I asked Tampa Bay Times readers and fellow gardeners to share their favorite Florida passalong plants — hardy, easy-to-grow veggies, perennials and trees — and the memories that came with them.
Wow. So many great stories! It was like coming home with way more new plants than places to grow them.
Several ran in the Sept. 21 Times — here are a few more. (Sadly, even a blog post can get too long, so I couldn’t share all I received. I enjoyed every email. It was like Christmas!)
Most of these are wonderful plants for your Tampa Bay garden. The photos were supplied by the gardeners, including the great shot, above, of a hummingbird zeroing in on a firespike, by Doreen Damm of New Port Richey.
Here’s her story:
I worked for Kathryn at Hallmark for 11 years and we always ended up talking about gardening. Several years ago her husband took it upon himself to clean up her garden and cut her firespike bushes to the ground.
“I have a great plant for attacting hummingbirds, I can’t believe you don’t have one,” she told me.
She dug up some of the stubs and I planted them in my garden. They became an instant hummingbird favorite.
Kathryn moved out of state a few years ago, but when I pass by the firespikes, now 6 feet tall, I think of her.
When co-workers leave, they always say, “We’ll stay in touch!” but that rarely happens. Thanks to our shared love of gardening, Kathryn and I have actually grown closer!
Bread and roses
Susan Mallett Eckstein did a beautiful job telling her 94-year-old mother’s story of passalong inspiration. Her mom is Frances Mallett of Port Richey.
The carved wooden sign in my front yard reads, “Elijah Paul Duncan Garden.” The story behind that sign tells of a long-ago
friendship, love of plants, and making a home where your flowers grow.
In the mid 1950s, E. P. Duncan, an avid fisherman, pulled off Highway 19 at my husband’s bait and tackle shop, The Outpost, to buy supplies and get the scoop on the local fishing hot spots. E.P. — “Sarge” — had recently driven from California in a homemade truck camper to find a friendly small town where he could afford to live on a retired military pension. New Port Richey fit the bill.
My husband and Sarge soon became friends. He was a frequent guest at family dinners and a fishing buddy for our oldest son.
I had always been a practical gardener, focusing mainly on growing vegetables. It was Sarge whose small trailer was surrounded by beautiful flowers, who encouraged me to grow flowering plants. He shared cuttings, potted plants, and seeds. I was hooked!
Sarge told me that I was always to share plants with others so that they might experience the joy of gardening. Today, I share cuttings from a gorgeous pink plumeria, brilliant blooming bromeliads, mysterious night blooming cereus, shell ginger (pictured.)
The “Elijah Paul Duncan Garden” sign reminds us of family memories, of love for a man, his love of growing things, and the passing along of plants to others so that his legacy continues into the future.
Old eggs don’t stink!
If no one else has it, we love it! Lori Pacheco of Gainesville, Ga., got her “scrambled eggs” from Betty Montgomery of Scotts Hill, Tenn.
Betty has the farm across from my family’s farm — 1 mile away and our closest neighbor. When I went up for a visit a couple years ago, I noticed her unusual yellow daffodils. She told me they were scrambled eggs
“They’re not all that purty,” she said. “But they’re old-fashioned and nobody else has them anymore.”
So, I wanted them!!
(From Penny: I found plenty of references online to this heirloom daffodil also called ”butter and eggs.” Most were gardeners looking for bulbs or talking about their own plants, descended from century-plus-old gardens. Dixie Gardens, a Louisiana daffodil lover, offered “rescue Bread and Butters” from a construction site, but they’re’re sold out. For future reference, Dixie Gardens says the botanical name is Narcissus x incomparabilis var. plenus Butter and Eggs, and recommends them for zones 5-8 and “upper 9 with afternoon shade.”)
When you can’t squeeze in one more plant — or deal with taking care of one more — sometimes one more is just what you need.
This is from Anne-Marie of Palm Harbor:
Tanja Vidovic is a 30-something Tampa gardener obsessed with spreading the love of growing your own edibles. (Find and share freebies on her popular Facebook page.) Easy passalongs are her favorites. Here’s daughter Kalina with one of her favorites.
I love all plants that are shared and gardeners the most giving group of people I’ve ever met! The best grow so easily, they almost ask you to share them with others. They’re also able to be harvested quickly and produce enough to share with all your neighbors.
In-laws — they’re part of the family!
I’ve done u-pick-em strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. But u-pick-em flowers? And on the honor system?
Omena Cut Flowers is the big surprise and happy highlight of my northern Michigan vacation this week. I stumbled on Carolyn Faught’s garden of phlox and sunflowers, foxglove and lilac bushes,while en route to one of the many wine-tasting rooms on Leelanau Peninsula, the “Napa Valley of Michigan.” We passed this sign and I warned the kids, “We’re stopping there on the way back!”
Good kids that they are, they were game.
My hub and son are visiting my daughter, a Florida native and now veteran of a “real” winter in Cadillac, Mich. The kids and I took a road trip yesterday to Leelanau, about 70 miles north of our Cadillac cabin.
I’ve been wanting to experience wine country since reading “Dial M for Merlot,” a great first novel by Tarpon Springs wine aficionado and funny guy Howard Kleinfeld. That book will give you the itch!
The road along the shore of Lake Michigan took us past vineyards, farms, and elaborate estates. And Carolyn’s lavish garden.
