Cold comfort

A couple of nights ago, temperatures here in Florida hit an all-time record low, with temps here at the Lizard Lounge dropping to a frigid 31°. Brrr…!

If you’ve read many of the posts here on Live from the Lizard Lounge about my flora, you know that I’m partial to my banana plants and fear the dreaded cold snaps we’ve been experiencing here in Central Florida the past few years. Bananas are not very cold hardy. Freezing temperatures will kill the leaves, while temperatures in the high 20s will kill the plant to the ground. This has been the fate suffered by my younger plants the past several years.

Bananas afterEach year, freezing temps have resulted in ‘nanner death to a small stand of young plants on the northern edge of my back yard. Although, as is typical for bananas, new plants sprout from the rhizome (underground banana root-like thingy) each spring and grow to about 2′-3′ over the summer, come winter they invariably get struck down in the prime of life just like their brethren and sistren from the previous year (see the photo to the right).

To help this year’s crop of bananas avoid this fate and survive the cold, the night it was projected to freeze I created a makeshift greenhouse with a big sheet of plastic I happened to have on hand (not sure why), some saw horses, a couple of lengths of cast-off lumber, and a big ol’ outdoor light bulb for heat.

Red-neck greenhouseTrust me when I tell you it wasn’t pretty. (See for yourself in the photo to the left.) It was kind of a low-slung, amorphous, glowing hulk of polyvinyl chloride anchored down by chunks of lumber and flower pots, with blurry images of toasty little green banana plants intermittently visible through the translucent plastic.

Although it was white-trashy looking, I have to proclaim it a resounding success. So far, no tell-tale leaf browning is visible on any of my banana babies.

Such a proud papa.

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Late bloomers

TrellisThe summer rains have finally arrived in Central Florida, summoning forth a riot of color – virtually overnight – from the crape myrtles in my yard.

However, this year’s crape myrtle post isn’t devoted to clever wordplays or boasts about bargain-basement horticulture, but to the beauty of God’s creation gracing the grounds of the Lizard Lounge right now.

It also brings to mind these words from Jesus, as reported by Matthew in chapter 6, verse 29: “…Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”

Jesus talks a lot about getting our priorities straight in this chapter, going on to tell us in verse 30 not to worry about any of our needs, including food and clothing, because God already knows we need these things. And, just like these beautiful crape myrtles, He says that if “that is how God clothes the grass of the field…will he not much more clothe you?”

Although the trappings of the day-to-day can sometimes seem insurmountable, as always, Jesus makes it really simple. In verse 33 He says to just “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Kind of takes the stress out of the day and leaves lots of time to stop and enjoy life here at the Lizard Lounge…

Awash in color

Lub ’em or cleave ’em

Grasszilla 1Pictured to the right is the eastern lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera). When I posted this photo on Facebook several months ago, I humorously dubbed it “Grasszilla”. When I first noticed them last summer, I was actually kind of fascinated by them.

That didn’t last long. I quickly discovered they have a proclivity for munching on my Philodendron and Bougainvillea, leaving ragged, skeletal, decidedly un-ornamental leaves like those seen in the photo below.

Of course you know me and my flora – that meant war.

If you’re squeamish – or Buddhist – you might not want to read any further.

After discovering they’re all but impervious to pesticides, my extermination method of choice became stalking my planting beds with a pair of garden shears in my hand and…you know…don’t make me say it. (It rhymes with zecapitation.) Partly because that’s just the best way to get rid of them and partly because it’s very satisfying. Messy, but satisfying.

Lubber tossed saladSo by summer’s end, the mounds of lubber carcases in my yard led me to believe I had single-handedly rid much of central Florida of this eating menace. Foolish, that.

As the blond, diminutive, children-of-the-corn waif with the Margaret Keane eyes sing-songedly proclaimed in front of the static-y TV in Poltergeist II, “They’re b-a-a-a-a-ck.”

A week or so ago I discovered a fresh crop of these heinous, Hadean hoppers. So once again I’m spending a goodly portion of my (what should be pleasant and relaxing) outdoor time patrolling the yard, looking to vivisect a few of these guys. Or gals. Doesn’t matter – I’m neither misogyn- nor misandr-istic in my hatred for them.

I have no doubt that, had the snake been busy or refused the job in the Garden of Eden, the Lubber would have been next in line (except his mouth would have been so full of plant life that Eve would have been like “What?”).

