Hiring a landscaper? Avoid pain with this checklist

Large lots are hard to find and very expensive in South Tampa, but Stacey Whidden and Kurt Handwerker lucked out when they found a neglected waterfront home on a half-acre of prime waterfront real estate. But they weren’t so lucky when they hired a landscaper — and another and another — to execute their vision of a tropical backyard paradise.

They went through several and Stacey learned a lot along the way. She created a terrific checklist for anyone hiring a landscaper or any other company to work on your yard or home. (Check out the fruits of her labors in this tour of her garden.)

backyard of Florida mansion, cerulean blue tiled hot tub in foreground, matching couches, swimming pool in background, christmas palms, bright, sunnyHiring a contractor? Avoid losing money, and your temper,      by using Stacey’s terrific checklist.

Stacey Whidden’s hiring checklist

Interview your builder/subcontractor. 

That’s right, just like any relationship you enter into, you     need to talk and exchange information. Be informed!   Choose the best one for you! Some conversation topics for   you to ask for suitor contractor/builders:

  • What other businesses do you own?
  • Who are your partners and/or investors? (Get names!)
  • What businesses do your spouses and children own?
  • What is your license number?
  • Are you insured? Do you have workers compensation?
  • How long have you been doing business in my county?
  • Do they have any pending lawsuits judgments or liens? If so, explain.
  • How is your credit?
  • Are you okay with me calling some of your previous clients from the last 10 years?  (Ask for names and numbers, then call some randomly. See 3b. below)
  • Are you a member of the Better Business Bureau?
  • Are you current with your taxes or have any IRS liens?
  • I’d like to see a sample of a bill: What is the billing cycle? How do you bill?  If you have subcontractors, how often do you bill them, How do they get paid?
  • How do you handle complaints from customers?
  • How are things to be handled if one of your subs does a bad job?       orange and purple orchid blooms, plants tied to Christmas palms with fishing line, close-up of blooms with palm trunks
  • Do your get lien waivers from your subs?
  • When I pay, will I get a lien payment from you?
  • Please show me a sample contract.

Search the state license registration. 

Search each partner/investor and individual family members. In Florida, visit Sunbiz.org. Document every name listed on the business registration.

Conduct a “public record” search.

Search for the government website for your city or county, not only for the business name, but for every person listed on the registration.

Clerk of the Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, Florida

http://www.netronline.com: The data presented on this website was gathered from a variety of government sources and allows you to look up county websites across the country.

Check with the Better Business Bureau. 

http://www.bbb.org.  Is the business you are considering hiring accredited by the BBB?

Use a private investigator and/or background check/criminal records search.

There are a number of online resources to allow you to do background checks.  Here are a couple:

If this is a sizable project, use a private investigator.

Hire an attorney.

Building a new home or remodeling your existing home may be one of the largest investments you will make.  Protect your rights and assets and have an attorney look at the contract before signing.

Ask for photos of other completed projects. 

Beware of website picture galleries.  Yes, some people use stock photos to “represent” their work – beautiful pictures of homes they never worked on. Ideally, the homeowner of the sample photos is also a reference willing to speak to other clients about their experience.

The inspiration behind Busch Gardens’ new topiaries

How did this 1901 bronze candlestick …
1901 bronze candlestick art nouveau inspired topiary at Busch Gardensbecome this?

topiary in the works of giant woman ladder leaning against her eyeJoe Parr, director of horticulture at Busch Gardens, Tampa, spotted the art nouveau candlestick while shopping antique stores — a pasttime he loves.

“I was hoping that she would be beautiful, so she embraces a watery looking glass,” Joe says of The Spirit of Spring, one of many new topiaries created for Busch Gardens’ new Food & Wine Festival, running weekends now through April 26.

Joe started planning the topiaries for this event nearly two years ago, taking his cue from “things that amused and inspired me along the way.” One of my favorites is Topiarazzi, which I can only guess came from watching park visitors.

