Holiday Gift Shopping for a Cause

Photo courtesy of Pexels

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. ‘Tis the season – the holidays are upon us. It’s a time for family, fun and gift giving. I’d like to challenge you to think a little more when shopping this year.

In an earlier, blog I challenged you to be a compost conscious consumer. Today, I’m asking you to choose a cause you are passionate about and support it as you shop for the holidays. We all know with the holidays comes a big push for donating to various organizations, churches and causes. There are the Salvation Army Santa’s; there are the extra collections at church; there’s the flyers that come in the mail to help feed the homeless. There is always someone out there who needs our help and usually that costs money. People can talk and talk and talk about what needs to be done, but sometimes that where it stops. Or we are pestered so much to give that we lose sight of what it means to help those less fortunate.

My someone in need, and who I want to bring to your attention this holiday season, are victims of human trafficking or modern-day slavery. You’re probably asking, Slavery? Wasn’t that something that happened during the civil war? Or, that doesn’t happen in the U.S. Maybe Africa or Asia, but surely not here. You’d be wrong. Modern-day slavery is happening in my backyard. Florida is the third highest number of calls to the human trafficking hotline in the U.S. In 2016, almost 1,900 reports were made for human trafficking in Florida. This is scary stuff because it’s affecting young children and vulnerable young adults. These young women and children are being forced into prostitution. In Asia, young woman are forced into marriages. In India children are forced into labor. Globally, 40.3 million people are affected by human trafficking.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

I’ve asked myself, How can I help? I could donate money. I have little time to volunteer, but maybe one day. I could educate myself and tell all my friends, but they’ll probably get bored or tired of me talking, which would not help this cause at all. And then an answer came to me while doing a little research: I could buy things. We all need things. What if what we bought helped more than just satisfying a personal need? Buying particular items can help victims of human trafficking. Some are handmade by victims. Others send proceeds to help the victims find refuge, therapy and a chance at living again. Below are links to shop and support human trafficking. I hope some of you are inspired to buy a gift. But if not for my cause, choose your own and see what you can buy this holiday season to support your cause. Take that passion and make it a gift.

Take a look at these few links that bring awareness to human trafficking. Happy shopping!

1. Badala

2. Bracha

3. Purpose Jewelry

4. Starfish Project

5. Elegantees Clothing

6. Thistle Farms

7. My Sister

8. Sudara

9. Success by Health

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

~Mother Teresa


Florida Gardening in November

November Gardening:

It’s the month of cooler weather, turkeys and family. In my garden, it’s been the month of mulch and lime rock. At the beginning of this month I had a delivery from Green Dreams. It was like receiving an early Christmas present. I’m certain my neighbors think I’m insane, but that insanity has transformed my back yard and will be a huge payoff as we enter the dry season. I used the lime rock to create a path and seating area. The mulch is filling in my gardens and creating more of a distinct spacing. It’s made me realize I have so much more room to plant edibles. I’m planning to exercise my food forest knowledge, which is minimal at this point. (But that’s what all these gardening books are for that sit on my desk.)

I’ve been observing my drip irrigation as the rains have just about stopped. My gardens seem a little thirsty, but I’m trying to decide how much water I need. Last fall, I watered daily. I’d like to extend my watering to once a day or even once a week. I finally removed my watermelon and cleared up an entire raised bed. To my surprise, I found a handful of small watermelon buds. My children enjoyed playing with these. I planted snow peas and bok choy in this open bed.

What I planted in my vegetable garden:

  • spearmint
  • oregano
  • cilantro
  • basil
  • strawberries
  • snow peas
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • peppers

What’s flowering:

  • cranberry hibiscus
  • moringa tree
  • Jamaican strawberry tree
  • lantana
  • poinsettias
  • marigolds
  • periwinkle

November marks one year of planting in my yard. I can’t believe how much it’s changed! I went from one live oak and a queen palm to more plants than I can count and far more garden than grass. It feels good when some of the neighbors stop by and say, “You’ve really changed this house.” Most often they are only referring to the front yard; they have no idea what hides behind that white fence. It’s my jungle sanctuary, and it’s only the beginning.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in this year:

  • propagating and seed saving are much easier than I had imagined
  • mulch is magic when it comes to transforming sand into dirt
  • composting is the next best thing to buying plants when it comes to gardening
  • gardening friends are better than any book
  • Florida can grow some exotic edibles – many I had never heard (e.g., Barbados cherry, Jamaican strawberry, moringa tree, etc.)
  • there are so many vegetables that you should just never try to grow in Florida; they may work in the north, but the moisture and drastic rainy and dry season give those edibles a run for their money

Keep experimenting in your garden! Experiments may fail, but the lessons will be your success.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

~ Meister Eckhart


Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

Garden Therapy

Photo courtesy Pexels.

