What do Florida gardeners have in common with gardeners in the upper reaches of Montana?
More than you’d expect!
At Angie’s Greenhouse in the northwestern corner of Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, I found beautifully repurposed junk. Owner Angie Olsen is a wizard. I love the X’s and O’s of this old box-spring (above) turned trellis.
She also likes heirloom fruits and vegetables. This basket of tomatoes sat among the plants Angie had on sale (great marketing!)
I often think we here in Florida have it tougher than other parts of the country. But when I saw this product, I realized we ALL have it rough.
In Montana, gardeners do not rely on boxed deterrents alone!
Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for native wildflowers. They’re beautiful and many have a great back story. Fireweed was all over the place when I visited in early August. It’s edible, medicinal (need a laxative?) and pretty.
At East Glacier Park. we visited the Glacier Park Lodge and found this wonderful cottage. A sign in front says “private residence.” It’s the home of Ian Tippet, who has worked at Glacier Park since the 1950s. (He talks about what he does to prep for summer on his Facebook page.)
Need a reason to visit Glacier National Park? This is Lake McDonald after a super rainy day.
Finally, you don’t need a fishing license to toss a hook into the many streams in Glacier National Park. My husband and I enjoyed a thoroughly heady afternoon (ah, the view!!) on a trout stream along Going to the Sun Road, Eventually, we were joined by a black bear (surprise!) and a wonderful family — the Grindlings.
Elliot, 8, and Simon, 6, were high-energy, non-stop explorers until two other young bucks became as curious as they were. All four stood stock-still for several minutes, checking out the wildlife.
(I’ve entered this photo in the national park servce’s viewer-votes driven contest – http://www.sharetheexperience.org/entry/12728181. If you want to vote, I won’t complain!)
When newlyweds Cheryl and Dan Kaplan finally found their first house, a bargain short-sale in a Wesley Chapel, Fla., subdivision, their biggest dilemma was the pretty but out-of-control flowering jasmine.
Such nice flowers — and loads of them! — but the viney shrubs had gone wild. Should they stay or should they go?
Before Cheryl and Dan bought their home in the Bridgewater subdivision north of Tampa, the Homeowners Association warned them that they’d have a limited amount of time to make improvements. The house had been neglected for some time and, though it wasn’t in terrible condition, it didn’t look good. The couple would have to renovate the landscaping, paint the house and make some repairs, all within about 45 days. I wrote about their experience in a June story in the Tampa Bay Times.
But that was only part of the story, and I recently heard from another new Bridgewater homeowner who faced the same challenge. Their experiences may help you!
The Kaplans’ biggest challenge was the plants. Cheryl wanted her own garden, in part to honor her dad, who’d died in a car accident just a few months earlier. He loved gardening, but he’d been a Chicago gardener. And the limited knowledge he’d passed along to Cheryl didn’t translate easily to the crazy world of Florida gardening.
Cheryl decided she really wanted azaleas. Heck, it was February and they were blooming! Personally, I’m not a fan of azaleas unless you have a huge yard loaded with oak trees, which drop acid-rich leaves and give these shrubs the conditions they like. Traditional azaleas bloom only in spring, and they’re kind of boring the rest of the year. They also like plenty of water.
But I’d read about Encore Azaleas, which bloom a few times a year. I told Cheryl about them and that’s what she went for. Hers were already blooming when I shot the photo above a few weeks after she planted them.
Cheryl dithered over whether to keep those jasmines — which I was never able to definitively identify — and trim them, relocate them, or just take them out. When she, Dan and her mother-in-law finally waded in to cut them back, they found such a mess, they opted for the last option.
They got rid of the jasmine, and had an arborist trim the queen palm and Laurel oaks. They planted the Encore Azaleas, crimson pentas, Gerbera daisies, Apostles iris and Mexican heather — all Florida-friendly plants.
And this is after!
After the column about Cheryl and Dan ran in the Times, I heard from Dan Stidwell, who’d bought his first home in the same subdivision a few months earlier. He and his wife, Lisa, ran into the sam problems Cheryl and Dan had — a deadline, a shortage of money, and the need to do a lot of hard labor themselves.
They weren’t happy.
The results, though were beautiful. Here’s the before and after.
