Meet Aya the Papaya

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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.

References:

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.

Learning to Grow in Ireland

In a previous post I suggested I was made for London. But surely my soul belongs to Ireland. There is no doubt a magical tingling in those emerald mountains. Where London was busy, noisy and bustling with people, Ireland was quiet, serene and everyone moved at a more leisurely pace. It was the perfect ending to the trip.

What I loved about Ireland:  The scenery. It’s stunning! While winding up one of the mountains, I came across a house nestled in a valley of bright green sheep pastures. Sheep dotted the mountain, and this cottage overlooked a small harbor on the Atlantic Ocean. What else could you want?

What surprised me about the Ireland: There were SO many American tourists! I ached to hear a native Irish accent and instead I was surrounded by folks from California, Virginia and Ohio. Also, the roads are so narrow and winding my children got car sick. I mean real car sick.

What I’ll remember most: Surfing at Inch Beach, Kerry Co., Ireland. Click here to read the entire tale. My family also had the pleasure to watch an entire sailing fleet leave a harbor. I pray little Sean didn’t tip his boat. The poor child was determined to make his first sailing lesson work.

What I ate: I had to have Irish stew in an Irish pub. The pub atmosphere was just like I imagined, dark and gloomy. Unfortunately, our waitress was also a little gloomy, which made the stew hard to swallow. But I tried not to let her ruin my Irish fairytale. Ireland also has an incredible variety of root vegetables.

What I missed from home: My writing journals. Ireland is begging to be written into poetry. I wrote lines on napkins, receipts and even on the back of my daughter’s homework.

Turning sliver out of dark grasses
Where the skylark had lain,
And her voice coming softly over the meadow
Was the mist becoming rain

– Austin Clarke, “The Lost Heifer”

Traveling Thursdays – Orchids at Kew Gardens in London

An Orchid in a deep forest sends its fragrance even if no one is around to appreciate it. ~Confucius

Orchids. Orchids. Oh, lovely orchids. Orchids have become a favorite of mine. They are uniquely beautiful and have exotic aromas. I’ve only begun the learning journey of how to really keep them alive, and I’m excited to challenge myself in growing all varieties of orchids. Kew Gardens in London had the most incredible orchid display. I could have lost myself surrounded by all that delicate beauty. Enjoy these stunning plants!

Growing in the UK – I was Made for This Place

Travelling changes a person. It’s inevitable. Most often it’s a positive spiritual change. No one else can understand the change because they haven’t travelled with your eyes. That’s what continues to make us unique. We can be travelling with others and no one will be affected the same way.

I studied British Literature during my college years and fell in love with the United Kingdom through Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, and Alfred Tennyson. During those years I was transported to the dreary rains of a Victorian love story or a political war of roses through Shakespeare’s history. To see those words come to life was overwhelming. London in one week didn’t do justice to the hundreds of words that have entered my mind over the years. But it was a good beginning.

What I loved about London: Everything. I wanted to breathe in everything and take it home with me. Put me on the London Underground next to a well-dressed business British native, and I could listen to them talk all day. Of course, we’d have to get off the Tube at some point because, being in business, that person would have to go to work. Then I could meander down the narrow streets to one of the quiet neighborhoods decorated in ferns and bright flowers. No trip to the UK would be complete without a cup of proper English tea. And I’d end my evening watching terrible British comedy – the kind of comedy that makes me laugh out loud.

What surprised me about the UK: The people are very friendly. Not that I had heard otherwise, but I didn’t except people to be so friendly in a city the size of London. Also, the Tube is a breeze to understand and is truly brilliant!

What I’ll remember most: The buildings. The architecture is stunning. The artistic detail that has lasted over the years is unbelievable.

What I ate: I had to try the proper full English breakfast with poached eggs on toast, bacon (which is more like a slab of ham), a slice of tomato (warm), sausage, and baked beans. I was not disgusted, and it made a great breakfast to share with my munchkins. I also found the UK incredibly vegetarian and vegan friendly. My favorite cafe: Pret – fresh, organic foods with a mission of sustainability. Umm, did they know I was coming to the UK? And when can they make a splash in the United States?

