Gardening with Georgia

Garden stories can arise from a single plant or a profusion of them, from a spectacular bird or glorious butterfly that visits a worthy bloom, or a new discovery made in the field that expands our understanding of the Earth. Any and all of these realms are for sharing and discussing on this blog, which we invite you to join.

Text and photos by Georgia Tasker

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An unusual milkweed relative

Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 01:00:19 PM

Deceptively cute, the lifesaver cactus is a member of the milkweed family that just happens to be a succulent from South Africa: Huernia reticulata. At a Saturday flea market in Winter Park, the little plant called out to us: sure enough, a ring in the center of the flower is the size and shape of a Life Saver, albeit maroon colored. The ring is called an anulus and is part of the corolla that surrounds the gynostegium buried inside. The what? A fusion of the stamens, style and stigmatic surfaces. The structure is common to the milkweed family. Look at milkweeds and hoyas as well as stapelias to find it.

Inside the bell-shaped tube formed by the corolla and anulus, there are hairs and a fly-attracting stink common to stapelias. (This plant once was called Stapelia reticulata.)

Growing in cactus mix, our Huernia reticulata gets morning sun and very small amounts of water. This group of plants grows among rocks, and overwatering is a danger.


Bromeliad Show and Sale

Sat, Mar 01, 2014 at 09:09:19 AM

The 36th annual show and sale of the Bromeliad Society of South Florida is exhibiting some remarkable plants, from wispy, silver tillandsias to the armed Neoregelia “Hanibal Lector;’ some bear brilliantly colored inflorescences, others have simply elegant shapes and not a flower in sight, such as Quesnelia marmorata ‘Tim Plowman.’  “What big teeth you have”, said Little Red Riding Hood when she saw Hohenbergia edmundoi with its fierce armor and spines. Where there is color, it is seldom demure: Neoregelia ‘Donna’ has a startlingly bright fuchsia center; Aechmea tessmanii waves its yellow and red inflorescence like a beacon in the night.

Billbergia Hallaelujah

Hohenbergia edmundoi

Neoregelia 'Donna'

The student art contest is always a wonderful exhibition that accompanies the show, and this year 8th grader Christina Bernadotti took first place. Her still life with blue and gold macaw nearly throbs with color and patterns.


Vendors at the sale have new hybrids, old favorites. There are enticing plants for sun or shade, and experts to advise you on how to grow them. The show is Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 to 4:30 p.m.


Spectacular Orchid Flower: 'Big Bull'

Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 01:45:00 PM

Blc. Pamela Finney 'Big Bull' may be a horrible name, but the flower on this orchid is spectacular. The flower is 9.5 inche tall by 8 inches wide.  It is a cross between Lc. Irene Finney x Blc. Pamela Heatherington. Both parents are old-time cattleyas.

Big Bull orchid

The Pamela Finney hybrid was created in 1964. At last year's International Orchid Festival, the big hybrid was named best Cattleya Alliance and appeared in the exhibit by the Orchid Society of Coral Gables. We have grown this plant for several years, and exclaim every time it flowers.

Big Bull orchid


Atala Butterflies in the Garden

Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 09:48:29 AM

Atala  butterflies were flitting around the garden this morning, and the Long John tree (Triplaris cumingiana), which has been in bold red flower for some time now, was their nectar source of choice.



Everglades Winter Birds

Thu, Feb 06, 2014 at 03:46:17 PM

Ospreys, once known as fish hawks, return to the same nest year after year. Likewise we return to the same birding spot year after year. With great satisfaction, we can report that the pair of osprey in Eco Pond in Everglades National Park has again successfully produced a youngster. Maybe more than one, but we only saw one small head rise above the sides of the huge and high nest. The remarkable thing about these birds is that the soles of their claws are spiny and the front outer talon is able to move forward or back to better hold a fish.

Osprey parent and chick
Osprey parent and chick

A Caribbean “race” may have an all white head rather than a head with brown markings on top, according to some bird experts. Females of this type may have a light brown necklace. Both male and female birds have a dark eye stripe. During the Florida Keys and Wildlife Festival, Rafael Galvez, director of the Florida Hawk Watch, and David Simpson, bird guide, spotted an osprey with nearly a full white head flying at Long Key State Park. Other birds with similar marking also have been seen and photographed. In “Birds of Southern Florida”, G. Michael Flieg and Allan Sander say the Florida osprey “is entirely white headed and totally white below.” The birds I saw today were white below, with an eye stripe, but I couldn’t get a clear view of the tops of their heads.

Osprey in Flight
Osprey in Flight

The youngster was so high up and far away, that I was able to see only the beginnings of an eye stripe.

Sharing the waters and trees of Eco Pond were roseate spoonbills, wood storks, ibis, black-necked stilts, snowy egrets, an American coot and blue-winged teals.

The only action at Anhinga Trail: birders covering their cars with blue tarps now provided by the park, along with bungee cords. A few black vultures already have learned to peck away at the tarps as well as the rubber around windows and windshields and windshield wipers.


Sunday in the Park

Mon, Feb 03, 2014 at 08:55:03 AM

Super Bowl Sunday in Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley:  Arriving at 8:45 a.m. (Shark Valley doesn’t open until 8:30), we secured a spot along the canal to practice our bird photography. Black-crowned night-herons are said to be reclusive birds, nesting and in hidden colonies and fishing at night, but today, four night-herons – two juveniles and two adults – were in plain sight fishing from perches on the drainage canal that originally was built for oil exploration. That narrow canal is a favorite for wading birds and photographers with long lenses. A pair of red-shouldered hawks is nesting again this year in one of the tree cabbage palms at the juncture of the canal and the parking lot.  Snowy egrets, anhingas, little green herons, blue herons, great gray herons and alligators were present and accounted for. Some catfish met untimely ends, but the garfish are enormous.