5 topiaries life-sized men with cameras, kneeling and standing

Meet Winston, Jack, Otto, Cecil and Joe, who’ve been brought alive with 2,500 plants, including red, yellow, green and white Alternanthura and green creeping fig.

Florida sealife also captured Joe’s imagination. Here’s a Florida octopus in progress.

half finished giant octopus topiary surrounded by ladders

And the finished product!

night view of giant octopus topiary at busch gardens

“There are a handful of plant workhorses for topiary in Florida: Alternenthera, creeping fig,  wax begonias are some of the major species. Succulents are great for added texture and color,” Joe says. “The bigger the topiary the more varieties you can use.”

Wanna try this one at home?

giant coiled topiary snake, dark green, yellow, red

Passalong Florida plants & memories

hummingbird zooming toward bright red blossoms of firespike. crimson tubular blooms on a brown stem with dark green oval leaves that come to a point

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:

Co-worker nectar

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

rustic brown sign, post is a thick brown branch topped with an engraved wooden sign that reads Elijah Paul Duncan Garden

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 tiny, oval shaped white buds with pink to red tips of shell ginger. cluster of more than a dozen buses on a single stem 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.

scrambled eggs plant, bright yellow blooms with five ruffled petals surrounding a swollen center. Foliage is green stalks like tall, wide grass blades

Lori writes:

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.”)

 Jungle love-hate

bromeliad with wide green leaves, about 3 inches across, growing in a V shape with rede fluorescence in center. Bloom is tall, thin red stem with numerous thin red branches tipped with pale green

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:

We have lived in our house for 36 years, so we have lots of roots!  Seven huge Spanish oak trees and lots of plants — it’s a jungle.
After a long time with very little planting– too little space and a hard time maintaining what I have!  — a good friend who has mastered the art of the jungle gave me this beautiful bromeliad. It can take care of itself!
I planted this bromeliad in the last possible little spot and … it bloomed! It was the ultimate compliment for the gift of giving and the pleasure of receiving.
(From Penny: Ann-Marie didn’t identify this bromeliad and I’m not crazy enough to try. If you know the name and shoot me an email, I’ll update this post. And thank you!)

Garden potluck

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.

Little girl, about 4 years old with flowered dress and sandals, stands in front of a banana tree with her hand on one of about 15 green bananas in a bunch

Tanja writes:

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.

That said, my favorites include sugar cane, cranberry hibiscus and bananas.

In-laws — they’re part of the family!

Janice Vogt  grew up in Seminole Heights in Tampa. But she’s rooted, by marriage, in Arkansas. She writes:
My mother-in-law brought these four o clocks from her childhood home in Arkansas. They were in her grandmother’s garden.
She lived to be 101 years young. I always loved the yellow ones and now I pass them along to others.
Four 4 o' clock blooms, two large in foreground, pale yellow flat flowers with five petals and short, orange-tipped stamen at center. surrounded by dark green oval leaves that come to a point
Me again!
My garden is full of passalongs. Fifteen years ago, I bought most of my plants. Today, at least half — and those I love best — are from seeds, cuttings or small rooted plants shared by generous gardeners.  Look for plant swaps and garden club meetings. Heck, don’t be afraid to knock on a door and ask a homeowner for a cutting. I’m always flattered when that happens!

U-pick your bouquets (for cheap) at this Michigan flower garden

blooming purple phlox, hand lettered small sign on stake, "Purple phlox 10 for $3.50"

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!”

U-Pick Flowers sign and hand-lettered Bouquets to Go sign in front of perennial bed with pink, yellow flowers, green foliage

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.

Garden with tall purple phlox predominant, yellow sunflower type flowers, hostas, arbor and more plants in background

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.)

from left, young woman, young man, middle-aged woman, casual dress, drinking from wine glasses, bottle of Leelanau Cellars Summer Sunset wine in foreground

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.

white potting shed with window and flower box, doors open, table with empty milk jugs, on lawn in front of large, white wooden house with porch, flowers in foreground

Those are cut-down milk jugs on the table. Carolyn also has free jars and inexpensive vases — 50 cents to $3 — in the shed.

row of glass, thrift store vases, yellow price stickers on wooden shelf

 

shed door with chalkboard signs, Always Open, Change Box + Scissors in Shed, Bouquets to Go in Fridge, Flowers Marked by Row, Honor System. Large pot of yellow, red, purple annuals on step

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!)

