Adventures of a Transplated Gardener- Ginny Stibolt

Ginny Stibolt with a pile of mulch.  Typical!

Ginny's Garden Log

The main purpose of this log was to expand on the gardening adventures that Ginny wrote about in her Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns, but now she writes at The GreenGardeningMatters blog.

Current postings and other posts to Ginny's Garden Log Meadow page 

This is the Thirteenth postings page (from 5/21/09 to 10/19/09). Topics on this page include: goldenrods, sago sex, lawn contest, Vero Beach, meet me at the library, lawn reform, compost, Florida-friendly lawtrees & shrubs, community gardens, water, library book, bug-sprayersave water & seeds

Previous posts to Ginny's Garden Log

Goldenrod and flat-topped goldenrod in Ginny's front yard.  Photo by Stibolt

10/19/09 The Golden(rod) Days of Fall The goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa) and the flat-topped goldenrod (Euthamia caroliniana) out in the front meadow and in several garden beds have put on quite a show this fall. The show includes not only the brilliant yellows of the flowers, but also the profusion of insects: butterflies, skippers, honeybees, carpenter bees, wasps, and polka-dotted wasp moths. I also discovered a cocoon made with an oak leaf.

In my backyard habitat presentation this past weekend at Heathcote Botanical Gardens in Fort Pierce, I reminded folks that if you want to have birds in your yard, you must first invite the insects. These goldenrods accomplish that in a big way--I've taken some photos this past week (See below.), but a still shot doesn't begin to capture the busy buzzyness that occurs during the heat of the day.

I did not plant these goldenrods, they have sown themselves in several of our non-mown areas in our yards and need virtually no care except to chop down the canes late in the winter in areas where I want a "neater" look. I don't chop them down too early because goldfinches and many other small birds feast on the spent flower heads during the winter. Even though these birds are small, when they land, the stalks bend almost to the ground. Plus those flower heads also work well in dried bouquets or fall wreaths.

This weekend, I'll be giving two presentations at the Sustainable Harvest Festival at Fairchild Tropical Gardens: Saturday @ 10am is my presentation on growing edibles and integrated pest management (IPM). Sunday @ noon I'll talk about rain gardens

Link here for all my events  If you have a Florida gardening event or group, let me know. Maybe we can work out an appearance.

In the photos below a collection of some of the insects 
found on the goldenrods: a carpenter bee, a polka-dotted wasp moth and below a red wasp.

This interesting cocoon was made from a small oak leaf bent around a stem and then filled with a white fuzzy mass. I'll keep an eye on this to see if I can figure out what made it as it emerges.

Some of the insects on the goldenrods this week. Photo by Stibolt

A weird cocoon constructed from a small oakleaf. Photo by Stibolt

10/12/09 Gender equality amongst sagos? Not so much...  For the first time since we moved here, our sagos (planted by the previous owners) have produced flowering structures.  They are not true flowers since sagos are cycads and belong to the more primitive gymnosperm group. Angiosperms include the true flowering plants. (For more details, see Hey! My Sago is Not a Palm.) Sagos are dioecious with male and female plants.  In other words, each plant will produce either male or female flowering structures, but not both.  It turns out that we have a male sago on the left side of the porch steps and a female on the right.  

Red seeds show on a female sago in the foreground, while the male supports two 3-foot sprouts from its top and six or more pups growing around it.  Photo by Stibolt

These attractive sago seeds are very poisonous.  Photo by Stibolt

Red seeds are finally emerging on the female sago, while the male sago supports two 3-foot sprouts of new leaves from its top and six or more pups growing around it.  The female has no new leaves and no pups and has taken a long time to produce its seeds.  The flowering structures emerged in late May and these photos were taken this morning on October 12th. 

<< In the left photo, the female sago is in the foreground, while the male sago with its 3' tall new sets of leaves is in the background  The right photo shows a close-up of the red-coated seeds enclosed in fuzzy, lobed bracts (modified leaves).

I ask: Is this fair? Shouldn't Mother Nature treat both sago genders equally? 

The two sagos in early June soon after their flowering structures emerged.

The two sagos in mid July.  The male's flowering structure has collapsed and two new sets of leaves have sprouted, while there's been some expansion of the female structure.  