Night Heron
Young NIght Heron and Catfish

Snowy egret hunting

The bridge on Tamiami Trail that now allows water from the L-29 Canal and Water Conservation Area 3B to flow south into the park was completed last spring. Reports indicate that the recovery from decades of drought is well underway.  It did this environmentalist’s heart good to drive across it. We may see a revitalized Everglades ecosystem in our lifetime – the Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.


Chocolate Festival—Day Two

Sun, Jan 26, 2014 at 08:47:31 AM


Before the vegan brownie cooking demonstration Saturday at Fairchild’s International Chocolate Festival, poets from the Youth Writers Project at W.R. Thomas Middle School read several of their works about chocolate. Dariam Leal, 13, began with a poem entitled “A Rather Delicious Night Out,” which has my vote for one of the best rhymes ever: such a delicious aroma that could be detected all the way to Oklahoma. (This is not a direct quote, but aroma and Oklahoma will stick with me.) The Youth Writers had matching T-shirts and wonderful poise. Advisor Victoria Jarrett is a finalist in her district for Miami-Dade County’s teacher of the year, so little wonder the rhyme was so creative. Ms. Leal, by the way, has won first place in the district for the annual Patriot’s Pen, a Veteran of Foreign Wars contest open to all students in grades 6 through 8 in the United States.



Mariana Cortez, followed the poets and made delicious brownies that were gluten and soy free. Her Miami bakery, BunnieCakes, has a slogan Our heart with every cupcake, so naturally the brownies were heart-shaped and decorated with a tiny red candy heart.



Lectures in the Science Village were at capacity, reported Noris Ledesma, curator of tropical fruit. Ledesma expected a handful of people to attend her early talk and was surprised to find the room filled. The rainbow cacao pods that Noris arranged to be on display still amazed everyone with their colors.



And in the Window to the Tropics conservatory, Joshua Levine’s gold cast resin morel mushrooms were attached to the cork tree this morning, adding to the bounty of art already growing luxuriantly in this superb exhibition.

Sunday: more talks, more cooking and more chocolate. Come early and bring your sweet tooth.


Chocolate Festival at Fairchild

Fri, Jan 24, 2014 at 04:03:47 PM


Fairchild's Chocolate Festival, 2014


Noris Ledesma offers a taste of chocolate nibs to Alma Breeden and Linda Notery. Noris demonstrated how to heat the nibs and add honey (12 ounces for a pound of nibs) and annatto for coloring. Honey she said is "one of the best preservatives known and will help preserve the chocolate."



Colorful pods of cacao are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's genetic collection in Puerto Rico. 


Charles McDonald demonstrated how to make dark chocolate caramel corn to a tent full of chocolate lovers. Popcorn, brown sugar, salt, light corn syrup, baking soda, vanilla, 12 cups of popcorn, dry honey roasted peanuts and melted dark chocolate all added up to a great snack. (The recipe will be on the Garden's website.) McDonald owns Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Coral Gables. More cooking demonstrations are scheduled Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday with Chef Mariana Cortez making vegan brownies. Four demonstrations a day are held in the Whole Foods Market Culinary Tent.


Pupating lady bug larva

Tue, Jan 14, 2014 at 06:42:03 PM

Three of these larvae are on my Jamaica capers. I
 never before have seen a lady bug larva pupate.

Look closely and you will see the wrinkled larval skin scrunching up toward
the top of her head.



Ready for the cold?

Mon, Jan 06, 2014 at 08:41:33 AM

Our unusually rainy and warm November and December have fattened our tropical plants, but also made them more vulnerable to a sudden drop in temperature, predicted for tonight.

Water plants well as they will be better able to withstand low temperatures than dry plants.

Putting container plants on the south side of the house can help protect them from the wind that accompanies a cold front. Drop hanging baskets to beneath a tree and cover with a sheet. Wind may be more damaging than cold temperatures, pulling moisture from both the plant and the growing medium, so don’t leave them in harm’s way.

Orchid growers know to bring Phalaenopsis orchids inside if the temperature goes below 55. Vandas, too, would like protection when temperatures are in the low 50s to upper 40s. Mature Paphiopedilum orchids like temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees, but not below. Cattleyas also like the 55 to 60 degree nighttime temperature, but temps in the low 40s may stress them. Encyclias can tolerate cold, but evergreen dendrobiums and mule-ear oncidiums cannot. Renanthera and Rhynchostylis orchids want to be protected below 50 degrees. After warmth returns, spray your orchids with a mix of Dithane M45 and Captan (1 tablespoon each to a gallon of water) to avoid disease.

Birds-nest anthuriums are among the cold-tolerant aroids. Generally those plants with leathery leaves will do better in cold (as long as it is not prolonged for days). However, the strap-leaf anthuriums will need protection. Philodendron bipinnatifidum (what we used to call Phil. selloum) is quite cold hardy, but many others may have leaf-burn.

Ixoras will develop brown spots and leaves in even mild cold. Mussaendas, too, dislike cold. Ornamental bananas are more cold tolerant than edible varieties. Tall bananas are going to have leaves ripped by wind, and after days of cold may die back to the ground, but one night of cold should not harm them if they are growing well and disease-free.

Palm lovers know to use a copper fungicide for tender palms; mix according to directions and pour down the growing point if you can reach it. Copper will counter fungus and bacteria.

But do not use on Dendrobium orchids or bromeliads, as it will kill them.

If you have cared for your plants with fertilizer and water at the appropriate times, they should be robust enough to come through with the least amount of damage.