Friday, October 24, 2008

Climb every mountain…

The highlight of the week — hands down — was a swamp buggy tour of the construction site. We donned those fashionable hard hats and climbed aboard. Within seconds Hort manager Brian Galligan had steered us up a slight grade onto the future parking lot and Garden entrance. This plateau is just adjacent to the existing employee lot. Future rows of parking spaces are divided by swales between sections for drainage.

Then he swung the buggy around in the direction of the highest point on the site --- Melaleuca Mulch Mountain. The buggy climbed to the top. What a vista! Unlike my first trip a few months ago, things didn’t look so raw. In fact, when Brian pointed out where the first gardens are to materialize — Children’s, Brazilian, and Caribbean — we could actually see their approximate locations. The lakes are taking on more natural shapes. At a distance, you could see the boardwalk leading up to the James & Linda White Birding Tower, which was perched over a vast area of wetlands.

We left the buggy on the mountain and hoofed it, clamoring down, inspecting the islands in the Preserve that Chad Washburn, the Natural Areas Manager, has been working on. We wandered over to a second boardwalk, which awkwardly stands where the future lakes will meet. We dubbed it “the boardwalk to nowhere” for the moment. The best viewpoint was standing in the birding tower. Off to one side you could see ghostly stumps punctuating the south wetlands where the melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia) used to be and the cattails have taken over.

Back in the buggy, our course hugged the construction perimeter coming around to the “old” boardwalk to the preserve and then to the new nursery location where Gumby, our sea-faring gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) and all the other donated trees and plants await their call to duty, which will be very soon.

Returning volunteers are asking if there is anything left to do? The answer is, you betcha! So, after consulting with the rest of the folks in the horticulture group, we’ve come up with a list of tasks you could help us with. If you’re interested, give Sally Richardson a call (239-643-7275) or email (

Weeding pots in the nursery; beds in Tropical Mosaic Garden; pots in shadehouse; the ground around pots in the old nursery; the cracks between bricks and pavers in Pink Courtyard and Allee
Watering pots in nursery or newly installed plants; Windstar Garden Room (plant knowledge needed to know how much)
Planting seedlings into larger containers; cuttings (dipping in rooting powder) in pots; existing plants into larger containers; seeds in small pots and flats
Mulch pots in nursery with palm fiber (see below)
Scouting for blooms so plants can be ID’d for bloom color; for insect and disease problems
Cleanup of leaf material around pots in nursery; trash around the perimeter (outside the wall) and inside
Training vines in pots in nursery or on trellis off the loggia
Staking existing plants; newly planted specimens
Securing label tags to pots; making plant labels
Raking oval lawn (dethatch)
Straighten and clean plant labels
Spread snail bait (non-toxic, earth friendly formula) and fire ant bait
Gathering palm seed
Removing fallen palm fronds

Remember the experiment we tried with shredding newspaper for mulch in the nursery pots? Turned out it wasn’t practical for the amount we needed. Now we’re onto palm fiber. It’s that stringy stuff that chokes even the biggest wood chippers and never seems to break down. We’ve had several loads of it dropped next to the new nursery. It is definitely smothering tiny weeds already in the pots. The real test will be in the spring when the weeds grow faster than they can be plucked.

This past week the Garden was open twice for Tropical Mosaic visits. These intimate peeks at the existing Garden remind me of White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT, which used to have an annual open house. They’d have lawn chairs under big shady trees and serve cucumber sandwiches and iced tea. For our open house, Sally Richardson and several volunteers serve iced tea and cookies and talk about the flowers in the Garden. The next visiting days are just after Thanksgiving — can you believe it? — November 28th and 29th. We still get, on a regular basis, mind you; the curious visitors who “innocently” wander in passed the “Closed for Expansion” sign.

This weekend is the annual SW Florida Yard and Garden Show out at the Extension Service (14700 Immokolee Rd. by the Fairgrounds). Plant nerds come from near and far to peruse a wide variety of plants and wares. They’ll have talks, demonstrations (non-political), and more than 35 vendors, including Top Tropicals and the Croton Society. Yours truly will be there on Saturday demonstrating our “virtual” garden; Kurt Van de Wouw takes over on Sunday. For more information, call 239-353-4244. See you there!

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