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I'm a pretty good gardener. At one point I had a 5,000 square-foot vegetable garden with a sprinkler system and a root cellar for storing root veggies over the winter. I had cold frames to start my plants from seeds, and I used raised beds and lots of organic material in a modification of the French intensive gardening system, which emphasizes companion planting. So there! Must present my bona fides.

If you need a garden, whether you want vegetables, herbs, or plantings around your house, I'm your guy.

Unless, of course, you live in Florida.

The problem is, I now live in Florida, and Florida will kill all the plants I've known and loved all my life. Evil Florida—the plant killing state.

When we bought our house in Florida, I looked at the landscaping and thought, Wow, is that cool or what? As it turns out, the correct answer is “what,” or perhaps more appropriately, WTF?

I recognize almost none of our plants. Okay, I know that's a palm tree, but you can't just buy a palm tree; you have to decide what kind of palm tree you want and how it will grow. Bougainvillea I knew, along with bird of paradise and some ornamental grasses. The rest of the stuff that's here? Uh, not so much.

We have gaps in the landscape that need new plants, so we went to a garden center (of which there are very few around) to see what they had.

What the hell is this stuff? No hydrangeas, no daisies, no black-eyed Susans? What's going on here?

What's going on is that I don't know anything about gardening in Florida. I now have to figure out what plants to add to this landscaping that so desperately needs help, and I don’t have a clue what I'm doing.

Fine, I'm up to the task. I have Google. Bougainvillea is good, and it looks as though I can finally grow camellias. I'm happy about that. Hibiscus will also do well, it seems. That's a pretty good start, and I'll just go and pick out some containers of other stuff and stick them in between. Don't worry, when they grow up they'll be a surprise, and the Lovely Louise loves surprises. When she asks what they are, I can say, “Just wait, sweetie, it's a surprise!” What I can't tell her is that I will have no idea at all what it is.

An orange tree. Since I live in Florida, aren't I required to have an orange tree in my yard? I don't have one, and so I've been looking. They have a cool tree down here that will grow oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit all on the same tree. It's as though some mad, grafting botanist got drunk one night and said, “Yeah, that's the ticket”! The problem is that it spreads 25 to 30 feet, and I just don't have the room. Louise, do we really need the pool? I'm looking at that pool and thinking, What a hell of a planter that would make.

It seems that most of the stuff I want, I don't have room for. We do have an avocado tree that last year produced dozens of avocados and this year has produced exactly two. I hear that avocado trees are like that. Our lemon tree got some sort of dreaded lemon tree disease and we had to have it removed. No more “lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet.” (For you young people, go to Google and look up Peter, Paul, and Mary. Seriously. Do it now. Go. I'm not going to tell you again). Our landscape guy (hey, I have a landscape guy!) planted another lemon tree in it's place, but it's pretty much only a large twig at the moment.

Take a look at the picture at the top of this blog. That's by the pool and stairs out to the dock. It faces north, which is never a good direction to face if you're a plant. The plants there are scrawny and probably diseased, and they need to be removed, but I have to decide what to replace them with. If you have any thoughts, or if you're a Florida landscape designer who will work for beer and a boat trip, let me know what you think I should do.


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