I mean, I love the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King” and all, but this particular creature has got to go.

It’s shear madness…

Once more with peeling

Baby picturesI’m having a horticultural “best of times/worst of times” moment here at the Lizard Lounge. Watching one of my banana plants actually sprout bananas is one of the coolest – and rarest – things ever (at least in zone 9b Florida). Out of the blue recently, a large, deep red banana heart (top right) appeared at the top of my tallest plant. As each layered bract peels back (the bracts look kind of like petals), it reveals tiers – or hands – of tiny bananas (middle right).

Once each layer has opened, I’ll have my own little bunch of Chiquitas (bottom right). And they’re sweet – much more so than their store-bought brethren and sistren.

Makes me feel like a parent.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that a banana plant only has one bunch worth of bananas in it and then it dies. So no sooner are the tiny potassium and vitamin C-laced babies ready to adorn a bowl of Corn Flakes than the plant I’ve fed and watered and nurtured from a pup suddenly takes an unceremonious, leaning-tower-of-Pisa-like nose-dive into the mulch.

Not a happy sight. But that’s the way God made bananas.

Speaking of God, He, through His divine inspiration of the various Biblical writers, has a lot to say about bearing fruit. Of course, He’s generally not talking about bananas. (Nor, contrary to popular belief, about apples.)

In chapter 5 of his letter to the church at Galatia (in what today would be Turkey), the Apostle Paul found himself in the unpleasant position of having to give the Galatian’s an “F” in “conduct” on their spiritual report card (so to speak). He has some pretty insightful things to say about fruits of the “flesh” (referring to their proclivity to sin) vs. fruits of the “spirit”. Actually, by nature of the fact that people today aren’t all that different from those first century Christians, that warning can still apply to us. (The next time you’re in a hotel room, pull out the Gideon’s from the drawer and read it for yourself.)

Although Paul reminds the Galatians that they were called to be free, he warns them to not let that freedom take then down the wrong side street. After an embarrassingly l-o-o-o-ng list of possible sinful pursuits (Three verses worth – ouch! I dare you to not find yourself somewhere in that list…), he pretty much calls it out – if you’re going to act like this, you can jolly well kiss any chance of eternity with God in heaven “αντίο”.

But God – the God, the God of all creation (including bananas) who Paul trusted for everything, including life in this world and the next – is the God of hope. In verses 22 and 23, Paul goes on to offer an encouraging “but” to those who belong to Christ Jesus:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is…
  love,
    joy,
      peace,
        forbearance,
          kindness,
            goodness,
              faithfulness,
                gentleness,
                  self-control.”

Wow – how d’you like them bananas (or, you know, the fruit of your choice)? Now that’s a list I can get into.

However, it’s kind of hard to find many of the “fruits” on that list percolating through the world today. Just think of your latest drive home from work – did you see any joy or kindness or self-control? Me neither.

Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says, “For the entire law [the one handed down to Moses] is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

In other words, don’t tailgate or speed up just to be ornery and keep your neighbor from merging into your lane.

So what does all this have to do with bananas (I hear you mumbling under your breath)? I suppose it’s an exercise in contrasts. My banana plant only gets one shot at it. Once it’s borne its fruit, that’s it – it passes on, it’s no more, it ceases to be, it’s a stiff, bereft of life, an ex-banana.

For the Christian though, Jesus (as reported by the Apostle John) used a beautiful fruit-bearing analogy when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” Not once, like my soon-to-be-finished banana, but over and over – as long as we stay true to His will for our life. In fact, if the fruit we bear leads others to a saving knowledge of God’s grace and results in eternal life for someone else, we can conceivably “bear fruit” forever.

I don’t know about you, but I find that a-peeling.

On the grow

LoropetalumI absolutely love working in the yard (no, really), but the first day of the year back outside is always the hardest. There are mountains of dead leaves to be collected and bagged, the landscape is awash with dead stuff, and weeds look as though they’ve been on a steady diet of Miracle Gro.

Those few months of winter-time neglect can definitely take their toll, both physically and emotionally. It’s enough to make me want to hang up my rake, go back inside, blend a smoothie, and email a pitiful cry for help to “America’s Most Desperate Landscapes”.

