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Penny Carnathan

Penny’s a Nurture And Hold (NAH): Nah, I won’t pull that out yet, it’s still got a green shoot. She likes dragonflies, lady bugs and new stuff only after weeding, pruning and fertilizing.

Kim Franke-Folstad

Kim’s a Want It Now (WIN): Everything pretty, everything now. She will resort to full-spectrum insecticides in desperate situations, and believes it’s her duty and right to buy new plants every weekend.

Both advocate Plant Choice (SOMEthing besides crotons. Please!), lots of color and low maintenance. We don’t agree on everything, but we’re smart enough to learn from each other - and from you.

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Froggy song: “One is the Loneliest Number” (or, It Rained Frogs at My House Yesterday)

Posted Jun 2, 2011 by Penny Carnathan

Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 09:58 AM

Wednesday’s long-awaited deluge had a profound effect on my teeny tiny pond, usually home to just one middle-aged comet named Gil.



At first I thought I was witness to an amazing amphibious rescue effort. I’ve fished drowned frogs out of my pond after a rain; perhaps these frogs were trying to save each other?

After considerable effort, I finally “rescued” a pair. They sat on the side for a minute, then hopped right back in the water. The next “rescue” pair just lay in a dazed stupor where I put them.


Something about these two—the embrace?—made me think I was on the wrong track. A quick Google search indicated they would’ve much preferred I’d given them a glass of wine and a smoke, if you catch my drift.

I put a couple fat sticks in the water, just in case, then I reached in to clear the pump filter. That’s when I heard it. An ear-splitting screech from very near the pump. And then another, from somewhere behind me, and another from under the waterfall.


Once they got going, they didn’t stop. And, oh my gosh, they were loud! It didn’t take me long to figure out that these were the unlucky-in-love males. The piggyback frogs were all drowsily, quietly floating; the croakers were agitated singles, hopping in and out of the water and bellowing frustration.

Click this video to see and hear one of the lonely hearts.

We can also try to identify them. First click here for a list of Florida frogs and toads. Then plug the different names into the USGS Frog Call Lookup to hear how each sounds. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should be fun to compare notes.

Liatris spicata—you have some issues (we all do) but you are my new friend

Posted May 29, 2011 by Penny Carnathan

Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 09:59 AM


I first met liatris spicata, aka gayfeather, aka blazing star, on a visit to a native-plants landscape designer’s personal garden a few years ago. Troy Springer had it planted en masse, across a portion of his garden that equaled my whole garden plus some. It was beautiful!

It likes sun, it likes sand and it doesn’t like a lot of water. So I figured it would like me. I kept it on the back-burner wish list, but I never saw it at plant sales, nurseries or garden centers.

Until early February. That’s when I found a sack of corms (the technical name – they’re like bulbs) while perusing Lowe’s rack o’ bulbs-in-sacks. I bought a sack of 15 for $4.95 and followed planting directions almost to the letter. (They need to be planted at a specific depth, right-side up.) The rule I broke was planting much closer than the package specified. I wanted the mass bloomage look I’d seen but in a space about 1/100th the size.

I watered diligently for a couple weeks, then forgot about them. So I was really surprised when, about three weeks after planting, I spied “weeds” popping up in the gaillardia bed. They were emerging in an organized pattern that greatly resembled my “natural-look” planting style.

Here they are March 2 – about four weeks after planting.


I was so excited, I went back to Lowe’s and bought a second sack to expand my little native garden bed. (Hey, a bed that gives color and asks for no more than an occasional, “Great job, guys!” deserves to be expanded!)

Here’s where we were March 19. (Most of the other seedlings you see are young, self-sowed gaillardia.)


The sack o’ corms indicated these were fall bloomers, and Troy’s were fall bloomers, so thrilled though I was that they were actually growing, I set my throttle on patience. (Vietnamese hollyhocks taught me that!)

Imagine my surprise when I got my first bloom in April!


These guys bloom from the top down so, theoretically, you could trim off the dead part. I tried it once and I thought it looked decapitated. I don’t trim anymore.


I’ve had a few of the sprouts turn brown and collapse before going anywhere. The first one I dead-headed, in hopes of inspiring more blooms, responded by turning completely brown. I’ve since read that dead-heading won’t give you more blooms, and that liatris will turn brown after blooming. I’ve also read that letting the flowers go to seed will give you new plants, and also lure finches and other birds. So we’re going to seed.

There are a lot of varieties of liatris – white and pink, tall and short. I’m happy with the ease of growing, a little disappointed in the lack of WOW! – these guys bloom when they’re darned good and ready, not all at the same time. And that’s taking into account I have two groups planted a month apart.