A few miles later, we reached the tasting room that had been recommended — Leelanau Cellars. (Terrific, by the way. Tastings are free and they have a wide variety; we sampled 17 and left with half a case.)
So, we were in pretty good spirits when we headed back to Carolyn’s u-pick flower farm, but we would’ve been just as nuts about it without the vino! She has more than 40 varieties of perennials and annuals in 24-or-so beds. A charming potting shed welcomes visitors with everything they need for cutting, preserving and transporting.
Those are cut-down milk jugs on the table. Carolyn also has free jars and inexpensive vases — 50 cents to $3 — in the shed.
As the sign says, it’s all on the honor system. No one was around to monitor when we visited. Carolyn says she hasn’t had a problem with people not paying; in fact, they often leave extra.
“People who pick flowers have the greatest karma,” she says. (I agree!)
Carolyn, now 58, says this is the 16th summer of her u-pick. She started it after picking up a bouquet of sunflowers at a farmer’s market for a co-worker going through a divorce.
“When I got back to the office, everyone said, ‘Where did you get those? I want some!’ But the market was sold out,” she says. “It gave me the idea that I could fill my entire front yard with flowers for people to pick any time they want.”
She’d hoped it would allow her to be a stay-at-home-mom, but that didn’t pan out. She still works four days a week as the communications director for Leelanau County’s land conservancy. In the garden, her husband, Dave, helps with the heavy lifting; 15-year-old son Will makes all the to-go bouquets, and Sam, now 24, used to make deliveries.
Carolyn says she has no complaints.
“It’s a lot of work, but I love gardening, and people love it so much. They leave me incredible messages in my guestbook: ‘You made my blood pressure go down’ and ‘This has made our day!’ Families come back here year after year, taking pictures of their kids in the same spot. It’s just pure joy.”
My baby girl picked this bouquet, which cost her $2.85 and gave us all priceless joy. It’s a sunshiny centerpiece on our otherwise very plain cabin kitchen.
Omena Cut Flowers is open dawn to dusk from April through November.
The other day, I got an email from a gardener friend. The subject line was, “Coming to your garden soon …”
Bill usually sends me photos of beautiful new plants he’s discovered, so I opened his mail with happy anticipation.
I was NOT happy when I saw not flowers, but this:
Although this grasshopper doesn’t look exactly like the Eastern lubber grasshoppers we get here in the Tampa Bay area, it was close enough to make me recoil in horror.
For years, my garden was infested with lubbers — thousands of them every summer! The grasshoppers we get are even bigger than the one in Bill’s photo, and lots uglier. They serve no useful purpose that I’ve been able to find and trust me, I’ve tried!
Here’s what our Eastern lubbers look like:
I usually start seeing the babies in March (hence Bill’s nudge-nudge). If you don’t know what they are, you may think the nymphs are cute. A friend of mine once posted a photo on Facebook with the comment, “Look at all the sweet crickets!”
I don’t care how innocent they look, these babies need to die! They grow up to be armored monsters that spit, hiss and eat your garden, starting with your favorite plants. Once they’re adults, the only way to slay them is man-to-mandible warfare: Smash them with a rock, snip them in half, stomp them.
They’re so hard to kill, normally gentle gardeners come up with creative ways to send them hopping into the next world.
Andy Carr of Spring Hill uses a Dust Buster for the nymphs.
“I can collect a hundred or so in it, maybe more, until the battery is dead,” he says. “Once we have them in the Buster, my wife holds the small garbage bags, doubled, and I dump ‘em in, tie ‘em off and sooo long you ugly little plant-eating varmints.”
Norm Smith, a “Mad Men”-style retired advertising guy, turns them into dioramas.
“I try to come up with outrageous themes, something a grasshopper – particularly a lubber – would never be caught doing, like scuba-diving,” he told me back in 2011.
He drops them in a jar of alcohol and leaves them there for weeks so they’re preserved. Here’s the lubber diorama he made for me. (My doppelgänger has lost her legs while swinging on my bookshelf these past three years.)
When I first started writing about my lubber problem a few years ago, a couple readers suggested I try Nolo Bait. It’s not an insecticide in the traditional sense. Rather, it’s an organic bait you sprinkle around your garden, and it doesn’t affect other bugs. If the nymphs eat it, they die. If adults eat it, they’re rendered impotent.
The results aren’t immediate, but I love the stuff. I’ve used Nolo Bait for three years and my lubber population is down from thousands in a season to a few dozen.
When I first started buying Nolo Bait, I had to order it online. Now, I think a few local shops carry it, but the only one I’m sure of is Shell’s Feed Store, 9513 N. Nebraska Ave.. Tampa
Owner Greg Shell is taking orders early (and no – I don’t get a cut of the sales for recommending Shell’s). Since Nolo Bait relies on live organisms, it has a short shelf life, just 13 weeks. Greg’s offering customers who order before March 15 a 10 percent discount because the short shelf life and whopping customer demand once the lubbers appear make it hard to keep it in stock. He doesn’t like having frustrated customers when he’s sold out. (I’ve been one of those!)
Greg has some helpful tips for making your Nolo Bait last longer, including creating feeding stations to place around your garden. That’s what I do, because rain will ruin the bait.
I assure you, it’s lots easier using Nolo Bait than chasing giant grasshoppers with rocks and snippers all summer. Although, if you’re into art, you may prefer the Norm Smith method. His dioramas are loads of fun!
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!