“They’re watching me,” I said to Diane our church landscape chair. I was out by Fruitville Road hacking away at the weeds with my shuffle hoe. ‘Who’s watching you?” she said.“Those green parrots with black hoods that make so much noise. They have nests in the holes of those telephone poles, and they sit and peak out and watch me with their beady little eyes. It is creepy.” Diane seemed a bit exasperated. “Well, first of all, they are not parrots, they are parakeets, Nanday parakeets. They come from South America and are feral in our area”. “Well, “I don’t like them, and by the way, how do you know so much?” “Wikipedia,” she said. “Ah,” I said, “then it must be true.”
“I think that it is time for me to do some educating in my weekly Contact vignette/Blog post,” I said to my wife Diane the leader of our landscaping committee. “That would be a nice change from you running around shouting ‘Jeepers Creepers’”, she responded. I ignored the comment. “People (at least two of them) have asked about the purple plants with the purple flowers along the walkway leading to the Lexow Wing. They are called tradescantia pallidas and we have another species in the memorial garden, tradescantia zebina. Diane looked at me in amazement. “You know the Latin names?”. “Yes, and I can inform you that they are species of the spiderwort plant,” I said proudly. “How did you know all that?” she asked suspiciously. “Oh, I am a rather learned horticulturist,” I said as I walked away while surreptitiously sliding my smartphone into a pocket.
No, we are not talking kings and queens here, just butterflies. While working with our church gardening crew this past Tuesday, we spotted a couple Monarchs flitting about one of the large shrubs near the back of our church property. We were struck by the beauty of their orange and black colors as they spread out against the tiny purple flowers of the shrubbery. And we wondered if they were “our” Monarchs. Last spring we had watched with great (almost obsessive) interest when a Monarch female laid eggs on our milkweed plant, beginning the complex reproductive cycle of butterflies. When the cycle was complete, we felt as if we had been part of a process that launched eleven new Monarchs into the world. This week, lacking evidence to the contrary, we decided that they were indeed “our offspring”. We stood and watched for a few minutes, in awe of the contrasting beauty of the butterflies and flowers. Then we went back to weeding, clipping and pruning.
Last Sunday, the Flame Vine that grows over the arbor at the north end of the Memorial Garden was dangling vines into peoples faces as they walked through the garden to get to the sanctuary. My wife Diane, chair of the church gardening crew, noticed and was visibly upset. “Didn’t you trim those vines yesterday?”she asked with just a hint of asperity. (One might ask how one knows when a hint of asperity is occurring. My answer: after 56 years of marriage, one knows “asperity” when one hears it.) Anyway, I responded that indeed I had done the trimming. Diane looked at me, then looked at the vines. I looked back and shrugged. “Mother Nature,” I said, “her fault, not mine.” It is just amazing how quickly the vines grow during the rainy season, requiring almost daily trimming. Some day I may just sit and watch and see if I can actually see the vines spread their wiry tentacles. Gotta be better than watching grass grow.
Dick Happy, Gardening Crew
by Dick Happy, UUCS Garden Crew
We get lots of questions about the giant plant that hangs from the iconic oak outside the Lexow Wing. It is called a staghorn fern and, although it may be hard to believe, it is an epiphyte or air plant getting moisture from rain and water vapor and absorbing nutrients from debris that collects on supporting plants. It was donated from a church member’s yard several years ago, and it took four men and a large pickup truck to get it delivered to UUCS and hang it from the tree. We give it very little care although it seems to be delighted when we feed it ground up banana peel (it likes the potassium). We have two other smaller staghorn ferns hanging from oaks on other parts of the property.
This past Sunday the choir had sung its first anthem of the day, a familiar hymn - music that was somewhat quiet, and certainly not “rousing” , not the type that elicits spontaneous applause. At the end of the hymn there was silence and then came a clear and distinct child’s voice calling out “yay!” It brought the house down. In our twenty years in the church, there has always been an “applause versus no applause” controversy. Some like to be able to express appreciation with applause, others find it disruptive to the tone of the service. But on Sunday, there seemed to be unanimous appreciation for the “yay” so maybe we could employ an official “yay” person that would satisfy both the applause and the non-applause camps?
