There are a lot of things to love about Florida, but here are five favorites of most all of the Floridians I know. Myself included.
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There are at least 3 myths about the Florida lifestyle, and I’m here to bust up a few of them.
First, we’re not always at the beach; we work just like you. While you’re saving all of your money to come to Florida, we’re saving all of our money to get out of Florida. Seriously, there’s only so much sun, fun, and sand you can take before you start to hate the sight of palm trees and the smell of coconut oil.
But that isn’t really a myth so much as a belief. Have you seen our pale legs sticking out of our shorts? We don’t have time to lounge about the pool or the beach. At least not in the daylight.
Okay, I fell for this one when I moved here in the mid-1980s. I didn’t even pack a coat when I left Illinois in June for my new life in the tropics – see topic #3 for more on that. I had the impression – wrong, I might add – that Florida had no winter. That it was some perpetual sunshine party.
Let’s step back and look at the whole state of Florida.
The panhandle has an average temperature of 68º and around 52.4 inches of rain annually. I landed in Fort Walton Beach and camped along the Gulf. The wind was blowing, and I was sure it was a hurricane and I was gonna die.
It can, does, and will snow in the panhandle of Florida. Coats are recommended.
The northern part of Florida gets cold. Winter temperatures around Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Gainesville can get in the 30s. Sometimes – but rarely – that’s a high. Freeze, both hard and frost advisories, can reach as far south as the Vero Beach and Okeechobee areas. Lake Okeechobee is considered South Florida, and every so often, there are freeze warnings for the area that last around 7 hours.
It’s not unusual to see smudge pots in the orange groves to keep the trees from freezing in Central Interior Florida.
The sun doesn’t always shine; some days are as gray as the Midwestern winter skies, and some days, it rains for days on end. It snowed in West Palm Beach one day in 1977, and there were flurries in Miami and Homestead. Our ground doesn’t freeze like it does up north, so our snow doesn’t stick. Nonetheless, it’s a myth that it’s always warm and sunny in Florida.
Okay, this one is borderline true, depending upon where you live. Have I had one in my backyard along the East Coast of Florida? No. But I have seen them in the same area in canals, retention ponds, riverside, lakeside, and lounging on golf courses around where I live.
Most people with gators in their backyards live along man-made canals and golf courses with lakes. Gators will eat people and pets, so it goes without saying, don’t take a selfie with one (see idiots with cameras in Yellowstone standing by bison), and they are fast, so give them a lot of room. They can hit 35 MPH on land and 20 MPH in the water. Can you? Oh, and they can climb, too. Ladders, trees, fences, etc.
They are fascinating creatures but best left to admire from a distance – like from another state.
Another awesome and disappointing myth is that we all live a tropical lifestyle with rum runners in each hand, flowered shirts, flip flops, and hibiscus flowers stuck behind one ear. Okay, that might be the parking lot of a Jimmy Buffett concert, but not really how we live here if we live here year-round. Now, I am not talking about those retirees who are baking themselves around a poolside trying to get the color of a kidney bean, but those people who keep the retirees living their lives of comfort and sometimes excess.
Money people also spend a lot of time wandering around in floral skirts tut-tutting the sorry state of affairs should they accidentally cast their eyes upon a lowly servant-type person. They might be carrying a martini or a fruit drink, but they are usually in their backyard broiling in coconut oil around their pool, so they aren’t noticeable. If you see one, they’ve gotten out and will go back home soon.
The rest of us are happy to be able to wear casual clothes like jeans to work and comfortable shirts like a polo shirt rather than suits and ties or dresses and heels. There is a more casual lifestyle in Florida that does seem to permeate more traditional businesses like banks and doctor’s office.
Only the bottom half of the state is considered tropical I think Vero Beach has said it’s the top of the tropics, but anything south of midway is more tropical. Driving in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami is a lot different than driving where I live around Vero Beach. You have to watch where you drive down there because their roads are filled with homeless iguanas, large lizards, crabs with sharp pinchers, and even boa constrictors and pythons. It’s an unwanted pet dumping ground where even the cutest little lizard can grow up and take your face off. I only have to contend with raccoons, opossums, armadillos, egrets and Sandhill cranes.
Those of us still working all look foreign because we’re not dressed in flowered shirts, flip flops, board shorts, and carrying a cocktail. If you see us, be nice; we’re tired and just want to go home and lay on a pool float face first.
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My Christmas cactus is in full bloom this year. Last year was my first year with it, and it bloomed around February instead of December, so I guess we’re all on the same month now. It hangs on my front porch in a macramé hanger. I haven’t had one of those since the 1970s!
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this is not a dry desert cactus, but a rainforest cactus. So, it’s a succulent that likes its humidity and grows in trees. Maybe I should move it? It seems to be happy where it is, and with me, the less I fuss with something, the less likely it is to die.
I don’t know what strange things were going on in the hibiscus when this one bloomed, but first, it’s on an orange bush, and second, my red bush is way, way, way far away from the plant, and third, I don’t even have a yellow hibiscus!
Wild and beautiful all at once.
My milkweed garden is filled with pretty blooms in yellow, orange and red. It is also filled with tiny aphids who seem to be enjoying eating everything on the plant.
While a good soaking for soap and water will rid the plants of the aphids, so will a happy Ladybug. She is moving along eating those aphids like Pacman and dots. All of this, and I don’t see one Monarch caterpillar.
I dropped the top of one of my pineapples in the ground a couple years ago, and this is the fruit that it is trying to produce for me now.
I had no idea that pineapples flowered, so I was very delighted to see these pretty purple blooms on the little spikes of the fruit.
I read that it takes around three years to produce a pineapple, and then the plant creates offshoots that you can plant or runners that you and remove. Then the plant dies. I would never be a good pineapple farmer; I do not have that kind of patience.
Here is a closeup of a flower cluster on the ixora bush that is planted in front of my office window. These brilliant orange bushes will explode with color and make a nice orange hedge along the front of the house.
There are 562 species of the Rubiaceae family that the Ixora belongs to, and they consist of evergreen tropical leaves. They come from Tropical Asia, and they thrive well in Florida, so we use them for hedging and accent plants.
I took a day off and went to McKee Gardens, which is a tropical jungle and botanical garden park with footpaths weaving throughout a lot of ponds and vegetation. They are particularly known for their amazing amount of lilypad species.
They also have an abundance of orchids and other tropical flowers that we typically find growing in Florida. At one time in their history (like 60 years or so), they were filled with parrots and wild monkeys that were still around in the 1980s. It is a fragile garden that is subject to storms and other things that are always threatening it.
These are called beautyberries and are native to South America, but they grow wild all over our yard where we have left some of the natural vegetation grow. They are quite edible and make a great jelly according to prominent gardening sites.
They are a favored treat of the mockingbird, but I have yet to see one come down and snatch the berries away. I usually just see them rot on the vine. We also have tons of Muscadine grapes that will overtake the yard if you let them. They also just stay on the vine.
I thought this gradient of ripening beautyberries were pretty cool, so I took the shot.
I had a little bit of birthday money to spend this summer, and this plumeria is the one thing that I could think of that I have always wanted to plant in my yard. The nursery that I get a lot of my plants from had about a dozem of these plants in a large assortment of colors. I finally decided on the more traditional yellow and white. I did find out that when it produces seeds, the new plants are not necessarily the same as the old plants. I am looking forward growing some plumerias of a range of colors next spring.