Garden Photo of the Day

Lush and Tropical

By Kim Charles

This is my back patio, the view from my bedroom french doors.  The patio also is adjacent to my sunroom.  

Sonja from South Florida has learned how to garden in tough conditions thanks to her Master Gardener education.

"I live in Fort Myers, Florida.  A very difficult climate with 8-9 months of near drought conditions and 3-4 months of tropical rains.  It is a sub-tropical climate. The soil in this area is very tough so most of these plants are in pots.  The small fountain was chosen to give us the refreshing sound of splashing water.  I use native plants extensively for hedges and trees and fill in with lovely, large leafed tropicals that I can water and fertilize to keep them lush.  I am a 28 year Master Gardener here in Lee County and can’t emphasize enough how much I have learned from the various Extension programs in our area."

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In the front yard, a colorful mailbox is surrounded by 'Ellen Bosanquet' crinums.

This orchid has found a new home at the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.  The estates will be one of our gardens feautured by the Royal Horticultural Society's Hampton Court show in England this summer.  

A profusion of native palms — here the thrinax radiata backed by the giant, white bird of paradise,the lady palm and the colorful leaves of a copperleaf. 

The purple flowers and berries of native beauty berry, offset the complimentary color of bright orange in the cleordendrum, the soft billows of the ming plant, and the spiky thorns of the acanthus. 

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  1. frankgreenhalgh 05/29/2017

    Hello there Sonja - You are obviously using the knowledge you have gained through the Master Gardener program to overcome difficult soil and climatic conditions to create a luxurious sub-tropical garden. You must be a good student, and it must be very rewarding to achieve such an oasis through practising what you have learnt. We don't have such an extension program here in Australia, and I'm wondering if you also further disseminate the information you have learnt to the local gardening community.

    I really like your native palms and your unique, colourful and 'fishy' mailbox - it is an absolute ripper. Cheers from down under

    1. schatzi 05/29/2017

      Yes, Frank - the point of the Master Gardener program is to educate volunteers who then spread the knowledge to the gardening public thru clinics (where people can ask questions and bring plant and insect samples for ID) and other programs.
      Sonja has me beat - I've been a MG for only 23 years, in WA state, where the program was invented nearly 40 years ago. Always good to hear from you.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 05/29/2017

        Thank you very much indeed Shirley. The Master Gardener program sounds like a great initiative. Gardening is a major recreational activity down here, but we don't have anything like your program. I take it that your Universities conduct the MG programs as part of their extension activities, and that the government funds/subsidises this initiative (???). Congratulations to you for 23 years of being a disciple of the program and providing such an invaluable service to the community. Cheers my friend

        1. schatzi 05/30/2017

          We have an interesting system in this country, Frank. Each state has a university and what started as an agricultural college, i.e. the
          University of Washington and Washington State University (nee College). The ag schools have the extension services for research and to support agriculture, so I am a member of the WSU-Pierce County Extension master Gardener Program. Funding gets complicated, and is never sufficient, so we have a plant sale every spring to raise funds for our various outreach programs. It is amazing how well we do. Other programs include mentoring community gardens, childrens programs, demonstration gardens, and even a gardening program in a women's prison. Master gardening is my retirement avocation. Whenever I am around plants and plant people I get this silly grin on my face...plants make me happy, as I am sure is true of all of us. We are part of nature, and I am happiest when I am immersed in nature. Cheers.

          1. frankgreenhalgh 05/30/2017

            Thank you very much for taking the time to provide a comprehensive response, Shirley. It is an interesting story how the MG program and other valuable gardening programs developed through your University system. The funding of the programs is also interesting and is a testament to the commitment of participants in the programs. Your participation obviously gives you a lot of joy and fellowship etc., and your love of plants really shines through - good on you!