But then, that’s not what “Live from the Lizard Lounge” is about, now is it? (In case you’re a first-time reader, the answer is “No”.)

Of course, there are always some bright spots amidst the death and desolation – God’s creation is kind of cool that way…

George Washington Carver once said, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”

Indeed.

Of course, Genesis 1:31 probably says it best: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Amen.


In Bloom at the Lounge

 
Am I blue...?I found my thrill
To the right is my new blueberry bush. Blueberries are probably the most nutritious berry you can eat. As well as being rife with vitamin C, according to the USDA database of the antioxidant activity of selected foods, blueberries rank among the highest on a per serving basis. My daddy, gentleman gardener extraordinaire, has several blueberry bushes and keeps the folks in his community knee-deep in blueberries.

No berries on mine yet, though…

 
Pretty in Pink
My numerous loropetalum (pictured at the top) never fail to perform, showing off their hot pink blooms in the spring and dark burgundy and green foliage the rest of the year. No matter what transpires during the winter, these hearty babies will be looking their best come spring.

 
Banana pupA-peeling
We had another cold winter here in Central Florida; not Buffalo, NY cold or even Atlanta, GA cold, but cold enough to kill several of my smaller bananas back to the ground for the second year in a row. However, it never fails – every freeze-dried and fallen banana is soon replaced by a little green doppelgänger (pictured to the left).

Bananas: down but never out.

 

 

SpiderwortIt’s about that name…
Spiderworts (right) grow wild and prolific in my yard. Perched atop thick stems nestled in a mound of arching grass-like leaves, their bright blue flowers open in the morning and generally close by midday. They get their name from the fact that, if you break a stem in two, it will trail a long mucilaginous string of gooey stuff, much like a spider’s web.

(“Mucilaginous” – my new favorite word.)

 

African Iris - with borderAlways beautiful
The African irises (to the left) were featured here on “Live from the Lizard Lounge” last April, but they’re so beautiful they deserve another glamour shot.

 

Coral HoneysuckleHoney, honey – how you thrill me
This coral honeysuckle (to the right) was given to me as a little sprout that almost died, then put back out, then almost died again, then decided to show out a little bit, as you can see in the photo. Supposedly, it will attract hummingbirds and butterflies all summer long.

It definitely deserves its own trellis. (Great…another project…)
 


 

So get out there and grow something this spring. Your foray into horticulture can be as simple as a plant in a pot or as spectacular as a flower bed full of annuals.

Or you can email a pitiful cry for help to America’s Most Desperate Landscapes.

Your pick.

You say you want a resolution? Well, you know…

I have very few personal resolutions for the new year – perfect a recipe for calorie-free cheesecake, stop using “friend” as a verb, bring dress socks and sandals back in style – that sort of thing. Beyond that, I’m good. God has richly blessed me this past year spiritually, materially, and physically.

However, the Lizard Lounge itself could do with a little project closure, a la dude-you’ve-lived-here-ten-years-why-does-that-cabinet-door-still-not-close-all-the-way?

I’ve been reading my new friend Katy’s blog, Happy Bungalow, the story of her journey in turning a Craftsman-style house that, as she puts it, “needed a little TLC” into her “forever home”. In scrolling through her pictures and stories about the various projects she and her husband have tackled, I have to admit to turning a color I don’t look particularly good in: green (with envy). She and her husband bought this house just two years ago; during that time she’s had two children, accomplished enough DIY projects to have her own show on HGTV, hosted about 30 people or so for Thanksgiving on her newly re-done massive front porch, and is learning to sew.

Kinda makes me tired. But also inspired.

All my life I’ve managed to elevate procrastination and short attention span-age to an art. (I can easily wile away an afternoon working the LA Times crossword puzzle online.) But new years tend to bring an anticipation of change and better tomorrows.

Cue 2011!

For the balance of this post, I’m going to air the Lizard Lounge’s proverbial dirty laundry and make a pictorial confession and commitment to completing some projects that have been unfinished or on the drawing board for way too long.

Granted, my little concrete-block Florida house will never compete with Katy’s Craftsman-style home with its front porch big enough for the cast of “The Ten Commandments”, but I can definitely make the Lounge the best little concrete block Florida home west of Legoland and add a few check marks to my years-old to-do list in the process.

