Monday, May 21, 2018
Home and Garden

Tips, tricks and small miracles — a gardening potpourri

On serious gardening days, I pull off the wedding rings, pull on the garden gloves, and head outside with my tools and my goals. • I become a purpose-focused machine. I get hot, tired, and yes, after a few hours, bored. But I get 'er done. • Other days, though, I give myself permission to wander aimlessly. I weed here, prune there, act on inspirations. I forget the gloves and abuse the jewelry, but wow, I feel really good when I'm done! • In a salute to short attention spans, today I give you three short, unrelated garden vignettes. A little prune, a little weed, a little inspiration. Hello, spring!

Advice from my 93-year-old pen pal

Frances Mallett is a Port Richey native who's been gardening for as long as she can remember.

For a few years now, we've been email pen pals. I love Frances' feistiness, her fun-loving good nature, and how she has found gardening work-arounds to accommodate the infirmities of age.

I asked her to give some thought to her nine decades of gardening. What advice could she offer that I can't find anywhere else?

"I'm always learning," she replied. "I only wish I could do more. … I am not a know-it-all. I can learn from you 'kids.' "

See why I love this lady?

Despite her disclaimers, Frances has some great tips:

• "First, I do most of my gardening in containers — juice barrels cut in half and holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. It saves on water and fertilizer.

• "You have to be ruthless. If a plant comes up and doesn't grow well and fast, just pull it up and try something else in that spot. Or move it.

• "Always plant flowers to attract bees. The coral vine is the best I've used. The bees really love it.

• "Do not spray your garden with anything that will kill the bees. The University of Florida recommends 2 tablespoons of Ivory dish detergent with 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to a gallon of water. That should take care of the worms and chewing bugs, and it isn't harmful to the environment."

(Thanks to Frances' daughter, Susan Eckstein, who facilitates our emailing, and to her garden helper Sue Wilson, who makes sure Frances stays grimy.)

Holiday symphony of angel's trumpets

The wonders never cease, no matter how long you've been gardening!

Late last month, as the faithful of one religion celebrated Passover and those of another celebrated Holy Week, master gardener Norma Bean of South Tampa watched in awe as her enormous angel's trumpet tree burst into hundreds of golden-yellow blooms.

"I've never seen anything like it," she says. "No one would believe me if they didn't see it themselves!"

Norma's tree, less than 4 years old, is about 18 feet tall and even bigger around. And — get this — she started it from a cutting. In the past 12 months, she says, it doubled in size. And then BAM! A starburst of pendulous foot-long blooms.

"Angel's trumpets are supposed to be heavy feeders, but I don't fertilize it at all," Norma says. "I don't understand it."

Happy accident or small miracle? Sometimes, it's nice just to wonder.

Snap judgments

Most gardeners I know eventually become pretty good photographers. It's hard to see something amazing —a blossom, a butterfly, a clever bit of yard art — and not want to share.

I'm just such a gardener and recently, I had to buy yet another camera, my third in three years. I really liked Kodak's affordable Z-series, but they don't last, and Kodak doesn't make them anymore.

My search for something reliable, easy to learn, and with great macro (super close-up) capability made me think I surely can't be the only gardener with this problem!

So I contacted Jerry Pavia, the national garden photographer who shoots for top publishing houses like Timber Press and Taunton. He came to Tampa a year ago and visited a couple dozen local gardens. (His photos of Rick and Flip Miller's garden are featured in Container Gardening magazine, which hits newsstands this month, and he put Mary Mirabal, of Garden Whimsies by Mary, on the cover of Flea Market Gardening magazine.)

What does Jerry recommend?

"I would not purchase a point-and-shoot but an SLR camera from a reputable company like Canon, Nikon, etc. And buy one lens, a zoom that goes from 24mm to 105mm," he says.

Save up for a brand-name 100mm macro lens for super close-ups. Don't be tempted by cheaper off-brands, he says

But it's not just the camera.

Shooting is all about the light, Jerry says, and you can't fix that with computer software.

"The light in Tampa is so harsh that to capture a garden in its best possible light means shooting at dawn and sunset, unless you get a rare cloudy day," he says. "When I was in Tampa, I was up at 3:30 a.m. to get to a garden by sunrise."

Bottom line: No matter the camera, pay attention to the light.

For the record, I got a Canon Rebel T3. Love it!

Penny Carnathan can be reached at [email protected] Find more garden stories at at Diggin Florida Dirt. Follow her on Twitter @DigginPenny.