In South Florida we endure the summer so we can enjoy the winter. November temps average 50’s at night and 80’s in the day, lately. Here is a stroll around our yard.
What sort of person goes to Epcot, only takes pictures of plants, then leaves with a smile on his face? Any attendee at the Florida Flower Trials last month in Orlando, Florida.
This annual gardening exhibit is sponsored by the Florida Nursery Grower Landscape Association (FNGLA) Floriculture Division. The purpose is to encourage plant breeders and growers to bring to the table some of their new introductions for us in the horticulture business to admire and evaluate.
There were three locations in Orlando where these various plants were grown: Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, Walt Disney World’s nursery, and Harry P. Leu Gardens. Here are some of the outstanding sights and plants, by location.
For more on this festival: http://www.FloridaFlowerTrials.org
“Here. It’s a rock.”
My wife held out her hands with hesitation. “Um…thanks?” She wondered what was the big deal with this dirty piece of limestone.
“Look closer” I encouraged her. When she examined the rock she found a crack along its circumference. Then she separated the two halves and discovered the crystals inside.
“Wow, it’s beautiful!” She complimented this hefty geode from Morocco.
If she had not looked closer and explored, it would remain just another rock.
Gardening is like that. If it is only pulling weeds and planting seeds, the average person might respond “No thanks, I’d rather watch TV.”
But if people look closer at all the pleasures of nature, they might want to get their hands dirty. Pleasures like:
- Discovery. Cutting a vegetable in half should be a cause to pause. No one in the world has ever seen the inside of this bell pepper or this melon, until now.
And, what a treat it is to find a new-born Monarch butterfly drying its wings, next to it’s cracked chrysalis shell. How many bird’s nests do you have on your property?
- Sensory stimulation. Herbs are the original scratch-and-sniff plants. Smash the leaves of spearmint or peppermint or cardamom ginger for a scent thrill. The full flavor of garlic comes from home-grown bulbs: pungent and not bitter, almost sweet.
- Fun. It might take two months from seed, but sunflowers always cause a smile, especially when you give them to a friend. You can’t buy, but you can grow your own yellow, seedless watermelon. Have you ever grown the Eyeball plant?
- Nostalgia. What flowers or vegetables did your grandmother grow? Bring back an era gone by growing sweet peas, gladiolus, zinnias and morning glories.
- Self-improvement. You burn more calories gardening than walking. And then you have something to show for your efforts. Home grown vegetables do not contain any mysterious pesticides and are at their peak of antioxidants and vitamins.
- Solace. Remember the movie “Avatar”? The essence of this science-fictitious blue race was their intimate relationship with insects, animals and plants. That message touched something deep in the souls of busy city-dwellers who long for more than busyness. Spending quiet time surrounded by plants reconnects us to nature.
- Snob Appeal, AKA Bragging Rights. “Check this out.” Is usually accompanied by a sweeping hand gesture toward a new car or tool or appliance. But how about a rare plant? Everybody in this neighborhood has the same trees and shrubs, but not you! How about a dramatic bed of ‘Rose Wine’ Neoregelias? Forget about regular bougainvilleas, the ‘Surprise’ bougie has pink AND white blooms on the same vine!
Gardening has so much to offer people. The price of admission is perspiration and the rewards far exceed the cost. Just look closer.
What is it that draws us outdoors? What is it that stirs us deeply when we breathe in fresh air? Answer: When we are surrounded by plants, we are reconnected.
Whether you consider the Bible fact or fable, it describes our intimate connection with nature. When God created the universe and the sun, moon, earth, waters and stocked it with fish, He did it by “speaking” them into existence. “The land produced vegetation…and God saw that it was good.”
But when it came to the climax of creating, God knelt down in the dirt and made mankind by hand. Mud pies came before Moses. “In the image of God he created them…” Soon, the Master Gardener handed the deed over to Adam and Eve “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth…”
But, there was only one plant in this idyllic landscape that was off limits. “For when you eat from it you will surely die.” We have such a caveat today in every nursery and garden center: The area marked “Employees Only” or the most tempting siren: “Not For Sale”. We can blame the snake but Adam and Eve bet their lives that this fruit was to die for.