The two sagos in early June soon after their flowering structures emerged. Photo by Stibolt

The two sagos in mid July.  The male's flowering structure has collapsed and two new sets of leaves have sprouted. Photo by Stibolt

Note: Those attractive, red-coated seeds are very poisonous.  Keep away from kids and pets.

This Saturday, October 17th, I'll be at Heathcote Botanical Gardens' Ethnobotanical Day in Ft. Pierce, FL.  I'll demonstrate how to create habitat in your own yard at 12:30pm "under the oaks" and the rest of the time I'll be at my vendor table selling and signing books.  For more information link here: Ethnobotanical Day.  Co-sponsored by the local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.  So if you're in central Florida, come on over for a day of learning, butterflies, native plants, and fun.  More events to come...

Roadside ecosystem in Clay County where orange fringed orchids thrive.  Photo by Stibolt

10/06/09 As promised, I've posted more details and photos of a field trip to see some orchids:

The (Almost) Ghost Orchids of Clay County (Podcast: Orchids of Clay County)

A few weeks ago I went on a field trip with our local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Florida Native Orchid Society to a site in south Clay County to view some native orchids that were in bloom.  

About 30 orange-fringed orchids (Platanthera ciliaris) made quite a show in the morning light. The pronounced lower petal is deeply divided into a fringe. Each flowering stalk stood about a foot tall and supported 20 to 30 florets. This orchid is a terrestrial orchid, which needs to grow in soil, unlike epiphyte orchids that can obtain needed nutrients and water from the air. 

In addition to the orchids, there were many other interesting native species in this meadow/ditch. The whole area was alive with butterflies and bees visiting the orchids and other flowers.  Mesmerizing. 

What is interesting about this site is that the owners of the property next to this ditch have had to be vigilant and place themselves in front of heavy machinery to prevent the county workers from smoothing the whole area out to make it "neater." Ironically this native meadow takes care of itself without any maintenance and the so-called improvements would have required not only the initial work with the moving of soil and planting of grasses, but then it would have needed mowing several times a year.

So if these homeowners had not spoken up, these gorgeous orchids would have been ghosts—yet another portion of "The Real Florida" wiped out by so-called progress.  Our Florida habitat is being eaten at alarming pace by civilization. The Audubon Society estimates that some of our native bird populations have been reduced by 80% since 1967. We gardeners can change that trend one property at a time by defending existing habitat and creating some new habitat by planting more natives.

Click here to see photos of the orchids and their wildflower neighbors: 

Lessons learned:  

1) One person can make a difference in preserving (or restoring) native habitat.  
2) Native ecosystems may take a while to settle into their sustainable status, but the wait is definitely worth it.  
3) Observing nature is mesmerizing—there's so much learn that it was hard to drag everyone away.

· The Ixia chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society covering Duval, Nassau & Clay Counties: 
· For more information on the Florida plants and their distributions within the state: 

9/30/09 "I used to have a lawn, but now I have ____" contest results. This contest started on September 14th to coincide with the formal announcement of the Lawn Reform Coalition and its website. The entries and the comments are on Susan Morrison's Blue Planet Garden blog.  The answers ranged from "sanctuary" & "wildlife refuge" to "dinner." Interesting entries and great photos of lawnfree landscapes.  Maybe we can all pick up some ideas here. 

Also in the news: 
As a semi-logical continuation to the "dinner" answer above, Barbara Damrosch of the Washington Post wrote "Out of sight, plots fall from mind." While touring community gardens at the end of the season, she noticed some neglected plots, but those in the front yard--not so much.  Here's a quote:

"... I came upon one intriguing solution to the problem of the neglected community plot. In a block of small houses and shaded back yards, a little vegetable garden had been planted right out front, where its prominent position encouraged daily care. It was bursting with fall broccoli, cabbage and kale -- healthy and well-weeded. Clearly the owner valued fresh food enough to flout the conventions of front-yard design: the obligatory patch of lawn and row of shrubs. The plot was sun-drenched and inescapable. It told its story to one and all, and especially to the gardener, returning home daily from work with enough daylight hours left to pull a few weeds. "Yo!" it said. "Remember me?"

