Musings of a South Florida Gardener

One of the things I value most about gardens is that they are ever changing, allowing us all the chance to learn, evolve in our preferences, make mistakes and enjoy a ringside seat to nature.

By: Mary Benton, Co-Founder of Bound by Beauty
Cardinal refreshing himself in the fountain.

Each morning the garden calls me to see what’s new.  It’s always something . 

One of the things I value most about gardens is that they are ever changing, allowing us all the chance to learn, evolve in our preferences, make mistakes and enjoy a ringside seat to nature.  This courtyard has had so many evolutions over the years.  At one time the fountain was flowing and it was filled with fish.  And then the fish grew so that they were discovered and eaten by the local cats and raccoons.  Next we grew water lettuce in each of the bowls and the frogs love that!

For the past few years, I’ve removed the water lettuce from the top two bowls to fill them with water for our bird friends.  The frogs still inhabit the bottom bowl and they very efficiently eat any mosquito larvae.  Water lettuce is classified as an invasive, but I appreciate it in this application because it’s contained and I love the velvety leaves.  My journey as a gardener has been one of discovery through experience and education.  The unique plants I collected many years ago have given way to a more urgent need to grow natives in an effort to help restore the environment and provide habitat for wildlife.  

This trellis in the same courtyard has hosted maypop, corky stem passionvine, coral honeysuckle and now has been taken over by the blue pea vine.  I miss all the zebra longwings and the gulf frittilaries that laid their eggs on both of the passionvines, but blue pea vine attracts birds, bees and skippers and the flowers are quite lovely.

I started planting corky stem passionvines along both perimeter fence lines for the zebras and gulfs a few years ago, hoping that planting among established vines and trees would give the caterpillars a better chance at survival, since they are more hidden than on this trellis.  To some degree it has succeeded, but it’s much harder to watch the growth of the caterpillars and their emergence from their chrysalis.

Julia butterfly

Gulf fritillary butterfly with another fritillary attached.

One of my passions for many years has been growing orchids.  In South Florida we are fortunate to enjoy such a long growing season.  We are accustomed to seeing flowers bloom throughout the year.  This is very rarely the case with orchids, except for a couple easy to grow varieties, here an oncidium   - possibly Oncidium Ensatum, but I’m not positive.  Although most orchids are epiphytic, this species can also ground in the ground.

This is the other constantly blooming orchid, a Brassavola Nodosa, commonly called Lady of the Night for the delicious scent it releases at sunset to attract the moth that pollinates it. 

My orchid house provides habitat for lots of wildlife.  I wish I had a photo of the hummingbirds that stake out their territory each day during the winter, but they are way too fast for my camera!  Quite often the birds delight in chewing off the orchid roots because it seems to make the perfect nesting material.  And this little frog is one of the many calling the orchid house home.

Dendrobium Lindleyi is one of my favorite orchids.  It blooms like this once a year for about a month.

Below is an orchid commonly called a cowhorn, Cyrtopodium punctatum.  It is native to Florida and some of Latin America, but endangered here now.  It’s quite easy to grow once you have the pseudobulb and blooms once a year for about a month in the spring.  Bees love it!

Vanilla orchids grow easily in South Florida.  The flowers appear for just a few hours one day only.  Unfortunately we do not have the bee here that pollinates the orchid, so growers are self-pollinating.  We had so many vanilla flowers last year that I tried to self-pollinate, with very little success.  There was only one vanilla bean at the end of the season!  One more reason to concentrate efforts on growing native plants!

Giant swallowtails are frequent visitors to our key lime tree and wild lime trees.  Unfortunately, the birds are not often fooled by the “bird poop” caterpillar defense.  Hopefully the female lays enough eggs to increase the odds for this beautiful butterfly.

These soft cane dendrobiums are happily growing on a frangipani tree.  They have the most delicious scent each morning.  Unfortunately, they also appeal to the iguanas, who think they make a perfect breakfast!

Coonties grow easily in this section of the garden, attracting the gorgeous little atalas.  I love this ancient cycad for its hardiness and ability to survive in almost any condition.

I’ve been growing zinnias for a while now, just for the monarchs.  They especially love the orange flowers.  As our climate continues to change more each year, all of nature needs our help and protection.  Anything we can do to utilize more native plants, especially those that feed pollinators and birds or provide habit for wildlife is valuable.  And the benefit for us is a journey rich in appreciation for what surrounds us.


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