Leap Year in the Garden

Dateline: March 26, 2011*

Ok, I know according to the Gregorian calendar, 2011 is not a leap year, but I recently had a conversation with my sister and remarked that my coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) was finally growing up the recycled PVC pole that I placed next to it some two years ago, when it was first planted in my beautiful wildlife garden.

Coral Honeysuckle, a Florida native vine

She recited an old adage that I was not familiar with, apparently having heard it from my other sister, the Master Gardener: “First year it sleeps, second it creeps, then it leaps.” My vine is definitely in its Leap Year! It has reached the top of the 10-foot pole with a little of my help. I hung a long green cloth ribbon to help tie it up so it would reach for the sky and the results are exactly as I had envisioned when I picked out my one-gallon plant. Maple Street Natives in Melbourne, Florida is where I buy a lot of my plants. They had an “older model” already twined up to the top of a rain gutter and I fell in love with the look! The white pole sets off the rich, shiny green leaves and the gorgeous coral, bell-shaped flowers with yellow centers.

I have it trained up a recycled PVC pole

Coral Honeysuckle is native to the Southeast and Eastern United States and is a well-behaved vine. It can be trained to a trellis or left to be a ground cover. My plant has survived since the initial six-month establishment period on nothing but seasonal rains. I plan to layer a few of the offshoots into a planting pot to propagate it for the front yard (the 2017 result is at the end of the article).

If the pole wasn’t there, it would just creep along the ground

The bees have been enjoying the nectar it provides and it was the first food for the Giant Swallowtail that emerged in the viewing container from an outreach program where the caterpillar decided to form a chrysalis before it could be returned home to be released. My beautiful vine was the closest thing with flowers back in February. Best yet, I was rewarded this week when I spotted my first hummingbird of the season, alas I was not quick enough with the camera. It was a rewarding encounter from my kitchen window, nonetheless. I’ve seen yellow warblers hanging sideways and the male mockingbird is using the pole as a lookout tower as he guards his wife who is incubating a nest that is close by.  It also produces juicy, orange-red berries which songbirds love.

A bee dives in to gather pollen

Another native plant, albeit not a vine, that seems to be in its leap year is my Elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis). After a long two-year wait, this wonderful plant has produced its first buds. I anxiously await the grand opening of its flowers and the fruits it will bear to feed my winter critters…and perhaps generate a little wine for myself.  😉

This Elderberry is getting ready to bloom…for the first time!

While native plants don’t often produce instant gratification in the first years of their lives, they produce long-term survival and ultimately low-maintenance qualities. The first year is spent establishing a strong root system to cope with the weather of the area in which they are planted; be it hot southern days or cold northern nights. The second year they begin to slowly begin the process of establishing foliage and maybe a few flowers, while still working on root structure. The third year is generally the year of reward for patiently waiting. Then they become relatively maintenance free with regard to fertilizer or watering needs. Most can survive on only seasonal rains except in the most severe drought conditions. I plan on giving each plant a smattering of compost when I renew the mulches at their feet; it will be their first taste of human-provided food since I didn’t want to interfere with that root establishment.

Sulphur butterflies LOVE the red flowers of the Coral Honeysuckle © 2013

And now I leap for joy at the long-term benefits they will provide in my beautiful wildlife garden.

Fast Forward to 2017 (come to think of it 2017 isn’t a leap year either).

Mockingbird nests in the Coral Honeysuckle in May 2014

The coral honeysuckle got so thick and heavy on the pole that it bent it like a piece of spaghetti in a wind storm. I’ve since let it mound (see top featured photo © 2017) and have been rewarded with nesting birds and bunnies making use of the cover.

Elderberry volunteer fruiting in November 2013

The original elderberry never was happy in the location chosen by me and has remained a rather small specimen. However, that first fruiting provided enough seeds planted by the birds that I have several volunteer stands of this beauty…some tall, stately and tree-like.  Mom Nature and her bird workers are much better landscape designers than I. Now, I am constantly rewarded by countless songbirds and woodpeckers enjoying the massive amounts of fruits each year.

Red-bellied Woodpecker visits an Elderberry volunteer in June 2016

A potted coral honeysuckle layered from the original plant now graces my front yard:

I potted this one up in a recycled sink basin.

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 26, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.



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