· Cats are subsidized predators and ruin habitat for birds and other bug-eating predators.  Here's a link to a recent article in the NY Times:  Give Birds a Break: Lock Up Your Cat!

· An informative article by forester Larry Figart: Trees play vital role in health of a city. They quietly provide us with numerous important benefits.

· And just for fun, check out the bulb talking on Doonesbury and the garden ranters' comments.

Ginny at Clay County FL library.  Photo by Stibolt

9/25/09 Vero Beach Book Center: I'll head south to Vero Beach on September 26th to give a presentation.  I've been writing the garden columns for the Vero Beach Magazine for several years now and I hope to connect with many of my readers there.  For more details and directions link to

Last weekend, my interview with with Peter Pringle was the centerpiece of the Home and Garden Section of the Treasure Coast Palm newspaper. Here's a link to that article: Botanist Ginny Stibolt has environmentally friendly answers to gardeners' questions

So meet me in Vero Beach!  See for all of my public events. I'll be seeing a lot of Florida this year and next.

~ ~ ~

A core sample from Harvard's organic lawn.  Photo  by Jodi HiltonAlso, this week Ann Raver wrote about Harvard University's great success with their organically treated lawns in the NY Times: The Grass is Greener at Harvard. Do you suppose she read about The Lawn Reform Coalition and decided to get into the act?  

When the soil is alive with microbes and worms, even a heavily trampled lawn, like Harvard's, stays aerated. >>

9/21/09 What the heck is "Sustainable Gardening"? Without the hand of a gardener, gardened spaces will revert to their surroundings.  First they'll fill up with weeds then slowly become almost indistinguishable from their surroundings with maybe a few remnants of plantings left such as perennials, bulbs, plus trees and shrubs that are well-adapted to that location.  Gardens are not sustainable by themselves. When I set out to write my book, I had to put forth a definition of sorts so I'd have some guidelines to use as I wrote each chapter. I talked about my eight principles of sustainable gardening in today's podcast: What is Sustainable Gardening?

Treefrog on a canna leaf.  Photo by Stibolt

The eight principles are: 1. Having minimal impact on the environment; 2. Making the best use of available resources; 3. Saving time and money; 4. Reducing carbon dioxide and increase oxygen in the air; 5. Offsetting some of the heat absorbed and stored by urban/suburban structures; 6. Increasing habitat for wildlife; 7. Preventing damage to infrastructure; 8. Preparing for disasters such as hurricanes, fires, and drought.

Even though I used these eight principles as a guideline, the chapter titles are not the same. ( Here's a list of the 14 chapters.)

Using no poisons means that we have these cute predators doing the job for us. Integrated pest management is a part of sustainable gardening.  >> 

Orange fringed orchids in Clay County.  Photo by Stibolt

9/17/09 Meet me at Fleming Island Library in Clay County on Saturday at 11am. I'll be there with several other local authors. Here are the event details.

My podcast about a Florida Native Plant Society field trip where we found these gorgeous orange fringed orchids (Platanthera ciliaris) and many other interesting wildflowers in Clay County was posted this week. I will write more about this adventure later and post more of my photos, but for now you can listen to this account.  Stay tuned for further adventures. 

The Jacksonville branch (Ixia) of the Florida Native Plant Society meets tonight 9/17/09 at the Regency Square Library at 6:30pm. For more information go to

Lawn Reform Coalition badge: Grass is not always greener...

9/14/09 Today we are introducing the Lawn Reform Coalition and its website (, which provides resources and examples for helping homeowners and businesses all over the country change the way they think about lawns.  To mark this beginning, Susan Morrison of Blue Planet Garden Blog is running a contest. You fill in the blank: "I used to have a lawn, but now I have ___. " You could win a copy of John Greenlee's The American Meadow Garden.

I joined with the eight other members of the coalition to provide reasonable actions and alternatives for Florida's climate and soils. I think we can work together to restore some of the 'Real Florida' by reducing lawn acreage and by reducing the use of poisons and fertilizers all over the state. In these tough economic times, why spend your time and money on unsustainable lawns? 