In last week’s Contact I mentioned how thrilled I was with the rain. The brown lawns of winter had turned to brilliant green and our church shrubbery and trees were looking hail and hearty. But then the rains have continued, and continued and continued bringing to mind the saying “too much of a good thing”. Standing water has prevented the mowing of the lawns, the weeds are popping up everywhere and and the shrubbery is sprouting forth like, well like a weed. I have spoken to Mother Nature and asked for more balance (she and I are speaking terms) and she has assured me she would take it under advisement.
-Dick Happy For the Volunteer Gardening Crew
by Dick Happy, Garden Crew
I was startled recently when I drove by the church and noticed the luxuriously green front lawns. “Our irrigation system must be working well,” I said to myself. But wait, we don’t have an irrigation system (other than in the Memorial Garden where it is rarely used). The rains of May had brought an early beginning to the wet season, turning our brown lawn areas into brilliant greenery. The transformation from brown to green made me think about how important water is to the world and how fortunate we are in Florida for our “wet season," and sometimes how cavalier we are about it.
When I opened the Sarasota Herald to the local section this past Monday morning, I saw a familiar face staring back at me. Church member (and Tuesday garden crew member) Darryl McCullough was featured in an article about the growing of tropical fruit. Darryl is a member of the Manatee Rare Fruits Council, and he grows a great variety of tropical fruit at his home The Tuesday morning gardening crew (and the church) has benefitted greatly from his knowledge: Darryl planted a mini-orchard of seven loquat trees in our front parking area, and exotic fruit trees in back of the kitchen and sanctuary. All are flourishing. I am surrounded by experts on Tuesday mornings - Bob Milner (orchids), Pat Sindlinger (bromeliads) and Darryl (fruit trees). What is my area of expertise, one might ask. Well, does carrying bags of mulch and obeying my wife’s gardening instructions count? Probably not.
Dick Happy, UUCS Garden Crew
Click here to read the Herald-Tribune's article and view their numerous pictures...
A video posted on the Herald-Tribune's site is available below:
On Sunday, I sat at the south end of the Memorial Garden, drowsily viewing my beautiful plants. After all, I am Dr. Dick the Garden Doc and though my wife Diane thinks she is in charge, I am the true garden guru.
As I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping. (Apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.) I turned around and found church member, John P. Steadfast, tapping his cane on the paver walkway.
“HI John,” I said. “What can I do for you?” (A quick glance at his name tag allowed me to pretend that I remembered his name.)
“Well, Dr. Dick, I am delighted to see you back in the garden. I have a few questions for you.”
“Okay,“I said, “My wife, who is technically the garden committee chair, is still in the sanctuary, but I am sure that I can answer any questions you have.”
“I have admired the beautiful plants in the garden for a number of years, “ he said. “What are they called?”
“Begonias,” I answered quickly.
John’s bushy eyebrows raised in question. “Umm, I think Dr. Dick you are mistaken. Those are not begonias.”
“Oh, I meant butterfly bushes.” I knew that the name of the plants began with a “B” but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of the actual name,
“I see your wife coming out of the sanctuary,” John said. “I think that i will go to talk with her.”
“Okay,” I said. What else could I say?
A while later, Diane caught up with me. I was still in the garden and still “nodding, nearly napping” when she found me. “Oh, did you get to see John P. Steadfast?”
“I did,” she replied. “The plants are tropical and are called bromeliads.”
“Aha,” I said excitedly, “I knew the name of those plants began with a “B”.
“Yes,” she said with just a hint of sarcasm, “congratulations.”
Last Sunday before the rains came, I sat on a memorial garden walkway bench reflecting on the beautiful music I just heard in the church service and admiring a number of beautiful orchids that had blossomed in the garden in the last few weeks. Having managed to kill an orchid or two (or more) in the past, one might ask if I had suddenly developed a skill for growing these lovely plants? No, I got lucky. New church member Bob Milner is an orchid growing hobbyist and we have been the beneficiary of his hobby as Bob has donated, displayed and maintained a number of orchids throughout the memorial garden. So, I sat and enjoyed the orchids, knowing that they would be given Bob’s tender loving care. Music and orchids. My senses were full and overflowing. (A UU Orchids group led by Bob meets every third Wednesday of the month at the church.)