It can be frustrating for new homeowners to learn they have yet a new bunch of hurdles to jump through when dealing with an HOA. On the one hand, remember, a well-run HOA will protect your property value by establishing and enforcing rules.
On the other hand, know that a fairly new Florida law requires every government body — be it an HOA or a city or county — must allow for you to replace your turf with Florida-freindly and native plants.
Many HOAs have relaxed their rules since the law took effect. Yes, you still have to submit your landscape design for approval. But if it’s rejected over and over again, as if the HOA is trying to circumvent the law, you now have the government on your side.
I promised my co-workers I’d bring them homemade blueberry muffins on Monday morning, but they’re going to be disappointed.
The scads of locally grown blueberries I expected at low, low prices were nowhere in sight at the annual Florida Blueberry Festival May 4 in charming Brooksville, Fla., Florida’s Rural Community of the Year in 2000. The festival continues 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today (May 5.) Parking is $10 and admission is $5 for adults.
After 30 minutes of wandering and browsing, the first blueberries I saw were these.
”Oh, Blueberry Butt!” a woman standing near me shouted. (Is that the official name for statues with clusters of blue balls on their backsides? I don’t know. But I was glad to see at least some homage to my favorite berry.)
The Blueberry Butts stood in front of a fun antiques consignment shop called Easy Street Home Decor. Loved this giant spider on their storefront, made from recycled metal doodads.
Fellow blueberry tripper Janna Begole and I soon discovered Island Grove Wine Co. , which offered tastings of 8 wines for $4.
My favorite was Sorta Sweet Blueberry Wine — it’s made 100 percent from blueberries. Most of the other wines, like Bold Blackberry and Southern Strawberry, are merlots and Rieslings with fruit juice added for flavor. Very tasty, but if I’m gonna drink wine, I want 100 percent.
(Chase Marden, who guided Janna and me through our tasting, is the wine maker. He says the tour of their vineyard in Hawthorne, Fla., is a whole lot of fun — and I believe him. He’s a lot of fun!)
Another favorite vendor was Dona Designs. This Jacksonville area artist creates fun ceramic birdhouses and birdfeeders. Janna picked up a great Mother’s Day gift, and I found a very affordable, personalized birthday present for my sister and her husband.
Janna and I both loved this whimsical birdhouse by Dona. (Prices start at about $40.)
“The best restaurant in town is Rising Sun Cafe. I know. I live here,” she said. (Later she told me the proprietors feed the homeless every Sunday.)
Our blueberry-starved souls found nourishment here. We got ‘em in our water!
I ordered the Blueberry Festival chicken sandwich — pulled chicken with Sonny’s BBQ sweet sauce mixed with a puree of blueberries. Janna got a steak and cheese pannini with onions, peppers and roasted summer squash. Both were excellent. (Cost: About $8 per sandwich. They come with chips and a pickle.)
What the heck is a blueberry corn dog? I asked the teenager manning this booth. He said he initially thought, “Ewww.”
The dog’s batter is mixed with artificial blueberry flavorings plus real blueberries.
“I had one this morning. It’s really good,” he said.
Dole is the No.1 sponsor of this fest, and the only blueberries we found (besides plump pints at Rising Sun Cafe for $4.99) were Dole’s half-pints for $3. Which is what I can buy at my local grocer. Disappointing!
But wine-maker Island Grove had blueberry bushes for $5 ,or 3 for $10, and we saw lots of people walking around with them. In fact, people were mobbing Island Grove’s plant stand.
Yup, I bought one.
And they came with, hooray!, blueberries!
It was the vision of Maryhelen Zopfi of Lutz, and the workshop project of her handy husband, Simon. Earlier this month, Maryhelen imagined her swimming pool-turned-koi pond with a cool old car front replacing the wooden bridge and fountain that had been in the spot.
“I looked on the internet and found six car fronts at the junkyard. I knew this was the one I wanted because it had the Buick hood ornament,” she says.
Janice “Pumpkin” Vogt of Seminole Heights found this old door in an alley in her neighborhood. She asked her friend and neighbor, artist Bean Spence, to paint it for her. She paid him in oatmeal cookies.
Yard art requires no water or fertilizer. Occasionally, pests find it, but when they chew it up, we just toss it! There’s no pain in that; only comfort in knowing we’ve gotten the most use possible out of something that would’ve ended up in a landfill.