Here are pdf files of the Lawn Reform Coalition press release and of a tri-fold lawn reform brochure, which we encourage you to print out and distribute to people you know who can make a difference. Help to spread the no-grass roots movement.  

To add the lawn reform badge to your website, copy this code:

Ginny's lawn in summer 09. Photo by Stibolt

Our Freedom Lawn

Since moving into our house in the spring of 2004, we've not used chemicals or fertilizer on our lawn, but our lawn areas are presentable, as you can see in this photo taken this summer.  I've written about our lawn care several times, but after working with the other members of this coalition for the past few months, I now have a name to describe it: it's a "Freedom Lawn."

A close up of Ginny's lawn shows that it's inhabited by several types of plants--not all grasses. Photo by Stibolt

A close-up in one area of our lawn shows that there are several types of plants growing there, and most of them are not turf grass.  In other areas, there is still a lot of the original St. Augustine grass left.  >>

Honey, We Shrunk the Lawn!

In addition to more environmentally sound treatment of our lawn, we've also we've also reduced its area by creating meadows in several areas and replacing lawn with mulched areas under trees and in pathways where grass was not doing well anyway.

In case you missed them, here's a list of my lawn articles: Reducing the Lawn in your Landscape, Managing a Natural Meadow, Cutting Edges, The Lawn Less Mown.

Grass isn't always greener...

9/9/09 Beware the Mulch Volcano, an important article by Adrian Higgins in today's Washington Post, discusses the dangers of over mulching and how we got this way. What Higgins doesn't mention is the that over mulching is also endangering our virgin cypress forests that are being ground into mulch to feed our habits. See my Follow the Yellow Mulch Road article for an greener alternative.

9/8/09 Labor Day: then and now.  Many years ago I celebrated Labor Day by going into labor and it was a celebration because my daughter was 14 days late and it had been a long hot summer. Happy birthday Dori!

Black gold.  Compost from garden waste. Photo by Stibolt

<< Black gold created from waste materials.  This is last year's pile.

Yesterday, I celebrated Labor Day by laboring in my yard. I turned and combined my compost piles.  About three months ago, I built a huge compost pile by carefully layering equal amounts of brown and green materials in alternating layers with a small amount of garden soil mixed with horse manure after each green layer. (Brown materials are dried materials like dead leaves or wood chips; green materials are soft, damp materials such as newly pulled weeds, hydrilla from the lake, kitchen waste including brown coffee grounds.) Ideally I should have turned the pile sooner, but it didn't happen. The pile was about half its original size. Meanwhile, I've been piling my new weeds and waste onto another pile without any regard to brown or green materials.  This is my passive compost pile.

Because of all the rain we've had, I expected that my piles might be too wet and smell like ammonia or rotten eggs, but they didn't.  Both piles smelled sweet, which means that the aerobic microbes and earthworms have been working well.  The compost was not quite done because I could still see remnants of the original materials. So it was time to turn it to aerate the compost and to introduce some new, easily-composted green materials to heat it up.  I had a pile of hydrilla from our lake and some newly pulled weeds from my vegetable patch.

I wanted the finished pile to be in the same place, so I moved all of the existing pile to a tarp.  I also removed the top materials from the passive pile and reached the nearly finished compost in there, too.  Then is was time to re-layer the pile. First a 4" layer of the compost from the passive pile, a thin layer of green stuff, then a 4" layer of the primary compost followed by about a gallon of rain barrel water poured from a watering can.  I repeated this until I'd used up the green materials.  I had to go find some more weeds—not a problem. When I finished combining all the compost from both piles, the new pile was about 3' in all directions.  I gathered some pine needles from the street and covered the whole pile with the pine needles to keep the pile moist and maybe to prevent some weeds from growing from the top.  I then restarted a new passive pile with the top layer from the old pile.  This is where I'll pile my new weeds.  All told, this was a lot of labor to celebrate the day.  I checked the pile this morning and it has heated up and the whole pile should be ready in about a month when it will be time to spread compost as a top dressing around our transplanted trees and shrubs.  I'll also use it in our winter vegetable garden.  Here's link to my composting article

In today's New York Times there's a great article: Where Did All the Flowers Come From? by Carl Zimmer, which explores some new findings on how plants adapted to flower.

