From Northern California to Southern Florida

Welcome to South Florida, where things either grow wild and free, shrivel and die in the hot sun, or mutate into some other life form you're never quite prepared for, especially if you're new to gardening. I'm somewhat new to gardening in general, but a complete novice at Florida gardening specifically. New in a way that hearkens back to that first time behind the wheel of the driver's ed car, just hoping not to kill everything in your path.

My experience in gardening was mostly in Northern California in containers on the patio. The Bay Area can really lull you into a false sense of gardening security. I had containers of herbs that would give you goosebumps! My lavender could make you break into song. What I did not realize at the time was that my gardening success had very little to do with my skills as a gardener, and very much to do with the ideal climate for the plants I enjoyed growing.

Fast forward two years to South Florida. I started out trying to grow herbs on our little apartment patio. Thyme basically curled up and died within a few weeks. Basil did okay until it was infested by a biblical swarm of aphids. Really. One evening I was making marinara with my lovely basil; the next morning I was looking in disbelief at some bare basil stumps. It was disheartening to say the least, and for a while I gave up, convinced that, like me, my kind of plants just didn't transplant well here in Florida.

Two years later, Dearest Husband and I bought our first house which sits on about a quarter of an acre of land. Our own dirt. I was so excited! However, it wasn't really dirt. It was sand, with a smidge of topsoil for the grass to hold onto. Here's where I learned my first lesson in adaptation: Bring your own dirt.

Our first project was to plant flower beds. We were so excited. We picked out the plants. We bought some dirt. Here's my second lesson in adaptation: Read labels carefully. One shrub we planted, I am almost positive, was described on the label as growing 12-14." After one good rainy season our shrubs had at least doubled that. On further research, it was discovered that what was interpreted as a " was really a ', and those shrubs were well on their way to being very big plants. Do over!

And another two years wiser, we're using that same type of shrub to build a hedge along the back yard and I am working on our first vegetable garden: raised container beds with organic soil. Hopefully soon we'll be dining on the tomatoes, peppers, fennel, green onions and broccoli that managed to survive the 45 mph windstorm we experienced a week after I planted. One thing about Florida, there's never a dull moment in the garden!