Still, for a super low-maintenance, high-color sandy bed, they’re winners and I’ll stick with them. I’m still figuring out what they like (do I cut down the totally brown plants?) and watching for them to multiply (in addition to seed, they’re supposed to be propagated by division – so far, I see nothing to divide.)

Here’s how that bed looks now. Since it’s the one that doesn’t need to be watered to sleep every night, I love it.



Everyone on the bus – time for a field trip to Becky Perry’s summer camp

Posted May 23, 2011 by Penny Carnathan

Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 09:59 AM


I’ve had the privilege of visiting a lot of gardens in the past few years, and one thing I learned early on, you have to tame the ugly green monster of envy if you’re gonna be a voyeur.

The best strategy for me: rationalization. Not everyone has the same time constraints, space constraints, financial constraints. Not everyone has good dirt! Irrigation! (See how good I’ve gotten at this?)

But this weekend, during a beautiful afternoon in Becky Perry’s garden on the shore of Lake Keystone, I turned a paler shade of green.


The photo at top is an old raft that was littering the property – Becky and Larry’s home was Camp Keystone, a summer camp back in the 1940s and ‘50s. When the raft started sprouting volunteers, it looked so pretty, they decided to keep it. Now it’s tethered to their dock, floating near the shore. Larry painted, and planted, two pink flamingoes to resemble the natives – a couple of sandhill cranes raising little ones nearby. (Becky says watching the flying lessons is great entertainment.)

The photo above is just part of Becky’s fern garden. While this photo shows mostly Boston ferns in her shady side yard, there are also several other varieties, including wart fern, which I love (warts and all).


Behemoth old claw-foot tub hosts a pink party. Becky doesn’t like the color of terra-cotta, so she stains pots with Quik-crete concrete stain or wood stain in shades of olive or gray. Because each pot absorbs the stains differently, she gets both variations and uniformity in the natural hues she likes.


Yet another “swamp hibiscus.” This looks nothing like mine! Either varieties are endless, or someone’s fibbing on the names!


I love this little trick! This “fenced bed” is actually stacked cinderblocks across which boards have been laid and potted plants set atop. Pick up picket fencing at Home Depot (Becky actually has trellis on one side), to wrap around. It’s an inexpensive, easy-to-create “bed.” When one plant goes down, Becky just pulls it out and replaces it. 



We spent way too long at Becky’s beautiful little pet cemetery. It’s a spot that inspires reflection and sharing stories about departed pets still loved and missed. We both got teary-eyed. Her Smirk, my Willie – damn those wonderful macho cats who don’t want to burden you with their passing.


I’d give my eye-teeth – heck, my rare yellow Chinese hat plant! – for this sign on my potting shed. Come to think of it, I’d give both just for a potting shed. (Down, ugly green envy monster, down!!)


An in-progress new addition is a berm along the otherwise flat lawn (yeah, Becky wants to replace that grass) sloping down to the lake. Currently, she has a border of white caladiums, and this nesting spot on the lake-side end of the berm. I LOVE the old gate, which leads to … nowhere!


I’m sorry I can’t reproduce the cooling breezes as we wandered Becky’s garden. Saturday was hot as heck, but you wouldn’t know that out at old Camp Keystone. I could do a whole post about her elaborate mealy-worm breeding system, which lures all kinds of beautiful birds to “Birdville” – her front porch. Husband Larry is as creative as Becky, and a pitch-in kind of guy – I could do another post on the stuff he builds for their garden.

But I’m having enough trouble controlling my ugly green monster. I sure don’t want to feed yours!


Working at a new clip thanks to hedge shears

Posted May 18, 2011 by Kim Franke-Folstad

Updated May 18, 2011 at 06:04 PM


I found an exciting new gardening tool this week!

Hedge shears!

OK, they’re not new. But I’ve never used them.

For one thing, we don’t have that many hedges in our yard. Shrubs, yes; hedges, no.  I guess the three thryallis plants count, because I do trim them with a flat top. But I’ve been doing it with a pair of scissors!


When I tackle the plumbagos – which are huge – and the out-of-control star jasmine, I always use a bypass pruner, snipping one or two branches or vines at a time until I’m done … or tired.


Finally, though, that jasmine got sooo big, I just couldn’t face an afternoon of piecemeal pruning. And suddenly it occurred to me that I’d seen a pair of hedge shears somewhere in our mess of tools.

The jasmine was certainly hedge-like. And it definitely needed shearing.  Hmmm …

Sure enough, I found the shears hanging just inside the door of the tool shed. (That’s how you know you don’t use a tool EVER, when it’s right where it’s supposed to be. Now, if someone could just tell me where my measuring tape is …)


I’ve been tempted to create some kind of topiary out of this plant for quite some time. A mermaid? Ha! Maybe something simpler. A cube?