Also today a new podcast on Florida's new Florida Friendly law was posted.  There are pro and cons to this law, but now no one and no homeowners' association can force you to plant materials that run counter to the Florida Friendly guidelines.  If you want to read the bill yourself, here's the link: SB2080 and go to to find out what Florida Friendly landscaping is all about.  

8/31/09 Today my Trees & Shrubs podcast was posted at and I've also published an article Trees and Shrubs: the Bones of Your Landscape. As I was doing research for my book, I learned some surprising information that contradicts the old gardeners' tales that I've been listening to and spreading all these years.  Here are some myths about woody plants: 
1) Plant a $5 tree in a $50 hole. (Add lots of peat moss, compost and fertilizer to the planting hole.) 
2) Purchase the largest trees and shrubs you can afford to give your landscape a head start.
3) Never disturb the roots in the root ball as you plant trees and shrubs; just plop them into the hole as is.
Read the article to find out why these old gardeners' tales are dead wrong.

Sweet bay magnolia is a terrific choice for a woody plant where water puddles for days on end. Photo by Stibolt

The initial investment—both time and money—to establish new woody plants in your landscape is larger than for your other plants, but the rewards are much greater in the long run. With proper selection and maintenance your woody plants will provide shade, privacy, and habitat for wildlife. They prevent erosion, cool their surroundings, and absorb carbon dioxide from the air. That trees and shrubs also add beauty and value to any landscape is a lovely bonus.

Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is a great choice for your landscape here in northern Florida. It's a small tree with leaves and flowers about one half the size of the southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) and will form a thicket if you let it.  But one of the best characteristics of this native tree in a wet year like this one is that it will survive in standing water. >>

Ginny's carrots from her cool weather garden.  Photo by Stibolt

8/24/09 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has named August 23-29, 2009 National Community Garden Week. I talked about this and what you can do about it on my podcast "Community Garden Week"

For more information on National Community Gardening Week, go to: The National Gardening Association Web sites include information on the benefits of community gardening as well as helpful advice for gardeners: and Here are some of my articles on growing cool weather vegetables here in northern Florida: Sweet Treat Carrots, Grow More Veggies: Kids Can Help, The Skinny on Onions, and The Tale of Two Parsleys.

Let me know how your community garden grows.

Water is the new oil.  Photo by Stibolt

8/23/09 Our Water Supply, Down the Drain, a thoughtful article by Robert Glennon, was posted in today's Washington Post.  Glennon is a professor of law at the University of Arizona and the author of "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It."  Here are some excerpts:

"In the United States, we constantly fret about running out of oil. But we should be paying more attention to another limited natural resource: water. A water crisis is threatening many parts of the country -- not just the arid West."

"We need a new water policy in the United States. Americans do not pay the real cost of the water that we use. In fact, we don't pay for water at all. The check that citizens write to their municipal water department or private water company covers only the cost of service, plus a small profit for the private company. There is no charge for the water itself.

"Last summer, as the price of gas inched up over $4 a gallon, Toyota dealers couldn't keep fuel-efficient Priuses in stock. We should apply that pricing lesson if we want to conserve water, using increasing block rates to discourage profligate water use. Tucson does that and adds a surcharge for excessive use in the summer, when water mostly goes to fill swimming pools and irrigate landscaping.

"The idea of charging for water offends many people who think that would be like charging for air. Is it immoral to extract fees for an essential resource? Precisely because water is a public -- and exhaustible -- resource, the government has an obligation to manage it wisely."

I think all those folks (both homeowners and businesses) who have not bothered to turn off their irrigation even though we've had way more rain than necessary to keep their lawns green need to take a close look at what they are doing.  Water is not free even though we only pay a service charge to have it piped into our homes and offices.

Ginny's book, Sustainable Gardening for Florida is on her library's bookshelf.  Photo by Stibolt.

8/17/09 My book is in the library!  The other day I just had to snap this photo of my book in the library.  It's been a long process, from March 2006 to July 2009, but I've learned so much along the way about Florida, gardening, and writing.  I've enjoyed the process.  I talked about it in today's podcast at Florida's Times Union.

