mound as evenly as possible. Do not let the rose roots scrunch up on the bottom. If they do, build the mound higher.

Fill the hole with organic peat to within 3" of the top. Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts into the hole, and fill with water twice, letting it soak in between each watering. Fill the rest of the hole, making sure to leave the graft above the level where it will be mulched.

Build your watering well as outlined above and water the rose once to settle the soil down around the roots. Thereafter, water as outlined above.

Watering Newly Planted Grafted Roses

Build a dam of the soil you dug out of the hole in a circle around the bush, about 12 inches out from the trunk, and 2 inches high. This is your watering well. You will water the rose by filling the well three times every other day for 2 weeks, twice a week for two weeks, and give it at least one inch of water, twice a week thereafter. After 4 weeks, you may take down the well, fertilize and mulch the rose.

Mulching Grafted Roses

VERY IMPORTANT: Do not ever let the mulch or anything else cover the top of the graft bud (where the rose is grafted onto the rootstock). This will cause graft rot that will kill the hybrid rose on top and cause the bush to come back from the rootstock. While the rose is growing, quickly cut away any growth from below the graft.

Although it's a bit more work to plant these grafted roses properly, and provide a place where they can grow and thrive, it's well worth the effort and will pay off with lovely blooms for years to come.