Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A New Chapter Begins "Down South"...

I haven't been blogging lately because we're in the middle of a big transition - moving from the prairies of south central Kansas back to the Gulf Coast, this time to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans," and that sentiment fits this move to a T.  Our first grandbaby is due any minute now (literally), and we are moving down here to help with childcare, since both of his parents are active duty in the Air Force.

It's very hard to leave our little bit of prairie...but it's also enjoyable to have a new challenge greeting me.  I'll be bouncing back and forth between the two places for a while, but I'll try to be clear which one I'm talking about in my blog posts.

Having arrived in Ft. Walton Beach right as summer really took hold, I'm not doing much more than observing what is growing and living in our new digs.  Our new yard is much smaller - a bit less than half an acre backing up to a small, but picturesque, manmade, freshwater lake.  The soil in our yard is VERY sandy and there are good-sized trees, giving a rather savannah-like effect.

As far as plant material goes, for starters, we have 6 sand live oaks (Quercus geminata).  This species is THE major tree in the local area. Visually, however, it is less important in our yard than in the general area simply because our individual sand live oak trees are rather plain.  Here, in contrast, are a couple sand live oak trees in our daughter's yard, about a block away....

Back to our yard, there are also 3 reasonably large southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), ....

...and 3 hickories that I'm pretty sure are bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis).

The native plant material essentially comes to an end there.  Obviously the previous owners were not native plant buffs.  We have camellias and azaleas, all carefully hacked - oh, sorry, "pruned" - into "manageable" sizes and shapes; ...

...and multiple Loropetalums (a large shrub/small tree that likes to top out around 12' tall) carefully planted in front of windows that go almost to the ground.

Finalizing the majority of the plant palette, there are Indian hawthorns pruned into green meatball forms, variegated Pittosporum, a couple Sky Pencil hollies that don't look too healthy, African iris, and Lily-of-the-Nile.

For those of you in areas where these plants aren't common, this array of plants is basically an almost complete list of "non-native shrubs every homeowner finds at Lowe's or Home Depot and plants to make their yard look like everybody else's yard."  The only plant missing is crepe myrtle.

Okay, I exaggerated.  There ARE a couple native shrubs - 2 (remaining of 4) yellow anise trees - planted right below our picture window in the kitchen.  Yellow anise trees naturally grow to about 20' tall and wide and these definitely like their spot, so they're doing well.  Therefore, they've had to be squared off into a 4' tall hedge, neatly nestled right up against the house.  A hedge that has, by the way, grown at least 6" just since the end of May, making sure we can't miss it as we look out the window.

All in all, this is a classic "challenges and opportunities" yard in which to make a garden.  The view to the water is fantastically picturesque without us needing to do anything except (maybe) mow our lawn.   There is a sprinkler system already installed (although it needs a lot of TLC). Drainage will absolutely not be an issue, between the lightly sloping land and the sandy soil.

On the challenge side of the site, did I mention that the soil is VERY sandy?

There is a flat, low area right beside the water, set off by "sea walls".  The soil there is pure sand.  The entire area is overgrown with brambles and weeds.  Obviously some thoughtful landscaping is in order.  However, we have to be careful about inadvertently creating "snake spots" while designing that landscaping.  Cottonmouths ARE a real thing here and, much as I like snakes in general, I don't want sudden surprises with poisonous ones if I can help it.

The neighbor to the west of us has an OLD chainlink fence half hidden with vines and shrubs in a wild area formed from benign neglect.  I don't mind wild areas, in general, but this one is full of popcorn trees and other weedy, woody, invasive plants that need to be judiciously removed.  Then I'll be able to see more clearly what's worth saving in that region.

The neighbors to the east have a gorgeous BLUE hydrangea right on the property line.  Friends in prairie places, eat your hearts out!  I'm more than happy to "borrow" this part of their yard, even if it isn't native.

Dewberries, a very thorny type of bramble, are coming up all over the yard, in the lawn and garden beds alike, so one of my first tasks will be weeding those out...for the first of many, many times, I'm sure.

There are lots of seedling sand live oaks and hickories, too;  I want to see if there are a couple seedlings I want to "save" to start regenerating the tree canopy, then weed out the rest.

And, of course, there are several species of greenbrier and lots and lots of gripeweed to go after.  Some plants seem to spring eternal in the modern southern yard.  In the photo above, taken under the magnolia in the front yard, is gripeweed lining the sidewalk, backed up by dewberry, and augmented with a small popcorn tree seedling.  This is supposed to simply be mulched ground between the two Indian hawthorns, those green meatballs towards the top of the photo.  Yes, I've got lots of work to do.

So wish us luck!  (And, incidentally, I'd welcome any design ideas or plant suggestions.)

10 comments:

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I was wondering when we'd see your new place. What a view out that window. Can't wait to see what you do with the place. Keep photo documenting! All the best for the new family member and the parents. Enjoy!

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Wow, Cynthia! I would be overwhelmed, not knowing what is native, or where to start working. Do other people have access to the lake where it meets up with your property? You have quite the adventure in front of you. How cool to live a block from your grandchild!

ProfessorRoush said...

Oh Gaia! Yes, good luck on the move and with the grandbaby, but I hope your reference to jumping back and forth between both homes means that you are keeping the one here in Kansas where we will welcome you back to the gardening fold any time!

katob427 said...

That's funny, I was thinking the exact same thing (about the Home Depot plant list) as you were describing what you had. You're missing a privet and liriope as well as the crape myrtle!
Shame that you have to put so much work into maintaining such a boring landscape. I hope you get a cool spell and some time to make a few early changes, but I'm sure your plate is full from the move. Good luck and congratulations on the new house. I love the lake!

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS - Absolutely I'm going to keep photodocumenting! It's always so much fun to go back and see how a place has changed over the years.... I'll pass along your greetings to the kids and their new baby! Gg

Gaia Gardener: said...

Sue, one advantage to the kids being here in the Florida panhandle is that I already know quite a few of the plants from our 6 years in Mobile. Trust me, though, it's STILL overwhelming. I am very excited, though, about being so close to Connor and his parents! Cynthia

Gaia Gardener: said...

Prof, thanks for your kind words. We will probably be selling our Kansas home, but the decision isn't etched in stone yet. It's a hard decision - it's been such a wonderful home for us and the yard is my "baby." Gg

Gaia Gardener: said...

Frank, we DO have liriope, I just neglected to add it to the list. LOL! There's even a privet seedling that has sprung up in a flower box - but it's definitely scheduled for a rapid demise any day now. I also left off the Knock-out roses, only one of which is healthy.

Yes, the current landscape will be dull to maintain, but visions of the coming landscape are slowly beginning to take form - and there's nothing like getting out in the yard and working in it to learn what you need to do.

Lisa Greenbow said...

I can't help you with your new challenge but Meems that writes the blog Hoe and Shovel is a Floridian that will have lots of advise and her blog will be an inspiration to you. Good luck.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thank you, Lisa! I'll check out her blog. Cynthia, aka Gg