VALRICO — Deanna Easterling describes her garden as an organized backyard jungle with a manicured front yard.
I would never call any part of it a jungle. Even the bananas by the back fence are neat with four big bunches ripening.
But she was right on when she said they had many, many, milkweed plants and beautiful monarch butterflies fluttering around the entire garden. She says that there was a time when she had to keep buying milkweed plants to keep the caterpillars fed.
But those seeds blow and land where there is ample sun and water, and now she has huge plants on both sides of the mailbox, one by the front door she had to tie up to get by, and new seedlings making a thick ground cover in some areas.
The amazing thing was that the milkweed wasn't bare from caterpillars eating, though the butterflies were laying eggs. As one who has dozens of pots of leafless milkweed in containers and more in the ground that can barely grow back in time for the next meal, I felt like I had reached paradise.
The Easterling house is in a cul de sac in Valrico, and the lawn is perfect. She and husband Jake have lived there for 25 years. Several of their trees have been removed in the last years. A circle of azaleas fill one corner of the front yard and two chenille shrubs will soon arise from the middle and bloom continuously where a tree once gave shade.
The azaleas are doing okay, but a circle of bromeliads that once had a tree in the middle are slightly scorched.
The area just behind the house is not wide, so Deanna designed a curving path with shrubs and small trees on either side. She planted for hummingbirds and she and Jake sit on the porch or even indoors and watch the hummers come every morning and evening.
They also have a pair of cardinals, the male of which feeds his lady and then they enjoy a bath and he feeds her more.
There are six large crape myrtle trees just beginning to bloom through the summer. A Florida dogwood she bought in Georgia is 12 feet tall and bloomed for weeks several weeks in the late spring. She pointed out the small tree she called grandpa's whiskers and said it had white floss all over it every early spring. I think it is a fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus).
She bought another plant called Red Sensation, a ti plant, or Cordyline, that she was told would grow only 3 feet tall. Some of it now is at least 10 feet tall. She also had an Alstroemeria, lily of the Incas, in bloom. I seldom see that.
The Easterlings have good help in the garden. Consolidated Pest Control takes care of pests, but doesn't uses chemicals around the milkweeds or the pentas and other nectar flowers. They also take care of the fertilizer. Feliciano Fuentes does the mowing and pruning. The garden is in good hands.
Jake tells Deanna, "I need some peace and quite. Go out to your garden." Then they both have peace and quiet, but they also both enjoy the unique garden they have grown with the beautiful plants and wildlife and plenty of milkweed.
Tip: Now's the time to water as needed. April and May are our driest times and as the days get longer and hotter, any water-wimping plants are likely to wilt, sometimes even when you do water.
I try not to even look outside between noon and 4 p.m. After that they tend to revive. Try to water early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but watch especially any newly planted plants and any in containers. In case of serious wilting when the leaves don't revive with evening and watering, put the container in a bucket for a few hours or overnight. And don't water the plants that seem to be doing okay without it. The summer rains are coming, thank God.
Contact Monica Brandies at [email protected]