Who I met: There were two memorable people from my trip. One was a gentleman on the Tube. He was a local who recognized our American accents and first wanted to hear all about Hurricane Irma. Then he gave us some great advice on local gems to see off the tourist insanity. The second was a gentleman from Cyprus. He was in the London airport and valued the joy of a large family. He tried to convince me to have four more munchkins.

What I missed from home: Music.

London is mine. I’m certain I was supposed to have been born in London during the Victorian Era. I would have swirled in silks dancing with the next Mr. Darcy. My friends and I would have sipped tea on the pristine manicured terrace. Realistically, I would have probably been living as the daughter of a miner and been married off to another poor miner. We would have worked our entire lives and struggled every day to feed our family. But a woman can dream. Hopefully, that dream will take me back to London one day.

There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.

Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Traveling Thursdays: Discovering Gardening in London

Over 4,000 miles separates my home in Florida from London, yet the growing zones are quite similar. I was surprised to discover the unique plant environment in London. Umbrellas, rain coats and rain boots are a fashion statement in the United Kingdom (UK) for good reason. It rains nearly every days, which is lovely for plants. Then being surrounded by water, puts the growing zones between a 7 and 10.  (Florida ranges from an 8 to an 11.) You can find palm trees in the UK, though they have a distinctly different trunk. Tropical plants can survive outdoors even though the temperatures are vastly different. I traded 96 degrees Fahrenheit in Florida for 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) in London. I felt as if gardening in the UK was a mix of plants in Florida and the plants I miss from the Midwest. It was a perfect garden for me.

I had the great pleasure to visit Kew Gardens in London. Some people travel to London to see the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace or Big Bend. And my family did get to these tourist attractions, but first we had to see all those beautiful plants. My children truly think vacation is all about photographing plants. Enjoy some of the photos from my trip to the UK!

Florida Gardening in September

Autumn paints in colors that summer never sees.

September Gardening:

Unfortunately, I wasn’t here for a large chunk of September due to a fantastic family vacation. When I left everything in my garden was growing and green. We were still getting consistent rains, and I had started seeds in my vegetable garden. Then I abandoned my plants for 14 days.  I did hire a surrogate garden care taker to water my plants, but while I was away Hurricane Irma overshadowed any concern with watering. Plus, it was probably raining a little too much for the plants anyway. I returned home to dry soil in all my potted plants and even a few dead trees. The hurricane winds had shredded some of my elephant ears (Tarul) and canna lilies. My beautiful green beans were shrivelled and dry. Needless to say, I’ve just been cleaning up my yard and trying to get back to square one.

But, lucky for you (and me) I have this amazing book, Month-by-Month Gardening: Florida written by Tom Maccubbin, and this will help navigate what may be happening in your garden.

What to plant:

  • Corn
  • Beans
  • Squash
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Corn (Photo courtesy of Pexels)

These plants were planted together during the time of the Native Americans and are referred to as the three sisters. They will produce a harvest around the same time. This is also the last month to plant tomatoes and cucumbers. You can start thinking about what herbs to plant with the cooler temperatures nearer.

What you may be harvesting:

  • Avocados
  • Grapes
  • Persimmons
  • Carambolas
  • Bananas
  • Early citrus
  • Papaya
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Papaya (Photo courtesy of Pexels)

Annuals to consider:

Some of the flowers in your garden may start to fade, so you can consider filling in empty spaces with colorful annuals, such as:

  • Celosias
  • Cleomes
  • Nicotianas
  • Gazanias
  • Marigolds
  • Scarlet sages
  • Begonias

Trees:

If you moved to Florida from the North and are missing those fall colors, plant:

  • Bald cypress
  • Chicksaw plum
  • Crepe myrtle
  • Redbud
  • Red maple
  • River birch
  • Sugarberry
  • Sweet gum
  • Winged elm
autumn, autumn colours, autumn leaves
Red maple (Photo courtesy of Pexels)

You can also plant trees with fall flowers, such as:

  • Golden rain tree
  • Loquat
  • Sweet acacia

September marks the end of summer, which can mean busy school schedules, but it’s a time when gardening can be happier with cooler temperatures and the promise of less humidity. The entire garden can transform as we turn toward a drier season. Embrace these changes and move with the season.