            Here in Australia, the universities provide educational services, but not extension services, although some of our agricultural colleges are now part of universities. Traditionally, agricultural extension services were provided by the State Departments of Agriculture/Primary Industries, but these were directed at commercial agriculture and horticulture i.e. not amenity horticulture (as we call it). In the State of Victoria (i.e. my State, and also known as the garden State) the Dept. of Ag. did have a Garden Advisory Service, mainly to answer phone enquiries etc. but that disappeared over 25 years ago. State extension services for commercial ag. & horticulture are now a shadow of their former self, and research and development (R&D) undertaken by State Depts of Ag. usually has an extension component built into each project. Private companies (e.g. chemical co's and IPM enterprises etc.) also provide extension services, but they obviously promote their products (whereas State Dept's of Ag provided unbias information). The funding for R&D projects to improve agricultural/horticultural productivity and sustainability etc. is another subject, and in this area, Aust. definitely has one of the best systems in the world - I could provide more info. if anybody is interested, but it is getting away from the topic of gardening
            Kind regards, Frank

          2. eddireid 06/08/2017

            Hello Sonja, Shirley, Frank and all. Ohio has a wonderful MG program that I always wished I could take but volunteering is a large part of the program ethic and sadly the part which made joining a impossible for me. I know many really wonderful Master Gardeners and maybe one day it will be part of a dream realized for me. Meanwhile, gardening anywhere is a joy, a relaxation and a gift to myself of peace.
            Thank you everyone for what you all contribute.

      2. suitors 05/29/2017

        Lucky you, Shirley. Linda Chalker-Scott in in WA -- a hero and mentor. She is so wise and patient. I have all of her books, subscribe to her various on-line discussions. We're all blooming where we're planted!!

        1. schatzi 05/30/2017

          Yes, Linda is a marvelous resource and very nice too. I really love the MG program. I have learned so much and made so many friends, and we all learn from each other. And it all started because so many people had started gardening and had questions that the Extension scientists couldn't handle it and wondered if training volunteers might be the answer. It was and it is, and it has spread all over the country and even to other countries. Enjoy.

  2. Maggieat11 05/29/2017

    Sonja, You certainly have done a fabulous job! Congratulations with your accomplishments. Your yard looks wonderful. That orchid is indeed fabulous and needs to be enjoyed by many! Your mailbox is delightful... is that your artwork?

    1. suitors 05/29/2017

      A friend from church paints these. We love to fly fish and the fish shown there is a snook.....a beautiful local fish.

  3. tennisluv 05/29/2017

    Very lovely sub-tropical garden. It shows that you are a master gardener, having installed the correct plants for your environment and applied just the right touches to help them thrive. Love your 'fishy' mailbox, that huge orchid, and the pretty blue flowering vine. Thanks for sharing.

  4. User avater
    meander_michaele 05/29/2017

    You certainly have a fascinating garden, Sonya. It's amazing to see things growing and thriving outdoors au natural that otherwise would be considered "houses plants" for many of us throughout this country. What is the purple flowering vine creating the arched canopy above the garage door? So pretty! And what part of your acanthus has thorns? the flower stalks? the stems of the leaves? the leaves themselves? I have an acanthus mollis (thank you, Jeff. It continues to not only live but does great) and, although its leaves are lobed, they are soft and touchable. It has never sent up a flower stalk so if that's the spike laden part, I will probably never see it. Your mailbox is delightful and I'll bet has always given the post person a smile.

    1. suitors 05/29/2017

      The flowering blue fine is thunbergia grandiflora. Acanthus montanus is not common here but does quite well in the shade. It's leaves are thorny. This one sends up flowers spikes in March, as the pink flowers of the Joe Hayden begonias next to it are just beginning to fade. Thanks for your encouragement!

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 05/29/2017

        Thanks for identifying it as Acanthus I could do a little googling about it. It's spiny leaves remind me a bit of those of Canadian thistle which can certainly make me go "ouch"!

  5. sheila_schultz 05/29/2017

    The soil in your area might be pretty tough, but the visual of your photos provide nothing but a beautiful, lush landscape. I love the way tropical's often have that sheen to their leaves, you can just feel the heat! You mentioned placing many of your plants in pots in order to keep them going during the long, dry season. I immediately thought about a typical above ground container, but the last photo shows that you also drop the pots in the ground. What a brilliant idea, similar to dropping a pot in a pot to ease removal of precious plants. Sure has to make the big boys more stable! BTW... your mailbox is a delight!

