Every farm needs to have a garden. I did not waste any time building my kitchen garden after I moved to the farm in late September of 2018, and by the end of that year, I was nibbling on my own fresh garden food.

Florida gardening comes with its own unique challenges, as most gardens do. The soil here is pure sand so hefty soil amendments are necessary to grow nutritious vegetables. I can grow most, but not all, of the vegetables I used to grow in Virginia and New Mexico. It takes a good three years to build healthy soil, and the secret is simply compost, compost and more compost. One has to diligently compost kitchen scraps, all fruit tree and plant debris as well as chop and drop expiring plants right on the garden. A well fertilized garden with compost will guarantee healthy and nutritious veggies.

It is the wonderful tropical fruits that shine here in Florida with an endless supply of citrus, papaya, banana, guava, pineapple, star fruit, mango, avocado and so much more. Most of these fruit trees require initial soil amendments to get them going, but adapt and produce beautifully with fertilizer and compost maintenance. Checking the trees often for the myriad of tropical pests and diseases is a must. I have lots of fruit trees: mango, avocado, banana, fig, papaya, guava, pineapple, mulberry, Barbados cherry, loquat, grapes and lemon. I get a little down after all my yummy garden veggies have expired come late spring, so having lots of yummy fruit to look forward to boosts my summertime spirit.

Beyond the wonder of tropical fruits is the bountiful beauty of tropical flowers. There are truly too many amazing flowering plants from which to choose! I have had great success with some while total failure with others. I have learned that the correct placement for tropical flowering plants is vital to their success. A plant will tell you when it does not like its location, and sometimes just moving it to a new location will help it start to flourish. Plants that bloom profusely in the winter here will often suffer in summer under the hot stress of the Florida sun, and require some shade to survive until cooler weather arrives.

I have to reign myself in from too many tropical exotics, and focus on a few that do well in the garden. Jasmine is one of my favorites and I have different varieties scattered everywhere. One of the best is the night blooming jasmine that fills the evening air with a lovely fragrance. I planted some not too far from my bedroom window so that I can enjoy its nighttime delight.

I have a rare exotic that will only grow well in a pot, and I mean the same pot, forever. The Amazon Lily wants a forever home, and it has been in the same pot since I planted it there back in 2015. It never fails to bloom every spring with its downward facing blossoms giving off a delicate, sweet scent. It lives in the lath house, but I bring it to the screened porch when it blooms.

Orchids are the most popular exotic tropical plants that everyone loves, and many folks here in the tropics prefer to grow them outside on trees in their natural habitat. My farm is not ideal for that, but I am going to try a few in the kitchen orchard where they will have more wind protection. I happen to have the mother of all orchids growing in a pot, such that I have never seen such an orchid anywhere, not even at any garden show. It lives on the patio in a protected, east facing corner where it blooms profusely much of the year. When visitors see it, they cannot believe it is an orchid and everyone wants to take a photo. The photo below was taken when I brought it into the porch during a hurricane that it would not have enjoyed. It was about four tall then, and has since been repotted and is now about five feet tall.

While I love the beauty of tropical, exotic flowers, such as the bougainvillea and desert rose that grace my patio, I am moving my focus now towards more flowering plants with healing properties. The garden is a lot of work, and it makes good sense to nurture plants that will be both beautiful and also nurture me back. One of these is called Sabdariffa, or Roselle, which is in the hibiscus family, and the other is the Butterfly Pea vine from Peru. Both have exquisite flowers and amazing healing properties, especially the Sabdariffa. I make a sun tea from it on a regular basis.

I got the idea for a lath house after visiting tobacco drying barns on a trip to Cuba in 2017. I designed and built the lath shade house as a magical space in which to grow orchids, other exotic flowering shade plants and even subtropical edible plants. I also house plants here that will eventually go in the ground, and it has proven to be a great space for starting my veggie seedlings. I installed a mist irrigation system, clear corrugated panels inside the pyramid-hip roof for torrential rain protection, and have custom made, clear vinyl tarps that I can install on the exterior sides for cold protection in winter. The lath house is a serene spot to sit in while listening to the pond fountain nearby, and be bathed in the most interesting light and shadows created by the sun pouring in through the many wood slats. I topped it off with a mermaid weathervane, and she lets me know what the wind is doing.

shade house
shade house
weathervane

I extended my kitchen garden when I built the stone patio, and added two long, stone raised beds that have worked wonderfully. I recently built six large raised beds out in the south field, where I can now grow my food crops that need more space. This fall I will convert my kitchen garden into a fruit, flower and herb garden, and use one of the stone raised beds to grow a broth garden with adaptogen plants and herbs for making seasonal broths and healing tonics and elixirs. I am ever more interested in the plants, herbs and flowers that I can grow here that will provide both beauty and healing.

veggie garden
raised beds

The garden is always changing as I change and imagine new possibilities. I still await building a greenhouse near the raised beds in the field, and where my market mango orchard will be planted. The field north of the pond awaits a bamboo forest, which I cannot plant until I remove some invasive Brazilian pepper trees. The farm and garden presents seemingly endless projects that require much patience and hard work. Yet, I am confident that in a few years, my vision will come to fruition. In the meantime, I am eating like a queen from my kitchen garden and orchard, ever inspired as to what I can grow and turn into deep nourishment for my body, mind and soul.

root veggies

I will be teaching classes here at the farm this year, and sharing my knowledge of how to make seasonal broths along with healing tonics and elixirs. Perhaps you will join me, and share in the nourishment these adaptogen plants and herbs can bring you.

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Growing and eating fresh garden food is at the top of my list for best life experiences. It is the whole experience of planning and designing the garden, the rewarding labor of planting, the patience [...]