Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Walk in the Park

Our place of residence for this week is my aunt and uncle's mobile home in Two Rivers Park. It's so named because it sits at the confluence of the Braden and Manatee Rivers. Lovely location, about ten miles east of Anna Maria Island, where we go to the beach. This was not our first trip here together and not my first trip here personally, by a long shot.

My grandparents first started going to Florida in the winters, in the farming off-season, back in the '50s. They liked it here and eventually purchased their mobile home in 1961. I can remember coming down here as a child, with my mom. I specifically recall going to Cypress Gardens one time (1964 - I was six years old) and we took our own girls there about 25 years later. (Actually, I think Jenna was the only one who went there, because that trip, Kara had to stay home for basketball.) I can still remember the beautiful azaleas and the pretty girls in their Southern Belle gowns.

Life in an over-55 mobile home park in Florida is a far cry from the daily grind of going to work and certainly different than the blustery cold weather of the midwest winter, which is why people come here.
They're called 'snowbirds,' these seasonal residents, and I heard a new moniker while we were here this time - 'Q-Tips' (white hair, white tennies). There is a community hall where everyone gathers for breakfast on Saturday mornings and various other activities take place here, too.

Our first night here, there was a luau, and we enjoyed good food and good conversation with the park's residents. There was music and dancing. Not us, though. My grandma and grandpa used to go to square dances all the time, both here and in neighboring Braden Castle.

We bought lottery tickets at the luau and we won a $20 gift certificate to Gecko's Grill & Pub and several coupons for free food at Sonic. M-m-m-m-m-m-m ... Sonic burgers and strawberry Cream Slushes.

We are taking walks around the park and into the Braden Castle community. I especially enjoy walking through Braden Castle, as it's an historical part of town and has the cutest little cottages lining the narrow streets. It just oozes with nostalgia. About 200 little bungalows were built from 1924 to 1929 by the Camping Tourists of America on 40-by-40 foot lots to accommodate tourists. You can still see what's left of the actual Braden Castle, which was constructed in 1850 of tabby, a lime/sand/crushed shells/water mixture, but each time we come, it has deteriorated more. I wonder what they'll do when it's gone. Today, there was jasmine blooming on the fence surrounding the ruins and I lingered a minute, inhaling its sweet scent.

The weather is absolutely perfect. We couldn't have ordered anything better. Sunny blue skies, light gulf breezes, and mid- to high-80s (°F). The warmth of the sun feels so good and to not need a jacket, even at night, is a joy all in itself. I'm sure that there's always something in bloom here in Florida, but the consistently warm temperatures that this time of the year brings down here is undoubtedly a factor in the gorgeous tropical flowers we are seeing as we walk through the park.

The two prominent blooms we're seeing are bougainvillea and hibiscus. Last year when we were here in February, I bought one of each to take home on the plane. You can buy these for a song here! And I don't think I've even seen bougainvillea for sale anywhere in our nurseries. When it got warm enough last summer, I put both of them outside in the garden, sinking the clay pots entirely down into the soil. The hibiscus did great (although it dropped all its leaves about a month after I brought it back in this fall) and was a luscious peachy-pink color. The bougainvillea grew, but has never bloomed. Maybe this summer...

I also noticed a few azaleas and what I think are native amaryllis. They're a very pure orangy-red color and smaller than the Dutch or South African amaryllis. The foliage and plants themselves are the same size, but the blooms are smaller.
Across the street from my aunt and uncle's, Bea is growing an 'Apple Blossom' hybrid. In the ground. Oh, to be able to do that in Ohio! While I do plant my bulbs in the ground for summer, to allow them to grow and gain strength for the next winter's blooms, I have to bring them in before frost or I'll lose them. I'm definitely suffering a bout of zone envy here.

As we walked along and recognized other tropicals that we raise up north as house plants, I'm struck by the fact that these plants do so much better in their native environment.
Some of them I don't hardly recognize, they're so much more lush and large than the ones we have in containers back home. A couple of times, I said to Romie, "We have that one," and he looks at it, puzzled, and says, "Where?" Down here, they are quite remarkable-looking things. Back home, they're a little more ho-hum. I feel like we're raising them in captivity. They live, but not the life they were meant to live.

Last night, I was walking along the street, taking pictures of the amaryllis nearby and a woman called out to me from her porch, "What are you taking pictures of?"
I told her amaryllis and she said, "Oh, you have to see the one on the corner and also the lilies by the vacant house down there." I told her I had just taken a couple pictures of some red amaryllis and was on my way to the ones on the corner, and she wondered where I'd seen red amaryllis. I told her and she said,"Oh, I thought those were lilies! Well, anyway, would you like some?"

Okay, now my ears really perked up and I tried to contain my excitement. "Yes, I absolutely would LOVE to have some!" She grabbed a shovel and we walked down to the house where she dug up four nice-sized bulbs for me. I took them back to the trailer, cut the flowers and put them in water on the kitchen table, and put the bulbs in a plastic bag for transporting back to Ohio.

The surprise gift of these red amaryllis pretty much made my day.


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