After having lived for over 12 years in Portland, Oregon, I considered myself a northwest zone-7 girl, blissfully living the cottage garden dream amid towering hollyhocks and intoxicating buddleias. I didn't question whether or not my sweet-faced pansies would return each year to the little mound where I first planted them. For so long had I set my seasonal clock by the nodding heads of my columbines in the spring and my mop head hydrangeas in the fall that I never considered all might one day be left behind.
But without warning the unthinkable happened. My husband was offered a partnership in a southwest Florida business. In less time than it usually takes for my Italian Whites to germinate, my universe tilted and fate transplanted me without, I might add, the least concern for the unplanted root beer iris pressed into in the hands of faithful garden friends as our car pulled away.
I now found myself in subtropical zone 10, a gaudy place of perpetual sun and heat - a land seemingly without the rhythm of the seasons. I knelt to the ground and put my bare hand in the dirt, half expecting the soil to be the rich black earth I had left behind. Mere sand slipped through my fingers. I shut my eyes and heard the clatter of palm fronds rather than the swish of evergreens. A tear rolled down my cheek and I thought to myself, I would never garden in such a place.
But, the heart of a gardener can only lie still for so long. Try as I might to stop it, I'd find myself idly thinking about mangoes and what sort of fertilizer they must need. I wondered just how tall a pygmy date palm would grow. I told my husband that if I were to garden again, a jacaranda would be a rather nice tree to start with.
Then, after several months, I saw it - a shrubby vine trailing up a mailbox completely covered with flowers of rich mauve that blended into the creamiest of waxy centers. I stood awestruck for a moment before deciding to boldly knock on the homeowner's door and politely asked what this beauty was. The woman who answered was happy to tell me all about her cherries jubilee alamanda. I thanked her for her kindness - and as I walked to my car I kept softly repeating, "cherries jubilee alamanda." I began to giggle as I immediately headed for the closest nursery. It was good to be back.
The other night, many more months later, it was breezy and balmy, like winter nights often are in zone 10. I sat on my back porch steps with a cup of tea, holding the cup close so the steam and the tea's fragrance rose to my face. But, it was not the tea that caught and held my attention.
My angel trumpets and my night blooming jasmine were in bloom for the first time and their heady sweet scent so filled the air around me that I could think of nothing but their fragrance. As if on queue, the blossoms of my weeping hibiscus began bobbing in the moonlight like the globes of Chinese lanterns. I smiled, realizing that my subtropical zone 10 garden had given me the first of her gifts.
I then shut my eyes and heard the clatter of palm fronds. To my surprise, a tear rolled down my cheek. I thought to myself, what a beautiful place this is.