Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Tour of “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” in Florida


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My gardening journey began when I started growing butterfly host and nectar plants in a garden box that my family had built in Thanksgiving of 2008. My interest in gardening and butterflies began to grow as we toured gardens around the United States and Costa Rica. As my plant collection continued to grow, we eventually dug up a site in our backyard for me to use as an experimental garden. The garden measures 8 feet wide by 32 feet long. In my new garden, I am able to study various plants and practice different organic gardening methods.

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Herbs are an exciting addition to my “Secret Garden”. They are not only decorative, but also serve as a source of nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Herbs can be used as a garnish on your favorite dish or to make soothing herbal teas. My favorite teas I make by using lemon grass and peppermint from my garden.

Many herbs have beneficial medicinal properties. Echinacea (photo to the left) has been found to boost the immune system and fight of infection. Echinacea’s healing properties can be unleashed by making teas with its leaves, seeds, or roots. Another popular herb is peppermint which makes a wonderful tea as well. It has many health benefits which includes treatment for nausea, improves digestion, fights bad breath, clears congestion, relieves coughing, controls mild asthma, and fights stress. After learning the many health benefits and flavors that herbs produce, I decided to expand my herb collection. I now grow basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, sweet marjoram, peppermint, Echinacea, oregano, stevia (great sugar substitute for diabetics.), lemon grass, and parsley.

How to make peppermint tea: 

pollen basket

Arrow points to the “pollen basket” that collects on bumble bee’s legs. Bees use this “basket” to collect pollen and carry it back to the hive or its shelter.

Besides herbs, I have also intertwined flowers to attract pollinators and have planted host plants for butterflies to lay eggs on. Bumble bees are especially attracted to the Porterweed blossoms in my garden as you can see in the photo above. The various flowers are useful in attracting bees to my garden so they will pollinate my vegetables and fruits. After the bumble bees visit the Porterweed, they fly right over to my eggplant and pollinate it. Maybe that is why I have been getting such big eggplants!

bee using proboscis to collect dew

Honey bees are also popular visitors to my garden. Honey bees are declining rapidly at 30% each year and need our help. Planting native plants and not using pesticides is an important step in helping honey bees. Above you can see a honey bee using its proboscis to collect dew drops from my Cassia tree. I planted the Cassia tree because it’s a native and also the host plant for the Cloudless and Orange-barred Sulphur. In November it becomes covered in yellow flowers and becomes an attractive focal point.


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This year, I decided to try my skills in vegetable production. In the past I have tried growing vegetables in containers, but it was not a complete success. This time, all my vegetables are planted in the ground and receive water through a drip irrigation system. The problem with pots was that I kept forgetting to water them and they dried out to fast. With my drip irrigation system I use a timer that is dependable and sends water straight to the roots.

In the pictures above, you can see my zucchini is thriving, but not without incoming struggles. First, came the caterpillars that killed two plants out of six. I finally conquered them with a solution of water and natural liquid soap plus some help from my powerful fingers. Next came powdery mildew problems. To prevent It from spreading, I mixed together 1 gallon water, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and one tablespoon of environmentally safe dishwashing liquid. I used a large spray bottle to spray it on the top and bottom of leaves.


This year I am growing Beefsteak tomatoes. They grow into quite strange forms and can weigh a pound when fully grown. This year, I planted 6 tomato plants to be sure I would have some to pick. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about not having enough tomatoes this year. We are going to have tomatoes coming out of our ears!


Cucumbers are a lot of fun to grow and eat. I pick mine at about six inches in length to keep my cucumber plant productive. If you let the cucumbers get too old and turn yellow, the plant will stop producing.



I starting growing Seminole pumpkins this summer and by fall they had four large pumpkins maturing on the vine. To the left you can see two male flowers side by side. The photo to the right is of a pumpkin with the female flower still attached. The bees did their part by caring pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. I did have problems with the fruits falling off before maturity and had caterpillars chew holes on the leaves, but I still was able to get four healthy pumpkins total from my two plants. To keep the pumpkins from rotting, I placed a sheet of doubled window screening underneath the pumpkins.


Here is one pumpkin sitting on a window screen bag I created.


I am also growing lemons this year and strawberries. The strawberries don’t have any fruit yet, but you can see that the lemon tree is producing in the picture above.


I learned that eggplant is actually a fruit! I thought it was a vegetable, but found myself in error after looking it up on the internet. I have picked 14 eggplants so far. Twelve came from my largest plant the other two came off a smaller plant that is a bit crowded from being planted by a bean plant. I wondered if I am setting a world’s record for the most eggplants produced by one plant! A helpful tip is that eggplants are best picked when the skin is shiny and before it turns dull in color. Don’t wait until they get big like in the grocery store, pick them young when they are the tastiest and tender. Your taste buds and the plant will thank you for picking them younger. (Larger, seedy fruits and vegetables triggers the plant to stop producing because once the plant creates seeds its job is done. Trick your plant by picking fruit and vegetables when they are small.)


Gardening is a great source of exercise, benefits pollinators, and provides mouth watering produce. With so much eggplant we have had to become creative! Look above and you will see our eggplant pizza creation. I hope you have enjoyed a tour of my garden and I look forward to sharing more of my adventures and discoveries with you in the future!    

Bible Verse to Ponder:     Ezekiel 17:24

“And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!”

If God can sustain nature and give it life, imagine how much more He will care for us!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I'm so impressed and inspired. Thank you Elizabeth for posting about your home gardening adventures. Please post more pictures of your new plants and frequent visitors (bugs, etc.)