Sunday, June 17, 2018
Home and Garden

Oh, the wonderful wonders the rain has wrought!

Do you silently cheer when the forecast calls for yet another 70 percent chance of rain?

Is that because your friends, loved ones and co-workers have been cursing this super soppy summer? If you blurted out, "I LOVE the rain!" would they look as if you've just screamed, "Starve the babies!"

I feel your pain.

But oh how my heart skips at the sight of puddles along the road on the home stretch of my workday commute.

As a 100 percent hand irrigator, I'm spared evenings standing outside with a hose after a good, sky-splitting storm. And rainwater is SO much better than the stuff from our spigots. It's got nitrogen, a fertilizer, and a one-hour deluge will dump way more water than I have the patience to pour.

All this rain means that whatever I plant grows like mildew in a teenager's bathroom. Root systems barrel through the sandy soil, making them super efficient when it gets hot and dry. My perennials sprout new growth and bonus blooms.

I LOVE the rain! And when it's extra rainy, the surprises are extra terrific.

Oh glory!

I discovered gloriosa lily while on the annual Earthly Paradise Garden Tour (a terrific event hosted every April by Tampa's Rose Garden Circle) more than three years ago. That big, gold-gilded scarlet blossom was like nothing I'd ever seen and I had to have one.

It's Florida-friendly, but you won't find this vine in nurseries; at least, I didn't. I could have ordered it online, but I prefer to get my strange plants from local gardeners. Their plants are acclimated to our conditions, and the gardeners will load you up on tips to boost your odds of success.

More than a year after I fell for gloriosa, Kelly Schubert of Brandon posted a photo of her blooms on Facebook. Long story short, she shared tubers and advice. After several false starts, this wonderfully wet summer finally gave me my first glorious gloriosa flowers.

This photo is not mine, however. Doreen Damm of New Port Richey shared it in response to my glorified photo-bragging on my Facebook Diggin Florida Dirt page.

"I enjoy the gloriosa lily," she said. "I like that it changes color and shape throughout the life of the bloom. It starts out lime green and fuchsia in a tight cup, then a creamy white and red in a bowl, and finally dark red spread flat."

These vines grow and then — POOF! They disappear. Kelly's advice: Ignore them for best results. And don't freak when they vanish. They'll be back!

Oh my gosh!

You never know what you'll find in your Florida garden after a good rain.

Bill Carr of Plant City stepped out into his garden last month and saw what looked like a foot-long slimy eel wriggling around in a couple of inches of water. He thought it might be a walking catfish, but it didn't have fins.

"It was almost large enough to have for dinner," he said.

A neighbor identified it for him: the greater siren (Siren lacertina), one of two giant salamanders native to Florida. They've got two tiny front legs and great big gills. When the water dries up, the gills do, too, and the sirens bury themselves in mud to wait out the drought.

"They're all over Florida, but they're pretty reclusive. I'm lucky to see one every couple years in the field," says Eric Johnson, a biologist with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "They're a freaky-looking creature. We get phone calls when people see them or catch them" while fishing.

They won't hurt you, so count yourself lucky if you spot one. (One reader says she and her friends used to play with them in canals when she was a kid. They called them mud puppies.) The sirens average 1 to 2 feet long. The other giant salamander, the two-toed amphiuma (Amphiuma means), looks similar but has four tiny legs and can grow to more than 3 feet long.

"They're just another of God's creatures in the garden," said Bill, who swears he didn't scream when he saw this guy. "They all create wonder and beauty among the flowers."

Oh, wow!

I have a lot of summer-blooming perennials because I do most of my planting when the summer rains will take care of getting roots established.

One unusual plant that has been especially happy lately is my Tahitian hat plant (Karomia tettensis). It's related to the more common Chinese hat, another favorite but a very different plant.

Both like my full-on-sun garden, both are low-maintenance, and both have colorful, funky-shaped blooms. But whereas Chinese hat blooms in the fall and is done after the first cold night, Tahitian hat flowers away through all our warm months. And Chinese hat blooms are a single color, while Tahitian hats have two-toned pink and purple petals.

Mine is a shrub about 6 feet tall. It's in sandy soil that I amend once a year with oak leaves and Black Kow compost. I never fertilize it, but I do cover it when there are freeze warnings, and I cut it back by about a third in the spring.

I got it from Hummingbird and Butterfly Plants by George, a Dade City vendor (George Griepenburg) who sells only at plant fairs. Find him at

Reach Penny Carnathan at [email protected]; through Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt; or on Twitter, @DigginPenny. Read more about local gardens and gardeners at