References:

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.

The water calls me, challenges me

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Inch Beach, Kerry Co., Ireland

Enlightenment is when a wave realizes it’s the ocean. -Thich Nhat Hanh

I was never more ill prepared for an experience in my life. I had always imagined my first surfing lesson taking place in the warm waters of Florida after I had thoroughly prepared myself. I had at least wanted to watch a few more YouTube videos and finish reading Surf’s Up: The Girl’s Guide to Surfing. (I had only reached page 18 – far from being educated in the art of surfing.)

I never imagined I’d be shivering at 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) in a winter wet suit half blind. You see, I had thought contact lens would be a burden travelling to Europe, so they were comfortable back in the States. But now I was about to enter the ocean with at least 30 other surfers and wearing glasses was not an option. My instructor, Tim, had assured me that the water was warm; the waves were perfect; and he’d be in a bright red shirt never far. We were going to have a chill lesson according to Tim. But as I sat waiting for my 2 o’clock lesson, I was uncertain any of this was going to work out. I had come to Inch Beach, Ireland with no surf board and no swimsuit, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had hoped the curiosity to learn would be enough.

When I had arrived at the beach, no one was in the water. I had thought, How perfect? Less people to possibly crash into and see me fall and fall and fall. I slowly ate lunch and watched vehicle after vehicle drive down to the beach with surf boards secured to the roof. The minutes passed slowly and with each minute, I became more nervous. The surfers laughed with one another, pulled on their wet suits and headed out to the waves. By this time, I wasn’t sure if it was the Irish stew from the night before or butterflies, but my stomach was churning. I studied the surfers as they paddled out to ride the rolling waters. I sat watching those surfers and waves for almost 3 hours before my lesson. I was beyond terrified.

Finally, 2 o’clock arrived. I popped a mint in my mouth to calm my nerves and joined the other students. Luckily, it was a small class of 5 new surfers. We all looked like we could lose our lunch. I was in good company. Tim gathered us on our surf boards and went over a few basics on how to rise up on the board and ride a wave. And then that was it. He ended, “Any questions?” I wanted to say, Um, can you repeat, like, all that? Instead I shook my head and started for the water with the rest of the students.

I positioned my board and got ready for the first wave. Tim had said to get on the board when the wave was 8 meters away. I didn’t have time to convert meters to feet and the wave ploughed right over me. When I finally found air, I heard Tim shouting, “Do you work in meters or feet? 20 feet! Go when the wave is 20 feet away! That wave was too close.” Honestly, I couldn’t see where the wave was, but I started again and this time I hopped on the board with plenty of time. Instead of watching the wave, which was all a blue-grey blur, I listened to the tossing waves. The waves grew louder, and I started paddling. This time I nailed it. I hit wave after wave. With each wave, my nerves dissolved and was replaced with pure joy.

Then Tim pulled us back to beach. We were going to learn how to stand. Wait, what? We’re ready for that? You do what you just did, pop up and stand. Easy. Right? I looked at my new Irish friends, Shona and Shane. “You ready to stand?” Shona shook her head. I was with her. Shane replied, “Hell, yes. Let’s do this.” I thought, You know what? He’s right. It’s now or never. Let’s do this. So, even though I wanted to hesitate, I went for it. And with Tim’s “Whoo hoo!” I knew I had it. From then on it was magic.

Surfing takes focus, agility, strength and a great appreciation for the waves. I may need to learn to breath, relax, move my feet up on the board, turn my front foot, but none of that matters. I’ve been inducted into a powerful world. A world of strong spirits that don’t give in even after a wave hits them hard. Because the waves will help you rise and succeed. I just had listen and let them in. Ride the waves with me and let the magic transform you. Thank you Kingdom Waves Surf School for an unforgettable experience!