Michael Spencer's Make It Green: Summer in the garden, part one

Readers: Suzie and I are headed to the Hawaiian Islands, where I spent four years as a very young boy before Statehood. I will tour all of the gardens, of course, taking photos for my book. Have you been to Oahu or Kauai or Maui? Your suggestions on memorable places to visit would be very appreciated. I hope you enjoy this two-part story that came to mind as I planned our forthcoming trip.

Early summer at Peace and Plenty

This past week we discovered a very large Corn Snake, identified via text by Dr. Damien Lin, the same vet present for YYs passing and who, aside from the fact that we do need a vet around here, has wormed her way into the family through simple strength of character and friendship, and being a terrific vet. Antonio found the critter calmly folded into a bed of Asian Jasmine. She occupied all of perhaps a foot by half a foot, banded rust and gold alternately with small black dividers, impossibly rich, coarse colors nestled in tiny deep green leaves.

At first I wondered if she had been injured, but resisted the temptation to prod; by mid-morning she moved slowly towards the pond about a snake length away. Clearly she knew the territory. Dipping her head into the pond, she drank deeply, her head stretched down to the water just like the cats, the dogs, the raccoons, and the possums, but with infinitely more grace. She cruised across the surface of the water to the other side, in a confident six-foot s-curve. She paused after stretching her head up over the pond edge and below the adjacent deck. Most of her body was still in the pond. I suppose she was checking things out. That same space sometimes has Roller, one of the semi-feral cats, sleeping there, and an occasional possum too. Unseen, I gently stroked her smooth, cool skin. She moved along.

The turtle — some type of cooter and now about four inches across — was nowhere to be seen.

Later I was reading in the garden and gorging myself on Stacey’s Pita Chips. Antonio recently cut the ficus green island down to 12 inches in an experiment; it is possible that the snake was living there, cover now exposed. And apparently too a huge toad, easily six inches from mouth to ’vent’ which jumped on the deck. Again Damien: this is the obnoxious, very toxic, cane toad, a nasty invasive species so poisonous that even the tadpoles will kill when eaten.

Mango rain

And there’s more. Mangos rain from the sky in June and July, breathtaking colors against dark moist earth; so rich that critters take their fill. The fruit is impossibly high for picking, the cost of tree trimming being what it is, but nature provides: after sufficient abuse from striking and noisy monk parakeets the fruit bombs the Rhapis Forest. If I find the fruit soon enough, a new serrated knife cuts through the pits, nicely separating fresh fruit from parakeet-pecked; there is enough for both. The freezer is jammed with frozen mango; use your Vita-Mix to make mango ice cream.

Every year, orange jessamine surprises me with a short but intense flower and perfume, this year lasting from June 28 to 29. The plants are more than 30 years old, become patio trees, really, out front along the road where a perfect design would not have put them. What to do?

Gardenia, too, is showing a small spray of flowers. Nothing like what we expect in May, but then again nicely surprising. The flowers are covered with impossibly small ants. I’ve tried using canned air to blow the little things away.

The garden is spruced up; new paint for the raised garden, and the new potting bench, and the natural gas tank is sitting in the can waiting. The vegetable garden will be fully rebuilt this year with a foot of rich compost and with the addition of paving between the rows, donated by a generous client. (Thanks, Todd!)

New orchids are blooming, happily gracing the Sabal Palm, recently joined by dozens more. Tomatoes, too, more than we can eat. The shade cloth ransomed a forest of arugula, and encouraged the potatoes, both with less water.

More than seven inches of water has fallen since June 21, so irrigation is now off for the season. The Gulf warmed to 88 degrees, and then cooled to 84 degrees, but was smooth and inviting this morning as it is every morning.

And did I mention two new cats? Marley and Sassy are new additions, both semi-feral, and were subject to being turned out by relocating neighbors. What do people think?

By the way, if you are a nurseryman who can sell retail, please drop me an email so that I can add you to my forthcoming list. The idea here is to match the do-it-yourself gardener with local suppliers who can sell at near-wholesale prices.

Do you have design problems you would like to discuss? Michael Spencer will respond by email (ms@msadesign.com). To receive his weekly e-newsletter, send him an email: subscribe@msadesign.com.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features