Gardening in Florida

I’m not much of a gardener, though I was able to raise a decent crop of green beans when we lived in Pennsylvania. Japanese beetles and weeds threatened my plants from time to time up there, and rabbits often nibbled shoots down to the ground, but their depredations seemed to be  reasonable. They ate and I ate.
Now that I live in central Florida there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason when trying to grow vegetables. Plants sicken and die at random moments; swarms of insects chew holes in leaves and any tender, young vegetable that shows an inclination to ripen; herbs succumb to fungi or wilt in the summer heat.  The only flora that seem impervious to the harsh environment are the vines that claw and wriggle their way out of the drainage canal abutting my back yard.  They cross any stretch of land that hasn’t felt their persistent, grasping touch and ensnare anything stationary in their path such as fence posts, trees, bromeliads, and sleeping dogs.  The only thing that temporarily slows their progress is a hard freeze.
The other problem with trying to intentionally grow flowers and vegetables here is that all sorts of weedy plants volunteer to grow right where they are least wanted. Bidens and ferns jump out of the ground and attempt take over any cultivated plot. Trees pop up along the edge of fences and grow at amazing rates. The laurel cherry and laurel oak are examples of trees that grow with reckless exuberance, but they pay for their imprudence by twisting and splitting near their bases just when they gain enough height to provide decent shade. Limbs fall and whole trees can come crashing down during a wind or rain storm. Hurricanes swing by every five or ten years, and when they come near I stare at the weather reports on my television and fear not only the onslaught of high winds and horizontal, slashing rain, but also harbor suspicious thoughts about every tree in my yard that has grown higher than the roof line of our one story house.
Two weeks ago I cut down two laurel cherry trees that had stealthily grown to twenty feet tall in the span of 3 or four years. They thought I wasn’t looking, but I had my eye on them for a couple months. As I wiped sweat from my eyes and scratched at a few mosquito bites on my calves, I reflected on a wise saying that an older, native resident told me years ago. He said that in Florida the goal wasn’t to plant things. The goal instead was to cut things down before they swallowed up your house and yard.
An idea occurred to me as I swung an axe and bundled  branches: perhaps misdirection could be used to fool the relentless green onslaught. What if I lovingly cleared an area of my yard, made it weed, vine and tree free, and lined up pots of defenseless  plants in the center of the plot?  What if I  ‘innocently’ placed stakes and string,  a hoe and a rake nearby as additional lures? In the meantime, while Mother Nature or the angry spirit of Osceola waited to spring upon my helpless square of turned earth, I could sneak a few plants into areas only partially overgrown and run to riot. Nature abhors a vacuum, and my carefully prepared garden would be attacked with full vigor while my little, partially hidden plants might be overlooked and spared. They would then have time to grow deeper roots and develop some resistance to aphids, giant grasshoppers, and hairy caterpillars.
But right after I finished cutting up the laurel cherries I spotted a third tree tucked behind and between a flowering bush and a viburnum tree that had long since exceeded its rightful state as a viburnum shrub. The partially hidden laurel cherry had slender, brittle branches  that had begun to curve toward my roof line. I realized that it might take a day to chop it down and cut it up, and that I’d better get to it soon. In another couple of weeks it might grow so large that I would have to call a tree company to remove it.
I saw that my plan to fool the Spirit of Florida Green was nothing but a silly diversionary tactic. General Custer must have tried to feint left and right when he realized he was surrounded at Little Big Horn. We all know how that ended.


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