By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale

In the first week of October we were still experiencing record-breaking temperatures, along with the rest of the south and east. In the first half of September we had adequate rains, but by the end of the month we were in a moderate drought; it does make a garden harder to manage when conditions are so out of the norm.

Thankfully, the heat is forecast to break, and rain really is on its way. We should soon be able to enjoy cool season annuals, like mums (chrysanthemums) and violas. Greens are some of the vegetables that benefit from cooler weather, and many of them are attractive enough to replace the usual ornamental cabbage. Pretty edibles for the flower border include kales and Swiss chard, and herbs like rosemary, sage, onion chives, and cilantro. Chard is sometimes sold in the ornamental section of big box stores, but they may have been treated with pesticides which could make them inedible. Not all pesticides formulated for ornamentals can be used for growing edibles, so it is safer to buy plants from the vegetable section.

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I recently read an article about plant blindness, which explained that many people simply don’t see the plants around them, don’t know much about their place in the world, and therefore have little idea of their fundamental value to our existence (see  As children, we almost all learn about the living world in relation to animals: we have pets, visit the zoo, and read books with animal characters. It’s only if parents are gardeners, or enjoy visiting parks and gardens, and encourage their children to discover the plants around them that children learn to appreciate, understand, and enjoy them. 

The Japanese believe that “forest bathing” — shinrin-yoku — is a great healer, and designate areas with walks and benches to encourage people to relax and soak in the peace and tranquility (see All you really need are trees, of which we are lucky to have plenty in Jacksonville, and some “me time.” In the UK, family doctors may write prescriptions for people with emotional problems, or who are simply lonely, connecting them with outdoor activities like group walks, or community gardening projects.

I love to walk along my street at dusk or shortly after, and as the light is fading I may see a small flock of bluebirds, one or two very vocal mockingbirds, a few bats, and occasionally a barred owl. The setting sun shining into the tops of the large trees simply makes them glow. Recently I saw my first fireflies in years, high in a sabal palm. And it takes me less than 15 minutes to relax. Clearly many of us could benefit by simply paying attention to our surroundings.

Duval County Extension manages several community gardens around town.  For anyone who has ever hankered after a plot of their own, this can be a great solution. The Extension Service takes applications from any resident, on a first-come-first-served basis. School and community groups can get advice on setting up their own gardens. For more information see Contact Beth Marlowe at (904) 255-7450, or by email at

As always, do read “A New Leaf” for timely tips. The upcoming November-December issue will be available here: Happy Fall!

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