Maybe next time.

For now, I’m happy with this nice, clean, boring shape and how quickly I got it done. (The orange tree is happy, too. The vines from this jasmine tend to reach out and strangle things like the plants in Disney movies.) Imagine how easy it would have been if the shears had actually been clean and sharpened?

I was so giddy with success, I leveled the tops of the thryallis with a few swift clips, and I can’t wait to try them on one of the plumbagos.

When I told Penny about my shear happiness, I expected her to laugh her, um, garden gloves off at my “discovery.” But she said she has a tendency to use a pruner, too, when shears would probably be a better choice.

I’m wondering if old-fashioned hand-held hedge shears have fallen out of fashion because the electric kind make the work so much faster. But I like the control – and the price. (You can get a decent pair for about $25.)

For tips on how to choose shears that are right for you, go to


Off to Laura Barber’s garden to steal ideas and anything else we can get our hands on!

Posted May 8, 2011 by Penny Carnathan

Updated Jun 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM


Kim and I were thrilled to snag an invite to one of Friends of Plant Park’s members-only shindigs last weekend. Their “Conversations in a Garden” is a twice-a-year thing where one member hosts the club for a garden open house. This year, Laura Barber was the victim …. er, hostess. Friends of Plant Park is the group that puts on GreenFest, Kim and I looove GreenFest. Kim and I also loooove all the Lauras associated with GreenFest.  (There are many.)  So we were very happy to be invited.

This is Laura Barber. She’s as sweet as she looks. The great big vase is full of cut caladiums, which she has only recently learned make great, long-lasting cut “flowers”.


Her tiniest-leafed caladiums made an adorable decoration in the open-faced bathroom medicine cabinet.


On caladiums as cut flowers, here’s what Laura posted yesterday (May 9) on Facebook:  “I had two colors (the white ones shown and red ones with green trim). I cut them all on Wednesday, April 27, and I still have two of the four original containers almost two weeks later! The large whites (shown in photo) are still in the best shape; the medium white still look pretty good. The minis, alas, were around only about a week.”

Laura and her husband, Steve, bought their house on Prospect Street (old neighborhood – South Tampa) in 2003. Both house and yard were pretty rundown, so they had to start from scratch. They had some big ficus trees along the rear perimeter of the backyard, but those were lost to hurricanes a few years ago. (Aside: Ficus trees, which get huge, were the most-toppled trees when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992. If you plant, keep them far from your house!) The Barbers went from shade (and no view of the neighbors) to sun (and opportunity!) The central part of the yard is now a rose garden.


That bench in the back corner they bought from Charleston, S.C., a place they love to visit.

Kim and I had some serious Conversations in the Garden about how we might spirit away Laura’s arbor – a GreenFest purchase a couple years ago. She has Confederate jasmine working its way up the sides. (Good plant choice, but I bet she’ll be sad when it completely covers this beautiful arbor!)

Alas, neither Kim nor I figured out a good way to get away with a heist of this magnitude.


Laura has fountains throughout her yard – to mask the noise from neighbors’ pool pumps and A.C. compressors. It works! But it takes a lot of fountains. This was one of our favorites.


Laura says she bought the owl separately (I never would’ve guessed!) at Bloom Garden Shop in South Tampa, so Kim may have trouble copy-catting. (Yes, she expressed that desire. No, there is NO shame in copy-catting.)

And yard art? She’s as big a sucker as the two of us. We loved the little tree with orchids and art hung like Christmas decorations.


Lest, I forget, there are also lots of plants in the Barbers’ garden, including several raised veggie and herb beds and unusual plants like Dutchman’s pipe and a paw-paw tree purchased specifically to invite particular butterflies.

I loved this Florida native swamp hibiscus. It’s one of my new favorite plants—I have a different variety, which has lots of buds but no blooms. Laura’s is in a pot because it produces lots of little volunteers, which she potted up and gave away as favors. Mine is in a pot because there’s nothing remotely “swamp” about my yard.


Last but not least, the rain barrels. Laura and Steve went to great lengths to install rain barrel systems in both of their side yards. They couldn’t find a rain barrel expert (perhaps a good business opportunity for some young jobless college grad?) so they did it themselves.

Laura’s coup is the brown garbage-bag-looking thing in this photo. It’s actually a big out-flow “pipe” that can be used to direct water wherever you want it when the barrels are over-flowing.


I could go on. I’ve already borrowed ideas not even pictured here. Laura’s angelonia comes to mind first. I now have three. Kim wants that arbor. She’ll have to keep looking.

But that’s half the fun!