When a peacock meets you in the front yard, the house is surrounded by a colorful garden and the Hillsborough River ripples by behind the house, it’s already a fine day.
The handsome peacock, Mr. Peaddie, showed up at the edge of the woods in very bad condition about 11 years ago. So this gardener, who asked to remain anonymous, put some food and water out for him, gradually moving it closer and closer to the house. The bird followed and made the yard his home. This garden welcomes all strays: peacocks, ducks, song birds and plants that no one wants.
Mr. Peaddie is quiet most of the time and doesn’t bother anything, but one day began making a great racket. And not so long after a peahen showed up. He ignored her at first, but she was persistent and chased him for days before finally catching his attention. When I was there, Mrs. Peaddie was sitting on a nest under a bush near the front door. We were careful not to disturb her.
The garden is very open and sunny. Much of it is grass but there’s great color all around the house, and container plants decorate the dock where the owners often sit.
The front of the house has tall red ti plants, crotons and ixoas, some of the latter with flowers of various sizes. A tall jatropha bush blooms on the side of the house along with several birds of paradise and a clump of lobster claw heliconias at the back corner. The last blue lily of nile was blooming in early September.
Many potted plants decorate the inside of a screened enclosure that stretches across the back of the house. On the far side there are several kinds of gingers, including a very fragrant one I’d never seen before. The woods and a canal are close so this area is shady. Here also are several large plants of angel trumpet, the gardener’s favorite plant.
I was amazed at the many clivia plants she has that bloom every winter. I have two that look good but have never bloomed. This gardener recommended Vigo fertilizer, which I plan to try. Near the front of the house is a green bench treasured because of the angel in the iron work.
This delightful garden has been a source of solace and strength through sickness and health. It lets you know there is a God, the owner said.
Today’s pick is the clivia lily, also called St. John’s and fire lily. The plant is easy to grow, and mine have the dark green, strap-shaped foliage, but they refuse to bloom. I’ve only seen the fragrant orange flower clusters that bloom in early spring here. The flowers also come in white, red, salmon and yellow.
These plants like acid soil, prefer night temperatures no lower than 50 degrees F, and sun to partial shade. Maybe I’ll bring them in as a houseplant this winter and put them in more sun otherwise. They have large fleshy roots that need to be crowded for heavy blooming and should be planted with the tubers barely showing above the soil. They can be left undisturbed for years but can also be divided if you want more plants.
Now’s the time to tell you about the apple snail shells that are found along the river at this garden’s edge. Actually, the live ones are in the water and are almost as large as an apple. They’re dark red. The empty shells are grayish white and often have a hole in them from the bill of the limpkin, which is slightly open near (but not at) the end to give the bird a tweezers-like action in removing snails from their shells. Limpkins are fairly large, brown birds with long gray legs. I’ve seen them before at Lettuce Lake Park.
Since limpkins are now a threatened species, the apple snails are even more important. There must be a good many limpkins along the river. The snails don’t seem to damage the garden in any way. They do consume aquatic plants and algae and can be useful in keeping lakes and ponds clean. I had never heard of them before my grandson David, who is in third grade, told me all about them. I find them rather fascinating.
Next Tuesday, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Master Gardener Heather Diaz will present a program on Ornamental and Culinary Herbs at the Seffner-Mango Library, 410 N. Kingsway Road, Seffner. For further information, call (813) 685-1055.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.