The next phase is talking to folks about sustainable gardening.  My first appearance will be 11am to 1pm on Saturday Sept 19th at the Clay County Library on Fleming Island.  (1895 Town Center Blvd. Orange Park, FL 32003 (904) 278-3720) I'll be part of an author's round table and I'll be answering your questions and signing books.  Come on down...  

More events to come...

The heavily clad bugsprayer and the child who plays in that yard. Photos by Mark Finkenstaedt for the Washington Post

8/13/09 What's wrong with this picture?  Can't people see the irony of the two photos posted in an article Mosquitoes Be Gone! in today's Washington Post?  The heavily clad bug-sprayer with his breathing mask spraying poisons around a yard so a 5-year-old child can play there without mosquitoes.  Where is her breathing mask?  

Unless the sprayer is using the bacterium Bt that has been specifically targeted for mosquitoes, the 90% of insects, which are  beneficial or benign will be killed off as well.  This poisoning cycle needs to be continuously escalated because the pesky insects have short life cycles and adapt with insecticide resistance.  Meanwhile the bug-sprayer has poisoned the predatory insects and has chased off the would be predators like the birds and bats.  

See my article Just Say No to Poisons and to the Florida's extension Service's website dedicated to Integrated Pest Management (IPM):  Poisoning is not the answer.

Gulf fritillary on a pink zinnia.  Photo by Stibolt

8/10/09 A Passion for Passion Vine:  I enjoy those beautiful gulf fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae) as seen on this pink zinnia (Zinnia elegans) in our yard.  But their caterpillars have completely eaten my native passion vine or maypop (Passiflora incarnata), which is located in a sunny (and very visible) location near the driveway.  After they ate all the leaves, they started on the fruits and stems.

Ginny's passion vine was completely denuded by Gulf fritillary caterpillars.  Photo by Stibolt.

The three other passion vines growing in shadier spots in our landscape have not been eaten.  I thought about transferring some the caterpillars to the other vines after they'd denuded the first one, but decided to let Mother Nature take her course.  The vine was covered with caterpillars and when all the leaves and fruit were gone, it looked like many of them had some growing to do before they could go into their last larval stage.  I don't know what happened to them, but the skeleton of the vine is all that's left.  The worms are gone.  Maybe some birds or lizards had a feast or maybe they are laying in wait for the vine to recover.  The vine will sprout new leaves and grow back bushier than ever and may provide more food for the next flight of Gulf fritillaries.

We butterfly gardeners hope for a moth-eaten (and butterfly-eaten) landscape.  It's all part of creating good habitat.  I bought the original passion vine plant at a meeting of the Jacksonville (Ixia) Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society (

8/6/09 Green Gardening Matters: Save water and save seeds in the news  I thought you'd be interested in these two articles in today's papers:  In the Washington Post an article by Barbara Damrosch,  Sow What? Saving Seeds Ensures Plenty. talks about Heritage Farm in Iowa, which is home to Seed Savers Exchange.  You can purchase seeds of traditional crops your grandparents might have grown and you can also give back some of your own collected seeds.  This effort assures crop diversity for the future.  If we let commercial growers supply all our crops and seeds, then we'll lose these heirloom varieties.  So let some of your crops go to seed this season and save some seeds.

Some advice on saving water from an unlikely source in the NYTimes article, On the Fairway, New Lessons in Saving Water by Leslie Kaufman.  If golf courses in Georgia can cut their water usage by 25%, just think how much the rest of us could save if we put our minds to it.  Isn't it time to get serious on this matter?  Let me know if your community has changed its rules to allow lawns to go dormant or has encouraged smaller lawns and more trees and shrubs to reduce water usage for your landscapes.  I'd be happy to talk to your group or homeowners association about this and other sustainable gardening matters.

5/21/09 I thought you'd be interested in an article posted in the Washington Post: Keep Bugs Away Without Spray by Barbara Damrosch.  She provides an easy 5-item list for managing your garden/landscape without poisons.  I heartily endorse her position on this and have written on this topic here with Just Say No to Poisons.  I also spent quite a bit of time on integrated pest management in my book.  I cringe when the poison trucks rumble through our neighborhood—there are good reasons they have top post little warning signs every time they poison your landscape.

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