This is another from Janice, a birdhouse crafted by her husband. He made the roof from an old AC duct from their home.
After spending time with a 20-something friend and newlywed just starting her own garden, I asked some Tampa Bay gardeners to share their favorite masterpieces to inspire her — and give me a column for the Tamapa Bay Times.
Of course, print is limited, so I couldn’t run all the wonderful photos, stories and tips gardeners shared. So here are a few more. I hope they’ll inspire you as they do me!
From Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, yard art created from actual plants! (Who’d a thunk?) Busch Gardens director of horticulture Joe Parr shared a parterre (I had to look that up — it’s a low-growing, highly manicured planting design.)
This is just one that he and his staff created.
“For our garden art at Busch Gardens, whether topiaries or parterres, we look for very compact and smaller plant varieties, especially annuals, that can be continuously sheared tightly and manicured on a regular basis,” Joe says.
“We pick annuals that exhibit excellent foliage and/or foliage color. Also it is very important that these plants contrast strongly to bring out patterns and details in the garden art that we are trying to create.”
Susan Gillespie of Riverview went another route with her blue bottle tree.
“This started out as a project on branches of a lemon tree that didn’t make it. Then I saw a metal one made by a guy hawking his wares in Webster” flea market in Webster, Fla., Susan writes.
“Then the search was on, for a couple of years actually, for blue bottles. Some of my customers happily supplied me with their contributions to the cause, one party at a time. But the rest were from antique outings all over the place and part of the fun of putting it together.”
Bill Carr of Plant City notes that one person’s favorite art may not be another person’s (spouse!).
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” writes Bill. “Here, in what I call my Heron Garden, is a plastic flamingo, which my wife hates and I think adds some whimsy. My wife visualizes it as fitting right in with the gardens around where we grew up that used old whitewashed tires and sinks for containers.”
And finally, one more from Maryhelen Zopfi’s garden: She put this fun face on a truncated tree limb that would have otherwise just looked very, very sad.
Norma Bean, whose 31-year-old home and garden has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and on HGTV’s former “Gardener’s Diary” show, is downsizing. Whoever buys this artist and master gardener’s Beach Park home in South Tampa home will get a lot of cultivated natural bang for their buck.
Norma, whose late husband George Bean was the director of Tampa International Airport for three decades before his death in 2004, is accomplished in her own right. She’s an artist whose eye for color, contour, texture and balance translates readily to the garden.
But sometimes, the greatest garden gifts are the happy accidents — or the success stories that defy explanation. The angel’s trumpet tree in Norma’s front yard, above, photographed in early April, is a mutant giant started from a cutting only 4 years ago.
“Angel’s trumpets are supposed to be heavy feeders, but I don’t fertilize it, I don’t do anything to it!” she says. “I have angel’s trumpets that have been growing a lot longer and they’re nowhere near this size. Maybe it’s picking up fertilizer from the roses?”
Among Norma’s favorite plants are begonias — she has at least 40 varieties, many hanging in pots from the stone wall lining her driveway. Most love filtered light; many have foliage with patterns so varied and colorful, you won’t care if they never bloom!
Norma’s favorite is Begonia Joe Hayden.
“It’s very, very easy to grow and easy to start from cuttings,” she says.
Norma’s second-favorite begonia is a fragrant variety – Begonia oderata ‘Alba,’ or Alba for short. I love this one because it can become a huge shrub, has a reputation for being very hardy, and has a divine scent .
“It’s another that’s very easy to grow,” Norma says.
Norma’s garden is filled with countless varieties of perennials — yesterday, today and tomorrow; antique and hybrid roses; amaryllis; ferns; mystery vines and even cultivated weeds because “weeds are only plants you don’t want — I want these!” Her advice to fellow gardeners, no matter where you live, “Include a touch of silver. Every garden needs silver!”
In a second-floor bedroom with shelves covered with interesting old bottles for rooting cuttings or floating blooms, Norma keeps an “inspiration” board — a bulletin board covered with pages torn from magazines and newspapers, and photographs. She may be an artist with her own visions but, hey, it never hurts to borrow!
“I know I can’t bring all my plants — I’ll have to pick and choose,” she says. “But for some reason, I still keep buying plants.”
We understand, Norma.
There’s more than one way to catch a pesky — OK, downright evil — garden-devouring pest. Dig for them!
