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The morning glory days of winter

A sunny February day with a light breeze and temperatures in the low 70s. How quickly we forget our summer threats to move to New England.

While gardeners in northern climates are indoors poring over seed catalogs and planning for the spring, we are in our glory days.

My little garden in winter is the prize for surviving the brutal summer. It is the consolation for having no autumn leaves.

Florida winter days should last forever, but each one is over too quickly. Weekend puttering in the garden is so pleasant that we lose track of time until the noise of afternoon grackles signals that it's 3:30 already. Where has the day gone?

The flock comes in and queues on the overhead lines above the yard to perform their strange chorus: One bird raises its wings with a squawk, another picks up the motion and sound as the first subsides, on to the next and the next, each repeating the same shrug of the wings and squawk _ a calliope of grackles.

The waterfall that trickles over rocks into my small fish pond is the site for a communal grackle bath. After a quick dip and shake of the wings, they are back up on the line to resume the chorus.

The garden is full of scent as well as sound. Just outside the French doors, angel's trumpet I(Brugmansia) Pdroops overhead with dozens of long curled buds ready to unfurl within the next few days. You can already begin to smell the sweet baby-powder scent that will be almost overpowering at night when they are fully open.

A half-barrel planted with deep purple petunias smells of cloves. The heliotrope that barely made it through the summer is blooming with clusters of fragrant purple blooms. I thought the honey-sweet fragrance of Buddleia -- or possibly orange blossoms -- were the most luscious scents in the plant kingdom, but heliotrope with its exotic blend of vanilla-almond scent belongs among the top contenders.

Welcome back annuals and herbs that hate the summer. I planted a clay tub with sweet alyssum, borage and mint marigold _ Tagetes lucida (sold as tarragon). Every time I pass by, I must stop to pinch the mint marigold leaves to release their anise scent and admire the pure blue of the tiny borage blossoms. Each blossom is a five-pointed star with a protruding center of black seeds.

I learned my lesson last year when I wasted my borage seeds trying to grow it in the summer. This year I will save the seeds to plant next fall. More pinch-and-sniff herbs in pots on the patio include lemon thyme, basil, dill and the wonderful rose pelargonium, or scented geranium, that needs only a caress to release its sweet oils.

Medinilla with its beautiful, broad leaves and clusters of bright pink berry-like buds is a tropical that blooms in the winter. I moved it from a remote spot in the garden nearer to the patio so I could enjoy seeing it in bloom. The Medinilla was one of the cold-sensitive plants that migrated into my house during one of the last cold snaps that threatened to reach below 40 degrees. I hosted it, along with several gingers, bromeliads and a heliconia in my back room. A purple and white dendrobium orchid, heavy with long blooming spikes, hung around on the bathroom shower rod for a couple of days until it was safe enough to go back out under the orange tree.

Our summers are mostly green, but in winter we can add spots and swaths of color. I made a tower of blue by planting the morning glory "Heavenly Blue" in a 14-inch pot with a teepee of bamboo stakes for the vines to climb on. Each morning I am greeted with dozens of cheerful sky-blue blooms. Another welcome blue is an astoundingly beautiful salvia, "Indigo Spires," with 10-inch spires of deep purple-blue.

We can have geraniums all winter and through most of the spring before they give up in the heat. Four small pots of salmon-pink geraniums squeezed into a wicker basket make a pink splash under my blue morning glory tower.

Nasturtium planted in a corner of the rose garden is not content to stay put and is crawling, mounding, climbing everywhere through the roses and spilling its umbrella leaves and cheerful orange flowers out onto the grass in high-spirited celebration of a subtropical winter.

Bobbie Meyers writes for the Palm Beach Daily News.

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