Sometimes I wonder who is helping whom? Am I helping the plants grow to their full potential or is this greenery here to heal me? Plants have that power, you know.  Sometimes after an especially busy day – not necessarily stressful – but very busy day, I enter my backyard sanctuary and feel instantly at peace. My muscles relax; my mind clears; and my breath slows. My soul is home.

When I have the rare chance to simply sit in my garden, it’s extremely rewarding. I sit in the shade of my big live oak tree and take in scents of mint, lavender, and citrus blossoms. Butterflies circulate the mismatched jungle in search of nectar. And there are most often girls giggling in the playhouse or softly singing on the swings. It’s a scene for the senses. In that moment, I have everything I need. Those are simple blessings.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a moment where you’re seeking serenity, but unable to find it. Life is tough at times. It could be as catastrophic as a death, a separation or an illness. It could be you’re feeling the pressure at work; you’re overwhelmed with school; or you’ve received some unkind feedback. No matter what your struggle is today, these are moments when God, the universe or another higher being is shouting, “Slow, down! Take a break! Listen!” Those demands are not a failure, though we may perceive it as that because we feel like we should be able to handle anything. Instead, it’s a call to balance our physical, mental and spiritual health. Problems will never go away. They will simply transform and take another skin. So we must decide how we navigate these challenges.

Unfortunately, sometimes we choose to ignore these hints or, worse, we turn to other harmful avenues, such as alcohol or drugs. This will only make our challenges more difficult and create more problems. The weeds in this world will strangle you if you let them. But we have a choice. We can grow. We can find our way through the weeds of life and bloom into a incredible human beings.

One way I navigate challenging times is to go to my garden. I call it garden therapy. Spending time in the fresh air with my hands in the dirt is truly healing for me. Watching a plant grow from a seed is a reminder of miracles in this world. And sometimes when you have a plant that is fighting for it’s life, it’s an encouragement to have courage and to take things a day at a time. Because with just a little care, a plant can come back. And so can you.

Photo courtesy Pexels.

A friend once told me that opening ourselves up to a higher spiritual being allows us to feel the energies of the plants and in turn become amazing gardeners. I think it’s simply giving ourselves the chance to take in the miracles of nature to transpire into amazing people. This is why I garden.

So I challenge you today, to walk into nature. Take a deep breath. And simply listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to the universe. And then let it all go – at least in that moment.

Plants talk to us at all levels, molecule to molecule and spirit to spirit. They facilitate healing that is potent, profound and life-affirming. ~Marlene Adelmann

Fly Away With the Butterflies

Butterfly gardens are one of my specialties. I started butterfly gardening in Illinois, and it was the first garden design I created in Florida. I love the colorful flowers, the colorful butterflies, and it’s a huge hit with kids. Plus many of the plants are perennials making it a low maintenance garden. There are two types of plants required in a butterfly garden: host plants (plants the caterpillars need) and butterfly nectar plants (plants the butterflies need).

Host plants:

Host plants not only provide food for butterflies in their larvae stage, but also provide camouflage, shelter, chemicals used for protection, courtship, and reproduction.

  • Cassias
  • Passion flower
  • Milkweed
  • Sassafras
  • Sweetbay magnolia
  • Patridge pea
  • Coontie
  • Blueberry
  • False foxglove
  • Coral honeysuckle

Butterfly nectar plants:

Butterflies like flowers in clusters in shades of pink, red or purple.

  • Asters
  • Liatris
  • Firebush
  • Milkweed
  • Spanish needle
  • Wild coffee
  • Dahoon holly
  • Necklace pod
  • Fiddlewood
  • Lantana
  • Summersweet
  • Bloodberry
  • Beautyberry
  • Porterweed
  • Florida paintbrush
  • Eryngium
  • Coreopsis

Some of the butterflies you may see:

Some butterflies, especially in their larvae stage, need particular plants. If you are looking to attract a particular species, check the resource link below as a guide.

  • Monarchs
  • Zebras
  • Sulphurs
  • Skippers
  • Ruddy daggerwings
  • Swallowtails
  • Hairstreaks
  • Malacites
  • Queens
  • Viceroys
  • Julias
  • Atalas

Butterfly gardens not only attract butterflies, but also hummingbirds and other beneficial bugs. Butterflies are sensitive to pesticides. I would suggest not using any pesticides. In my experience, these gardens usually take care of themselves and don’t need any chemicals. I also like to include a clean water source. This will help attract other backyard wildlife as well. Be sure to watch for mosquito breeding if you choose to do this. Constantly flowing fountains can limit mosquito larvae since they prefer standing water. Butterflies need shelter from predators, which can be accomplished by plantings at diverse heights. Get out there and enjoy some beautiful colors both in plants and the wildlife they attract!


Haehle, R. and Brookwell, J. Native Florida Plants: Low-Maintenance Landscaping and Gardening. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004.