Starting with…
 

Bookcase clutter

difficulty rating: 3 (out of 10, with 10 being the hardest)

Bookcase

I built the bookcases in my dining room/office/library several years ago and it didn’t take long for them to become veritable catch-alls. It’s time to empty everything off, paint the backs to match the surrounding walls, touch up the paint on the shelves due to use and abuse, and totally re-organize.

In the photo above, you’ll see a variety of seemingly unrelated items that need new homes, including a) a tape measure, b) two moss-covered styrofoam balls that I’m not sure I can explain, c) a Star Trek phaser (not real, unfortunately), d) two cool little stainless photo frames without photos, e) a roll of brown crafts paper, f) hardware for some Roman shades I’m making (hmmm…those should be in this post, too…), and an (unmarked) iPod charging cable.

I don’t own an iPod.

Window seat cushion

difficulty rating: 2 (since all I have to do is pick out some fabric and find an upholsterer to make the cushion)

Window seat

Since we’re talking about the bookcases, this window seat would be the ideal reading spot if it wasn’t so uncomfortable. I also plan to add some sort of molding around the window as well. Which brings me to…

Undistinguished windows (interior)

difficulty rating: 5

Bare Window

Windows in houses like mine are typically just holes in the wall with no architectural interest whatsoever. Hopefully that will change in 2011 as I design (easy and fun) and build and install (neither easy nor fun) some sort of unique molding-like treatment to give the windows a more finished look. (Just patching and painting the holes above them where I took down the nasty vertical blinds would be a start.)

While we’re on windows…

Undistinguished windows (exterior)

difficulty rating: 3

Outside window

I took the cheap and tacky gray shutters down and started painting the aluminum windows the same color as the roof to give them some interest. You can see how far I got…

New front door

difficulty rating: 2 (Just like the window seat cushion, all I have to do is order it, pay for it, and let the installers do the work.)

Front Door
 

Unpainted spots

difficulty rating: 1

Unpainted wall

(If that palm would just grow a little faster…)

Junk closet cum home office

difficulty rating: 5

Closet

This is where all the “I have no idea where to put this stuff” stuff goes to die. Granted, just cleaning it out would be a start, but I also want to turn it into something akin to a home office, so practical shelves and some thought given to ergonomics have to come into play. I managed to install a grounded outlet in there without electrocuting myself or shutting down the power on the block, but I can’t get to the plug for all the junk. (I’ve got the number for Salvation Army here somewhere.)

Junk corner

difficulty rating: 7

Back corner

Just think of this as the outside equivalent of the junk closet. This will require lots of blood, sweat, tears, jackhammering, and finishing building the lounge chair (pictured) I’m 95% through with.

I’m thinking a paver patio, potting bench, and a small sun deck (and thinning those Lady palms out that have run rampant the past few months).

While I’m outside…

The once and future patio

difficulty rating: 10

Future patio

That flagstone pathway leading off the carport really needs to connect to something besides dead grass, don’t you think?

Covered piano bench seat

difficulty rating: 3

Piano bench

I built this piano bench with the intention of padding and covering the seat one day. That day has arrived.

Clothes closet

difficulty rating: 8

11_Closet

One word: yipes!


As you can see, it’s going to be a busy year at the Lizard Lounge. But if I end up next year about this time with all kinds of excuses why my to-do list has nary a checkmark and I’m still sitting on a hard seat while I play the piano, cut me a little slack – there are lots of crossword puzzles to finish.

Paradise found

BoP single - cropped

BoP budAn apology is in order (in addition to the one I owe John Milton for parodying the title of his classic work of literature). In a previous post, I bemoaned the paucity of bloomage on my poor, underperforming bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), all but belittling it for only blooming once in the 10 years I’ve lived here.

Apparently, however, I also shamed it into action.

BoP cropped w-borderSeveral days ago, I began to notice what appeared to be a number of buds starting to form amidst the dark green foliage – I say “appeared to be” because, of course, I’ve never actually seen buds form on this particular plant. (Sorry – I promise that’s the last cheap shot I’ll take.) The buds themselves start out spear-shaped and then literally burst at the seam with all sorts of paradisiacal color, forming the bird-head-shaped bloom that gives the plant its common name.

As you can see from the photo to the left, what used to be nothing but foliage is now full of vividly colored exotica.

It was totally worth the wait. Plus, I can add “coaching to performance through shame” to my résumé.