Friday, September 27, 2013

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, Florida



In 1936, title to a tract of land known now as Washington Oaks Gardens, a Florida State Park, was received by Louise Powis Clark (1887-1965), a widow with three children. It was to become a winter home for her and her third husband, Owen D. Young (1874-1962), also recently widowed. Both were from New York. Louise owned a lingerie company in the Philippines. Owen had been a lawyer, diplomat, and chairman of the boards of General Electric Company and RCA. But there's very little about Washington Oaks that immediately suggests the owners' wealth.

The area had been home to diverse residents, from aboriginal people to Spanish and English Colonists. In 1818, Jose Mariano Hernandez acquired the tract as an addition to his plantation, Mala Compra (Bad Purchase), to the south. Since it overlooked the Matanzas River, he called it Bella Vista (Beautiful View).

Eventually it passed to heirs, one being George L. Washington. Members of the family lived on “The Washington Place” occasionally from the 1870s to 1890s. The Washington lodge no longer exists.

In 1923, the property was sold to developers to be subdivided into residential lots known as Hernandez Estates. But the financial crash of the ‘20s and the Depression of the ‘30s put an end to that dream.

Louise and Owen discovered the property along old highway A1A in 1935 while visiting her mother in St. Augustine, FL. The developers had failed to pay taxes on some parcels, land values were way down, and the romantic couple from up North had money to spend. Louise acquired title in 1936. She and Owen were married the following year.

Rather than rename the place, they called it “Washington Oaks.” Perhaps they liked the sound of it, or named it so because George L. slept there.

Being a designer with interests in weaving and pottery, Louise went to work designing the house and gardens with an artistic eye. Their home was modest, and took full advantage of the view of the river. She combined native and exotic plants in the garden, and included oriental motifs.

Owen Young was a businessman who took an interest in horticulture, so he planted a citrus grove. Naturally, he set up a fruit stand beside old A1A where he occasionally tended and sold citrus to passersby.

My parents often took us boys to Florida in those days, sometimes traveling that scenic highway. I like to imagine we passed the old man hawking oranges by the road, not realizing he was the co-founder of RCA, NBC, and a consultant to presidents.

The Youngs eventually purchased land across the road, allowing them beach access. Owen built an office on that side so he’d have a quiet place to do business and study.  He built a nice home there for the caretaker, too.

Traffic increased, and road noise began to disturb the Young’s idyll, so they prevailed to have A1A relocated closer to the beach. A quiet, scenic portion of the old road still exists, reminding visitors of those days long gone.

Follow me to see what grows beyond the garden wall by clicking on the links below.

Travelers might have barely noticed Washington Oaks simple coquina gates. Coquina stone is sedimentary rock consisting of coquina shells and sand. It was often used as a building material.

The driveway at Washington Oaks opens to a fine view of the comfortable house and the Matanzas River beyond.

Much of the Young’s home looks as it did in the 1950s and '60s. A vintage television displays recorded episodes of old shows.

The front door of a home on the river always faces the river. Remember that.



Roses ‘Sweet Surrender’, ‘Gold Medal’ and ‘Pope John Paul II’ in the formal rose garden.

Visitors can rest on the garden bench beside the pond.


Curcuma provides pops of color in the tropical garden.

A Bird-Of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) flower hides among the foliage.

A sculpture from Asia and koi reflect the Young’s affection for oriental motifs.

In The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton observed “the Carp is the Queen of Rivers: a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish”. Koi are glorified carp. For bait, Walton instructed, “Take the flesh of a Rabbet or Cat cut small, and Bean-flowre;…and then mix these together, and put to them either Sugar, or Honey, …beat together in a Mortar, …and then make it into a ball, or two, or three…” Since I had none of those things, nor a fishing license, I simply watched them laze about.


A bridge not too far with Clerodendrum speciosum beside.

Ponderosa lemons (Citrus limon) in the citrus grove.

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” (Genesis 3)


Owen Young’s office now houses the gift shop at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, FL.




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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Planting Container Gardens With Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering container gardens


I bet every spring you see container gardens brimming with colorful flowers like tulips, narcissus and muscari, and wish you had thought ahead to plant some yourself. If you haven't yet, do it now when the selection of fall bulbs is good, and the time to plant is upon us. Here are tips about how to plant container gardens with spring-flowering bulbs.

Container gardens add lots of color to the spring garden, creating focal points in the landscape. Because they're portable, they can be placed in the right spots to welcome visitors, brighten seating areas, and add drama to borders.

Any fall bulb is good for container gardens, but your choice may depend on personal preference, bloom time, ease of care, and climate zone. Personal preference is entirely up to you. Some gardeners remember their favorites from childhood, and like re-living those days. Others get excited about the newest plant cultivars. Some gardeners choose color themes they like best, or try to emulate gardens they've enjoyed while traveling. No matter the reason, there are hundreds of species and cultivars to satisfy any preference.