More than a month ago, our custodian Katherine noticed that a Monarch butterfly was laying eggs on the milkweed plant outside the church kitchen porch. She called to let me know, and I rushed over to church to observe. We had planted the milkweed there, hoping that we would attract Monarchs, and sure enough a beautiful female Monarch butterfly was laying eggs on our plant. Trying not to hover, we watched as eggs morphed into caterpillars, and caterpillars changed into bright green chrysalises. And then we waited for the final metamorphosis - the butterfly. And after a couple of weeks, we had our reward - at least two butterflies emerged and fluttered around the back of the church. We felt like proud parents. We would like them to stay around for us to admire, but being Monarchs, they are probably off to parts unknown. We will plant some milkweed again and maybe they or one of their relatives will visit us again. We would love that. -Diane Happy
“You are doing what?” Diane said, looking somewhat aghast. We were finishing breakfast and instead of my usual habit of reading on-line newspapers, I was concentrating on writing something on the computer.
“I am going to write a blog and post it on the church website,” I said proudly.
“But you don’t even know what a blog is,” Diane said. “And even if you do, what are you going to write about. We live a mundane, hum drum life. Nobody is going to be interested in your blog.”
“ Oh, but I think they will,” I said, “I am going to resurrect the ‘From the Garden Gate’ column that I used to write for the church newsletter. You know, the one where I said I was Dr. Dick the Garden Doc, who thought he knew much but knew little? I know it was not great literature, but....
“But it was kind of silly,” Diane finished my sentence.
“I call it lighthearted, but yes it was meant to talk about the church flora and fauna and occasionally church life in a humorous way. At least I thought it was funny - I always chuckled when I wrote it. Occasionally I would get a compliment or two from church members. And now I can even add pictures. Just think of it - writing and pictures and emojis. I’m sure that I will have a HUGE following.”
Diane sighed, “Well, okay if you must. But don’t put me in any of your columns and don’t start tweeting and twittering and facebooking. Someone will start gathering up all our personal data.”
I smiled. “Nope, no tweeting or twittering. But you might appear in a column or two. Now, lets head over to church so I can start gathering material for my new column. I saw some butterflies I might want to write about.”
Dr. Dick, the Garden Doc
No, not as in a "twitter tweet," but coming from the occupant of a nest being constructed in a potted plant on the Lexow Wing porch. Mom, the “tweeter," is a Carolina Wren with a remarkably loud voice and clever nature. But we are clever too, as we have discovered that she always enters the plant from the right, making one think that her nest is there, when in reality it is on the other side. So we will be watching (and not interfering), hoping that soon there will be some baby wrens who will be able to open their own twitter account. The world could use a few genuine tweets!
Katherine Isabelle and Diane Happy
I have been thinking about the Eric Carle's children's classic about caterpillars. Our custodian Katherine and I have been carefully monitoring the emerging stages of a Monarch butterfly family forming in the milkweed plant in back of our church kitchen. A few weeks ago, Katherine photographed a beautiful Monarch butterfly laying her eggs and then had camera in hand when the resulting caterpillars appeared - thirteen of them. But the caterpillars managed to chew up most of the milkweed vegetation and when we viewed them last week, they had a look that said, "Is this all you have?” We didn't want "very hungry caterpillars," so I rushed over to Farm and Garden Nursery and came back with three more milkweed plants. The caterpillars were pleased and started munching away. As I wait for the next stage, I have been re-reading "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and hoping that I will get to see the metamorphosis from "hungry caterpillar" to "beautiful butterfly."
From the Garden Gate
Dr. Dick the Garden Doc used to write a monthly column for our newsletter. He has recently returned to continue the tradition on this blog with occasional comments by himself and his wife, Diane.