    1. suitors 05/29/2017

      I learned that little tip from Fine Gardening years ago. Sinking them in the ground helps control temperature and water. Works very well.

  6. user-7007498 05/29/2017

    Good morning, Sonja. What a beautiful garden you have. Agree with Michaele, it is so cool to see houseplants in the garden. When I think of Florida, I just think of near daily rain, I was surprised about the 8-9 months of drought.

    Lovely combinations of shapes and textures. Really enjoyed your photos.

  7. Sunshine111 05/29/2017

    Love it all!

  8. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 05/29/2017

    What a tropical paradise, Sonja. Like Kevin, I had no idea that you would face such adverse gardening conditions. I guess it is easy to assume that tropical and subtropical means carefree gardening. Looks amazing and I'm crazy about that giant orchid that has been rehomed. You've really applied your education with finesse.

  9. user-4691082 05/29/2017

    Sonja, you have a beautiful garden. Like the others, I assumed you would have perfect loamy soil and enough of a shower each day to keep it lush! It's all beautiful and I'm in love with those hot pink adirondack chairs! Happy Memorial Day from a dreary, rainy, SE PA. Let's give thanks for our service people that gave their lives so we could live in freedom.

    1. suitors 05/29/2017

      The chairs are red and $19 from Lowes. Far enough back in the yard that they work just fine!

  10. schatzi 05/29/2017

    Gorgeous garden, Sonja. So unlike so many others we see. Great job under difficult conditions.

  11. greengenes 05/29/2017

    Wow what a tropical effect! Love every square inch of your gardens. Job well done or should i say fun well done in different troubling weather. The orchid is so beautiful and i love the clematis on the garage. It is very enjoyable to see today! Thank you for sharing!

    1. suitors 05/29/2017

      We can't grow clematis here. It is a thunbergia grandiflora. Thanks for your kind words.

  12. suitors 05/29/2017

    Just a note that I have no irrigation system in most of the backyard. I drag a hose around once a week except for those parts of the garden that don't even need that much water. In those sections I have sentinel plants that wilt to let me know it's time to water. Fertilize three times a year according to the schedule recommended by Fairchild Garden. Just my little veggie garden shown above has a soaker hose that we activate daily during our growing season -- which is October thru April. I rarely need a pesticide, even in the veggie garden, because I am mindful to use flowering plants that will call in the beneficial insects. Learning and following the laws of nature has made all the difference -- God is good!

  13. foxglove12 05/30/2017

    Wow love all the palms and that orchid is amazing. I have never seen a white bird of paradise. Would love to see photos of them sometime. Great job!

  14. rouxsca 05/30/2017

    what kind of orchid is that? its gorgeous.

  15. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 05/30/2017

    Good morning, Sonja. I'm glad that Kim posted you again today because some of us didn't expect a post yesterday and would have missed your lush garden. That orchid is remarkable and it's very impressive that you are able to garden without pesticides. I've lived in FL and, although we also didn't use pesticides, it was not fun to find plants totally consumed by bugs overnight. I'll be looking for that variety of thunbergia in the future to grow as an annual. Thanks for sharing.

    1. suitors 05/30/2017

      The thunbergia is a perennial here and a rampant grower!

  16. Cenepk10 05/30/2017

    Wow. Love it all. Beautyberry pic is so cool.

  17. NCYarden 05/30/2017

    Fantastic garden for such a "odd" climate pattern. That orchid is out-of-this-world amazing. And I really like the Thunbergia - great color on those blooms. Thanks for sharing.

  18. user-7007125 05/30/2017

    West Coast BC here, it blows my mind when people plant things from the tropics here just because they can survive. You have a wonderful garden!

  19. User avater
    treasuresmom 05/31/2017

    Wow! Wow! Wow at that orchid!

  20. user-6536305 05/31/2017

    I was in the area two years ago during Christmas and saw some strangest and beautiful plants outside and was envy at the growing conditions. Did not realize it is so hush. You did a fantastic job on landscape your property. Thanks for sharing your garden with us.

  21. user-7008611 05/31/2017

    So impressive Sonja! Congrats on being published. Well deserved!

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