At Tampa’s GreenFest this weekend, from left, Sally, B.C. Manion and Barb Wilkins dug their hearts out for the microscopic worms that love our sandy soil — and our plants’ roots. Although the “nematodes” they were racing to find were actually fat red and orange Gummi worms, digging through packing peanuts using kids’ plastic garden tools proved challenging.
Barb won a container of Sunniland Nematode Control from Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply. Who knew there was something besides heaps of compost, oak leaves and peats to keep the little boogers at bay? Not me! But now I have some to try, too. It’s made from sesame oil and humic acid (which is what all that organic material produces as it breaks down, frying the nematodes, as the donor of our prizes, Shell’s Feed owner Greg Shell, told us.)
I had fun returning to GreenFest as a speaker after a year’s hiatus. Being completely unqualified to offer a real workshop (I’m just a journalist — my material comes from the backs of true experts), I tell stories and play games (love games!). This year was “The Hunger Games,” battling the bugs that want to eat your plants. The first was Blast Off — shooting aphids off your blooms with high-powered jet spray, a lesson I learned the hard way. (It really works!)
From left, Ioan Fernandez, Camille D. and Dina Lott fire away at nasty, giant aphids threatening some beautiful blooms.
Ioan Fernandez won a tub full of ladybugs, all in a cold-induced stupor until he decides to wake them up. While shooting aphids off your flowers with a hose nozzle set on “jet spray” is very effective, nature has an even better remedy — ladybugs. Greg Shell, who sells them at his feed store, explains to Ioan how to keep them alive, below. (They’re in the tubs he and Ioan are holding.)
Of course, no buggy Hunger Games is complete without the Eastern lubber grasshopper, my personal nemesis. They began hatching early this year — February — and I’m dedicated to telling people they should kill them. Starting with the cute little black baby lubbers! Lubber grasshoppers are prolific, voracious, and once they colonize in your yard, an annual plague!
They eat everything you love in your garden and they have just one natural predator, a little bird we don’t see much of in the suburbs, the loggerhead shrike. It snatches them up, decapitates them, and impales them on thorns or barbed wire to bake out their toxins in the sun.
Alas, while Greg Shell sells a lot of hard-to-find, old-fashioned remedies at his feed store, he says they haven’t yet figured out how to put a bar code on a loggerhead shrike. So battling the lubbers is your job.
Sometimes they’ll sit still for you, but sometimes they’ll spit, hop away, and lead you on a chase. Hence, the Amazing Lubber Race.
From left, Andrea Butler, Debbie Peimcano, and Maryhelen Zopfi get in proper start position before winding up the little critters. (See them in the middle of the table?) The first to go over the edge was the winner. Trouble was, they kept turning and going in new directions just as they neared the edge. Oh, SO like their armored real-life counterparts!
Andrea won a season’s supply of Nolo Bait, a remedy I learned about 3 or 4 years ago from a reader. It’s non-toxic, won’t hurt your pets or plants, and eventually snuffs your lubber colony by either killing them outright or rendering them impotent. I’ve been using the stuff for two years, and I love it. While it hasn’t yet wiped them out, my manual lubber kills are shrinking by hops and bounds.
After the games, I had a chance to roam the park and visit old-friend vendors. There were a lot! GreenFest has has space for only about 80 vendors, so they’re selective. This year, only old favorites returned. (And they’re my old favorites, too. Too many to list here and I would hate to leave someone out, so I won’t even try.)
However, I did run into one I hadn’t visited before. I LOVED Rusty Gate Gardens’ really creative repurposing of vintage household items. Linda Brueske turns them into absolutely delightful little succulent gardens.
If you missed GreenFest this year, be sure to catch it next March. It’s a great way to get your garden on, learn a lot (I think I’m the only non-expert speaker ) and pick up some great, hard-to-find plants. It’s a non-profit fundraiser to restore and maintain Tampa’s first public part, Plant Park, where it’s held, so it’s fun for a good cause!
P.S. Thank you GreenFest volunteers Laura Barber, Laura Stevenson and all the other good people who work so hard to put this together. And thank you to my friends Janna Begole, Ginny Grimsley, Greg Shell and Marti Carlsen for being Hunger Games Gamemakers, Mentors and Prep Team. You’re awesome!