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Green Acre #462: No More Southern Strategy

February 14, 2024

Lush and languid, Florida holds garden promises that Northern states ca’t keep. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By  Stephanie Cavanaugh

OH YES, said Nick, with a huge grin. I got four pineapples last year. 

We were looking at two pots outside his front door in south Florida, each with a small pineapple growing up from the center of spiky leaves. He’d cut off the tops from a supermarket pair, and potted them up. They not only grew, but they fruited, twice, and are just starting another round. 

Last summer, I bought a pineapple plant, with a wee pineapple on top, setting it on a pedestal on the front porch of my Washington DC home, like a welcoming finial on a newel post, and slapped myself on the back, as if I’d done something. For $30. 

The wee pineapple got bigger and began to ripen, but wanting to savor the precious crop, I chopped the fruit off too late. It was a tad rotten. I tossed the plant.

Nick, who happens to be my niece Alexandra’s husband, also has orchids growing on the trunks of palm trees. It was easy, he told me. Just take them out of their pots and tie them to the trees. He had orchids shooting out every which where and tentacles tipped with more buds. 

I could do this! I said. How long did it take?

Just three, four months, he said. Talk about deflation. If I start just after first frost, they’d be about ready to freeze in about that time span.  

My mood was no better at the house we were renting for the week in West Palm Beach, with a pool and a waterfall in the backyard, surrounded by stands of palms and birds of paradise. Mammoth plants, sky-tickling. So gorgeous, I’m thinking. And, of course, I want. I want. 

We were in Florida to celebrate The Prince’s birthday, my baby sister’s birthday, and for a grand send-off of our older sister Jeanie, who passed away last year, almost to the day. We were out in a boat and left her in the waves near her Juno Beach condo, which is what she wanted. Then we ate deli and listened to Sinatra. She would have wanted that as well. 

In between, Baby and I—she came too, along with her personal Prince Pete and 4-year-old Wesley—soaked up the gardens, the flowers, hedges so green and perfect I had to touch them to make sure they weren’t plastic. Orchids just . . . growing.  

That is the difference between Florida and here. While we in DC are technically below the Mason-Dixon Line, and therefore in the South, we are only so in relation to Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. 

We can certainly match the Palm Coast for heat and humidity each summer, but our summers are far too brief to import such fantasies, struggle as I do. A couple of months and it’s already fall. 

At least this isn’t Maine. 

I did plunder three plumeria branches from an abandoned garden that was forested with them. This bit of thievery made me feel guilty for about 20 minutes. The branches are now sitting on my printer, the ends needing to harden off before they’re planted and become more sticks to pray over for the next few years.

Meanwhile in the land of frost: The first daffodils are opening in sunny spots, and the forsythia is fattening up nicely. Take that, Florida!

It’s going to rain for a few days. Schlepping out into the front patch yesterday, with half a bag of Burpee Hummingbird and Wildflower Mix,* I broadcast the contents with a smooth-sailing wave of the arm. Last month the other half was scattered over the snow, which I’d heard (somewhere) was a good way to get the seeds started. I’m figuring, if those don’t sprout, maybe these will. Heavy downpours will soon be smacking the potential poppies, zinnias, clover, cosmos, scarlet sage, and about 20 other plant possibilities into the soil. There are 50,000 seeds in the package—what are my odds? 

Certainly better than growing orchids on the red-leaf maple. Or pineapples from scratch.

*The last seeds, plants, or gardening-adjacent items I’m buying from Amazon. 

One thought on “Green Acre #462: No More Southern Strategy

  1. Carol Roger says:

    The best!!!

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