Butterfly Gardening in Florida

Wednesday’s Where the Wild Things Grow

Enjoy some fun Florida flora and fauna. It’s officially Fall in terms of weather! I woke up to a brisk chill with temperatures in the mid-60s. It was heavenly! The last few days I’ve been able to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows. It’s refreshing to not be suffocated by humidity.

The snowbirds have arrived, which means it must be cooler up North. So it’s time to get outside! Enjoy the next six months of fantastic weather! I plan to be outside ALL weekend. Weekend goal: attack the dump truck loads of mulch and rock I received today!

Florida Gardening in October

Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower. ~Albert Camus

October Gardening:

It’s been a busy month. I’ve been doing my regularly maintenance of watering and weeding along with cleaning up some dried up plants. I also planted some lettuce, beans, squash, and tomatoes. I want to plant more, but my watermelon plant is relentless, and I decided to just let it grow. It will free up an entire raised bed when the time is right. I discovered three watermelons hiding among the vines. The vines are still producing flowers and tiny melons are budding.

An entire dump truck of mulch will be delivered next week. I would like to add to the mulch I had put down in spring and also prepare for the dry season. The mulch will help hold more moisture when I have to water. My husband is installing irrigation in the main beds, which will also ease the need to water every day. We chose drip irrigation. I have also continued to play with propagating and pretty much take cuttings from every plant, stick it in soil and see what happens. So far, I’ve been pretty successful. My goal: free plants to pass onto friends for Christmas presents.

What to plant:

Time to continue adding to your vegetable garden!

From seed:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Turnips

From seedling:

  • Herbs
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Collards
  • Onions

What you may be harvesting:

My Jamaican strawberry tree is producing berries daily. The small red berries taste like cotton candy – a favorite with the kids.

  • Some citrus
  • Barbados cherry
  • Carambola
  • Guava
  • Passion fruit
  • Papaya
  • Persimmon

The above quote may paint the picture of newly fallen leaves to newly sprouted flowers, but perhaps in Florida October is like spring in the actual growth of all those new vegetable seedlings! Get out there and start planting!


Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.


Meet Aya the Papaya


Plants are intelligent forms of life who are capable of intention, preference, and a will to survive, thrive and interact. Scientific research indicates that plants communicate with insects, animals, human beings and other plants in order to keep themselves alive and safe. ~ Keith Varnum

As every gardener knows there are some successes and some failures. Papayas seemed to be my fail. Aya the Papaya is my third attempt at growing a papaya tree. I was determined to make this one stay. Papaya #1 shriveled within the first few days in direct sunlight. I thought, I’m not watering enough. So I planted in the same spot, but mulched around Papaya #2 and watered diligently. And still that papaya perished.

When one of my gardening friends gave me a third papaya, I left it in its pot. I was so afraid to plant it in the ground. I thought, At least it will stay alive in the pot. I kept the tree like this for three months. Then my friend asked me how that papaya was doing, and I had to admit my previous failures. My friend suggested I plant the papaya while it was raining and to talk to the plant. Yes, talk to the plant. So one day when it was pouring rain, I found my shovel and planted the papaya.

I moved the tree in a location that would be shaded for a few hours during the day in hopes not to fry the leaves. Then I did the only logical thing – I named that tree. Because if I was truly going to talk to this plant, she aught to have a name. That is how Aya the Papaya came to be.

Every morning, I greeted Aya by saying, I desperately want you to survive. Please do. I watered her well and caressed her leaves. Damn it, this plant was going to make it. For a week, I watched her leaves turn yellow and fall to the ground. Then finally on day ten, Aya started making new little green leaves. I knew she was safe. Now Aya is doing very well and growing bigger and more leaves. She even survived a hurricane beating, though she’s leaning a bit now.

Aya reminds me that gardening isn’t always only about soil, sunlight, water and fertilizers. Sometimes the most important part is understanding that this plant is a living being just as I am. And everyone is in need of a little extra attention at times. So if you are looking to grow a papaya, perhaps your tree needs a good rain, less sun and an entertaining story for the soul.

How to grow a papaya from seed:

Fall is a good time to plant papaya seeds in pots to be ready for a spring planting. You can get these seeds from a fruit at the store. Enjoy the fruit and then plant the seeds to produce your own fruit.

  • Plant 2 or more seeds per container. Then thin to one once they germinate.
  • Keep seedlings in the sun.
  • Feed with a 20-20-20 fertilizer.
  • Plant in the ground around mid-March.
  • Mulch soil.
  • Maintain moist soil; they need plenty of water.
  • Feed monthly with a general garden fertilizer.

*Note: These trees may be susceptible to nematodes, papaya fruit fly, papaya webworms, spider mites, papaya whitefly, two-spotted mite, papaya ring spot, and powdery mildew.


Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

Maccubbin, T. and Tasker, G. Florida Gardener’s Resource. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2010.