Darwinian Gardener is nudged into fall by beautyberry
The Darwinian Gardener knows he cannot argue with the consensus of beautyberry bushes in his yard. He must admit that summer is over.
Even though his air conditioner continues to crank away through the night. Even though the trees and palms around him look no different. Even though he hasn't used a blanket since the Before Times, those long-ago days before the pandemic.
The beautyberries have spoken. They are full-on purple. The only seasonal display in his yard.
But wait, who is this keen observer of seasonal change in the natural world? Who is this man who stands apart from his neighbors in considering yard work a strictly do-it-yourself undertaking? Who is this Darwinian Gardener guy?
See LANE, Page 4B
Mark Lane The Daytona Beach News-Journal USA TODAY NETWORK
A beautyberry plant in autumn.
MARK LANE/ NEWS-JOURNAL
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The Darwinian Gardener is Florida's foremost advocate of survival-of-the-fittest yard-and-garden care. He is not going to tilt the natural balance toward pretty plants that can't decide whether they like it here. He's not the attentive waiter of nature, rushing over to refill the glass of delicate plants with thirst issues. He's the bored night-watchman of nature, there only to shine a flashlight on anything that makes noise or sets off alarms before retreating to the shed for another cup of coffee.
And when the seasons change, it's always a good time to Ask the Darwinian Gardener: Q: You seem to have been duped by the beautyberry's marketing. It's only beautiful two months out of the whole year. What's with that?
A: The American beautyberry is admittedly a rough-looking bush in the winter and a so-so yard resident in the summer. But fall in Florida would totally sneak up on the Darwinian Gardener if the green berries of the beautyberry didn't purple up at the height of hurricane season. They bring hope that someday the heat will abate. Just be patient. This might happen.
Plus, the beautyberry makes the birds happy because they eat the berries. Supposedly squirrels do, too, but the Darwinian Gardener has never witnessed that. Perhaps his squirrels are too stuffed from invading his squirrel-proof bird feeder to care for any other food.
Q: Where is it best to plant a beautyberry?
A: The Darwinian Gardener has no idea. His beautyberries are all volunteer plants, meaning they just sprouted on their own. The Darwinian Gardener respects that initiative.
Plus, they ask him for no favors. They take care of themselves and mind their own business. They seem impervious to the rich array of insect life in his back yard. A native plant, they've adjusted to life here eons ago and need no extras. Unlike a certain turfgrass named for a fourth-century theologian that the Darwinian Gardener might mention.
Q: Are you going to do anything about the sandspurs all over your yard, or are they there to protect your yard from intruders?
A: Those aren't sandspurs, they're sedges. The Darwinian Gardener's robust assortment of sedges and crabgrasses crowded out those nasty hard sandspurs years ago. Because of recent rains, he has quite a crop of globe nutsedges this fall. They look like sandspurs, but you can step on them with bare feet all you want.
They're hardy, too. People who try to kill them end up taking out everything around them.
And that's why the Darwinian Gardener mows his grass in the fall. The grass is growing slower now and doesn't need mowing, but by mowing the sedges and crabgrass, the effect – at a distance anyway – looks like a carpet of green. Nice.
Q: There is a rumor in the neighborhood that you found goofier headgear than usual this year to wear when you mow. How is that possible?
A: This summer, the Darwinian Gardener has taken a more aggressive approach to sun protection. Although his standby bucket hat remains useful for outdoor use – and the phrase “bucket hat” totally belies its natty insouciance – he has taken to wearing a hiking hat that is SPF 5,000 or so and has a stupidly wide and floppy brim. It wicks moisture and is built for Florida heat. It's a hat style with a message, and the message is: “My health insurance doesn't cover skin cancer removal nearly as well as I thought.”