Bloom time varies, and that's a good thing. Some, like crocuses and winter aconite, peep from under melting snow. Others, such as various narcissus and tulip cultivars, bloom early, mid-season or late. With a little planning, container gardens can be planted to provide delightful color all spring. Choose bulbs with varying bloom times for succession of color. When some containers are spent, others can begin their show.

Apart from proper watering and weeding, ease of care can be as simple as emptying out spent bulbs and throwing them away. Many bulbs, though, can be transplanted in the garden, naturalized in the lawn, border or shade garden.

Some bulbs thrive in many parts of the country, but may require special treatment to bloom in warmer regions. This is where climate zone influences your decisions. Tulips, for example, do not receive enough chilling in southern zones, so must be chilled artificially before planting. Because they will not thrive when transplanted in warm climate gardens, they are best treated as annuals and thrown away after blooming. (I know it might hurt your feelings, but you'll get over it.) On the other hand, if you plan to perennialize your bulbs in the garden, you must choose those that will succeed in your zone.

Fall planting time may vary depending on the climate zone, but is best done before first frost. It's very important that the bulbs be planted while firm and fresh. Those left sitting about until the end of the season may rot before they go in the ground. By the way, if you must store them awhile, keep them in a cool, dark place. If you must chill them artificially in the refrigerator before planting (tulips and hyacinths, for example), do not chill them in the presence of fruit. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene that will gas your bulbs and inhibit flowering.

Planting container with spring-flowering bulbsChoose durable containers that will not split or crack in colder regions. Stone, glazed stoneware, concrete, cast iron, fiberglass and plastic will do. Southern gardeners may use terracotta. Containers must also provide good drainage. They need not be large to hold lots of bulbs for bulbs can be planted closer in containers than in the ground. Container depth, on the other hand, depends on your bulbs' requirements. They should be deep enough to allow for the roots to grow downward with space left over. If roots grow to the bottom of the pot, the bulbs will probably be forced upward and out of the mix.

If planting large bulbs such as some daffodils, figure about 1 inch of pot diameter per bulb. That would be a 24-inch diameter pot for 24 bulbs. Twice as many smaller bulbs such as tulips and jonquils will fit in the 24-inch pot, and you might stuff 4 times as many minor bulbs in it. If planting bulbs of different types in the same container, choose those that bloom at the same time.

Use a high-quality, sphagnum-based potting mix. Better mixes will also contain vermiculite or perlite, and some fertilizer. You may also make your own or amend commercial types. Composted chicken manure, available at garden centers, is a popular additive. Do not use native soil straight out of your garden because it will lack necessary drainage qualities for container gardens.

Plant your bulbs the same depth in the container as you would in the ground: 1-1/2 to 2 times as deep as the bulb diameter. Measure planting depth from the bottom of the hole. Another way to plant correctly is to measure from 1/2 inch below the pot rim downward to the proper depth. Mark the spot. Put enough potting mix in the container to the correct planting level, place bulbs upright on the mix, then add more mix to 1/2 inch below the rim.

If planting bulbs of different sizes, you'll place them at different depths. Following the same procedure, place the large bulbs on the lowest level, add planting mix to the proper level for the smaller bulbs, place them on the surface, and fill the container to 1/2 inch below the rim.

Water the container thoroughly after planting, then periodically thereafter as needed. Bulbs should never sit in soggy soil. You'd think that they would get enough moisture with winter rains and snow, but it's not always the case. Check the moisture level occasionally. Smaller containers, and terracotta ones, will dry quicker than others.

Face it, planted bulb containers aren't very attractive during the winter. It's best to store them out of sight. There's also the possibility that extreme cold may damage the bulbs for those in containers are more exposed than bulbs in the ground. I suggest grouping them together, burying them in sawdust, or surrounding them with bales of straw. Put your containers on display in the spring when the foliage or flowers are starting to emerge.

After the flowers are gone, make notes and begin planning your bulb purchases. Fall planting time will arrive before you know it.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Must-Have Plants: Lady Fern

Lady Fern
Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Athyrium filix-femina, Aspidium angustum, Athyrium angustum, Polypodium filix-femina, Lady Fern

Flower Color: None

Bloom Time: None

Foliage: Herbaceous, light green to medium green.

Height/Spread: 12 inches to 36 inches x 12 inches to 30 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Moist to well-drained, loamy, pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Delicate foliage, deer resistant, insect resistant, disease resistant.

Uses: Massed planting, naturalizing, fern collections, native plant collections, woodland gardens, shade gardens and borders.

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Amaryllis leaves are dying after I transplanted them.

Dead leaves on transplanted hippeastrum.

Hey. I asked you back in June if I could move my amaryllis in summer even though the foliage never died back. You said I could. Now the foliage is dying back. Will the bulbs die, too? I'm sending you a picture.

Judging from your photo, the bulbs are in good health. Notice the firm shoulder. It's not unusual for the foliage to die back. In fact, it's normal. I expect that your plants will bloom nicely next season. The ones that have defoliated may even bloom earlier.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

I would like to attract more birds to my garden. Will bird feeders and a bird bath help? What do you recommend?

