By H.I. Jean Shields
Special to The Breeze
Cold fronts are the thing right now. Some years you notice a lot of them and other years not so many. This is a year for many, so far. They may not be great for the Florida gardener but they are great for the economy. A lot of new sweatshirts and sweaters are showing up, along with a few old jackets coming out of the closets. Depends how long you have lived around here whether you have the new or the old.
I actually bought a pair of knit gloves for $1 last week and when I started out on a Garden Club tour to Sanibel and the great "Ding" Darling Refuge. I was sure glad to have those cuddly things.
We did not have to leave Cape Coral until about 8:30 a.m. and the over night lows in the 40s had warmed up under a bright sun, to at least 58 degrees. Sunny skies or not, it was pretty cold.
Some of us had not been to "Ding" Darling for several years, and enjoyed the long causeway drive and then down shady Periwinkle Way, and around the corner.
A quick visit to the gift shop and we were off on our open-air tour tram. We had hoped for a closed tour tram by then, but it was not to be. You can see better from the open-air transportation but you also are cold more.
The wildlife did not mind the chilly weather one bit. Our guide was very good and made many stops to point out pelicans, both white and brown; wood storks; ibis; egrets; and the little brown ducks and pretty pink roseate spoonbills.
No alligators, the guide explained, it was much too cold for them and they were snuggled down under the waterways. A very good idea to be keeping oneself out of the frigid wind.
Parked along the right side of the route were lots of cars with so many out-of-state license plates I cannot even remember them all. It was not crowded except occasionally near one of the look-overs and wooden trails that reached out into the waters. Lots of low tide mud flats meant more birds.
Mangroves thickly lined the roadway on every side. There were a couple of canals snuggled in some mangrove areas and there was a lot of splashing and jumping around of the ibis and egrets and whatever else could squeeze into the space.
Our guide explained that this was a fishing expedition for the birds, as they banded together to crash around and grab any fish they could dislodge from the water, for lunch. The old food chain game of nature.
The tour took about an hour and a half. I would certainly recommend it. Driving your own car is great also but a live guide will enlighten you more about lots of wildlife you might miss, and their habitat and mating rituals, and when they come and go through the Refuge.
It does not make you any warmer, but does make you glad you are there to enjoy it all.
We left there and hurried to a nice warm restaurant where we had reservations for lunch. A good thing on the island. Lots of people out there and they all seem to eat.
No traffic problems getting back to mainland and dear ole Cape Coral. I think the high for the day was 65 and sunny and that seemed to be good enough for all of us to open our coats and take off our mittens.
The Garden Club goes all around the area, usually on a Saturday. We do personal gardens, parks, house tours and even once in a while venture over to Miami or to Fort Lauderdale.
When it is too cold to garden, might as well be out looking at Mother Nature's glories.
One thing we do have to pay attention to right now, at home, is watering. Plant life does surprisingly well around here, with the pesky cold fronts coming so often. They do need to be kept watered. A dry cold is not a good thing at all.
You also have to understand that the watering is to be done early in day so it can settle in to protect roots, but not turn into icicles. Water the roots, not the tops.
Now you hear about the citrus and farms that water completely different than the home gardener. That is entirely a different program.
My tomato plant did well with just a sheet over it several times, and water in morning. And sun in afternoon, on the soil. The green pepper plant looks a little haggard but it will perk up.
Hibiscus did OK but had a few crisp leaves, as did the geraniums. You can pinch off the few leaves that get dark and crispy.
Do not start trimming off branches. Then you will have tender growth and that is a definite no no for the next two months.
I have a cheerful little pot of Johnny Jump Ups that just will not stop blooming.
Hang in there and pretty soon we will have fewer and fewer cold fronts coming through.
Watch your sprinkler use right now. Water when it is your turn, early in morning. Once or twice a week should do you well.
Happy gardening until we meet again.
H.I. Jean Shields is past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.