If I were God and the only two creatures made in my image broke my one-and-only rule, I think I would just squish them and start over. But, no such drama. Their punishment? Get out. And as a reminder of their trespass, God gave us “thorns and thistles”. Weeds are a result of The Curse.
I believe that is what pulls us out to the fields, the woods, the garden, the golf course, the beach, and the mountains. It is our deep desire to return to the garden, to reconnect to a perfect place.
Scientists tell us there is a part of the brain that releases feel-good hormones when we simply smell organic soil. We are drawn to the dirt because we came from it.
And so many emotions are triggered by the scents of a sweet rose, gardenias,
fresh-cut grass, oak-stoked campfire, burning leaves, lavender, savory geraniums, and musty marigolds.
“…trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.”
Why does our mouth water over the sight of a lemon or long for the full flavor of a morning dew-cooled cantaloupe?
Gardening is sensuous. Rich soil feels rich. The smooth-peeling bark of the Gumbo Limbo tree draws our hand like wet paint. Slightly furry leaves of the African violet must be gently caressed.
The wind makes no sound until it weaves between branches and then it clicks, clacks and hisses through a grove of bamboo. Then there are birds attracted to fruit and seeds and branches for cover. Their songs complete the symphony of the garden.
Every color of the rainbow is found in the garden: Saffron yellow stamens come from the crocus that match the sulfur yellow of the sunflower. Deep blue Delphiniums mirror the midnight hue of Blueberry Waffle coleus. Pure pink roses subdue the scarlet splatter of geraniums. Cool gray-green algae looks at home on the smooth trunk of the Royal Palm. Pure white iris are the first to be seen at dawn and the last to fade at dusk. We are stirred and soothed by nature’s colors, by design.
To the gardeners out there: That’s why you get satisfaction and such a thrill by digging holes, arranging, watering, and caring for your plants. You are participating in creation.
A gardener’s life is an action-packed, fun-filled adventure.
Our heart skips a beat when the new, colorful seed catalogs arrive in the mail. With sweaty palms we caress each page, admiring the photography and imagine introducing these new flowers and vegetables into the next planting.
Soon, with jubilation, we open that fat, brown envelope containing packets of seeds, ripe with potential. Filling the pots, sowing the seeds, labeling, and watering is a slow dance. After nursing for days or weeks or months, germination is the crescendo, a reason to send out birth announcements.
Transplanting the seedlings into the garden and containers is like the pyro-technician loading the tubes on the third of July. It is arranging for the hopeful display.
The thrill continues when the established plants bring forth their first blossoms and fruit. In Old Testament times, believers would bring their “first fruits” to the temple as an offering. The first are the biggest and the best the plant has to offer, for all to enjoy.
The satisfaction continues as the plants increases in size and abundance.
Cultivating is caring. It is not work, it is helping the good plants, hindering the weeds, giving water when needed, and watching for pests. It is correcting and directing. It is a satisfying activity.
The harvest is a reward but not the conclusion. Gardening is a natural continuum. There is no final season, only the next season, filled with dreams and desire and contentment.
Every year I look through the pile of colorful seed catalogs and order new vegetables for our garden. My wife also looks through the flower sections and points out plants she would like us to grow. Then I discourage her with wise comments like “No, that’s a zone 5 plant. No that’s a biennial. Oops, wrong time of the year.”
This year I apologized for putting on the brakes and gave her free reign. With glee, she picked plants I would never have considered growing. When the fat envelope came in the mail I was surprised by 10,000 seeds! If you know seeds, that’s not pounds but ounces but still one seed grows one plant. I planted a representative from each packet…and we have the most colorful back yard we have ever had.
Here are a few vases of flowers cut from our jungle.