Birds Choice SNFT 200 Fly-Through Feeder made from recycled poly

I would like to attract more birds to my garden. Will bird feeders and a bird bath help? What to you recommend?

There are four basic elements of wildlife habitat: Food, water, shelter and cover. Bird feeders and bird baths only provide food and water. I recommend you offer as much diversity as possible to provide all the elements.

Species are attracted to different kinds of food. Consider offering nyjer seed, black oil sunflower, mixed seed blends, cracked corn, peanuts, suet, mealworms and nectar.

Water is necessary for bathing and drinking. A clean bird bath will provide both for most species, but hummingbirds like to fly through water spray. Attach a misting device near your bird bath, or attach it to a sturdy post or shrub near your hummingbird feeders.

Bird houses provide shelter, but mostly for nesting birds. Birds doen't usually set up permanent residence in them. Evergreen shrubs and trees are welcome additions to any wildlife habitat because they provide protection from the elements and roosting places during the night.

The need for cover is slightly different from the need for shelter for cover provides protection from predators. Evergreen shrubs and trees provide both, but smaller shrubs, grasses, perennials and vines give birds places to hide. I see birds outside my office window darting from shrubs and trees to the feeders and back again all day long. When visiting the feeders, the birds are more exposed. If I didn't provide safe places to hide, I'm sure I'd have fewer birds at my feeders.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Graceful Lady Fern

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
I bring nae rose, or lily fair,
To twine amang thy gowden hair,
Nor fragrant flower, nor scented wreath,
To mingle wi' thy balmy breat;
    But frae the green banks o' the burn
    I bring thy mate the Lady Fern.

The Lady Fern, whase slender stalk
Alane can peer thy genty mak,
The Lady Fern, whase gracefu' air,
Wit' thin alane can e'er compare,
    O whaur may Nature meekness learn?
    Frae thee an' frae the Lady Fern.

The broom adorns, an' crowns the brae,
The whin o'ertaps the rocklet grey;
The heath blooms brichtest on the hill,
An' a' wad fain climb heigher still;
    While in the shade thou lo'est to dern
    Beside thy mate the Lady Fern.


The Lady Fern, James Ballantine (1806-1877)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, pronounced "uh-THEE-ree-um FY-licks fem-in-uh") makes some wax poetic. It's also known as Aspidium angustum, Athyrium angustum and Polypodium filix-femina. Lady fern is one of the world's most graceful ferns, found mostly in the Northern hemisphere. In North America, it is found in every state and province.

Except during dormancy when it's practically invisible, lady fern is a visual delight. Delicate, light green fronds unfurl in early spring when deciduous trees are just beginning to sprout foliage. Sunlight through the canopy makes lady fern sparkle. As the growing season progresses, fronds turn to medium green.

Mature height ranges from 12 inches to 36 inches, spreading from 12 inches to 30 inches. Lady fern is deer, insect and disease resistant, making it perfect for the low-maintenance shade garden. Gardeners in USDA climate zones 4 to 8 can use them in massed plantings, naturalize them in woodland gardens or any shady location. It seems like every gardener has her favorite collection. Fern and native plant collectors will adore lady ferns because they're so beautiful and easy to grow.

Plant lady fern in partial to full shade in moist, well-drained, loamy soil. pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5.  I recommend taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Follow their recommendations, preparing the soil before purchasing your ferns. Space them 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Take care not to over-water.

Lady fern is ideal for planting around your quiet place in the woodland and beside shady paths. Suitable companions include hosta, astilbe, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, bloodroot, rhododendron, redbud, fawn lily and bluebells.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

How do I save my caladiums over winter?

Caladium 'Frieda Hemple'

Caladiums are tropical plants, reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 10 and 11. However, they may survive mild winters in USDA climate zones 8 and 9. The best way to be sure they survive is to dig them before first frost. Carefully pull the plants. Keep the roots and soil intact, and store in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks, allowing the roots and soil to dry. After drying, trim off the stems, and brush remaining soil from the tubers. Store them in a paper bag partially filled with dry peat moss or vermiculite in a cool, dry place over winter.

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Must-Have Plants: Christmas Fern


Christmas fern (Polystichum acrosticoides)

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants. 

Name(s): Polystichum acrosticoides, Nephrodium acrostichoides, Christmas Fern, Dagger Fern, Polystic Faux-acrostiche.

Flower Color: None.

Bloom Time: Not applicable.

Foliage: Evergreen, dark green.

Height/Spread: 12 inches to 24 inches x 18 inches to 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Slightly moist, humus, pH 5.6 to 7.5

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, evergreen foliage.

Uses: Naturalizing, woodland gardens, native fern collections, shade gardens, cutting gardens.

Comments: Polystichum acrosticoides is also known as Christmas Fern, Dagger Fern, Polystic Faux-acrostiche, Nephrodium acrostichoides. This native, evergreen beauty brightens the winter landscape with its glossy deep green fronds. For generations it was gathered in winter to decorate the home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Read more about Christmas Ferns. Who Can Fear The Winter Stern and They'll Fit On Elves' Feet.

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