Gray lock box with hand-lettered "please pay here" sign, two hand-written notes above "Honor system" and "Feel free to use the house" mounted on unstained wooden wall

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.”young caucasian woman, dreadlocks, brown and blonde hair, holding bouquet of pink, yellow and red cut flowers and basket

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.

 

If it’s almost spring, it’s almost time for lubber grasshoppers (ewww!)

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:

green black and yellow lubber grasshopper

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:

eastern lubber grasshopper, facial photo, green, yellow black and red on jacaranda tree. looks mean

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!”

nymph eastern lubber grasshoppers, black with yellow stripe, swarming new growth on a plant

Not!

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.

man using dust buster to vacuum eastern lubber grasshoppers from plants in flowerbed lining a lanai. dog watches from inside lania

“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.)

eastern lubber grasshopper with wig clothes diorama in swing on tree newspaper and potted plant 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.bag of nolo bait. drop-out of package

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!

Florida gardeners can find inspiration in … Montana!

What do Florida gardeners have in common with gardeners in the upper reaches of Montana?

More than you’d expect!

rusted bedspring being used as a trellis for a vine. close-up view of X's and O's in the springs

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.

green, red and orange heirloom tomatoes in a basket

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.

white box with red and green letting, Plantskydd Repellent for deer, rabbit and elk

In Montana, gardeners do not rely on boxed deterrents alone!

vegetable garden surrounded by fence made of red posts and screen with deer antlers on top

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.

purple flowers fireweed, clusters of lavender blooms on a tall sake

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.)

dark brown cottage with bright red trim in northern Montana near Glacier National Park. flowers tin roof. summer perennials

Need a reason to visit Glacier National Park? This is Lake McDonald after a super rainy day.

mo lake mcdonald I love the yard art! Drive through the neighborhoods wherever you travel, and you’ll be entertained. We found this guy while cruising the neighborhoods surrounding Whitefish, Mont.

metal moose sculpture, life-sized, blue green and gray, moose sculture in whitefish, Momntana

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.

mo boys bucks

(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!)

 

What to do when the HOA requires a landscape makeover

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.

flowering white jasmine blossom with eight, pointed petals, daisy shape and red buds. a vining shrub with glossy green oval leaves in wesley chapel, florida

Such nice flowers — and loads of them! — but the viney shrubs had gone wild. Should they stay or should they go?

overgrown jasmine shrubs in front of a house. Lots of green foliage, tiny white blossoms, nearly covering two round-topped windows in front of a home in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Part of the trunk and dangling brown frond of a queen palm visibleBefore 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.

fuchsia colored azalea blossom. five petals with deep pink stakes. close-up with glossy green oval shaped pointed leavesCheryl 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.

This is their house before all their work.house with overgrown laurel oak dominating front yard, overgrown potocarpus by the garage, driveway and mailbox

And this is after!

 

gray and white stucco house with new (small) shrubs in mulched, outlined bedsAfter 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.

cheryl neighborIt 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.

Brooksville’s Blueberry Fest – Not Quite an Ode to the Berry, But A Lot of Fun

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.

three white identical sculptures of men bent forward with hands behind backs. Each has a blue beanie, blue bead blueberry necklaces, and clusters of blue balls on their backsides At blueberry festival in brooksville florida “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.

giant metal spider made from recycled parts on the front of a storefront in Brooksville, Florida. three-dimensional spider is attached to aqua colored wall over the words Sweet Home

Fellow blueberry tripper Janna Begole and I soon discovered Island Grove Wine Co. , which offered tastings of 8 wines for $4.

woman with wine glass, white bucket with bottles of wine behind her, wine tasting for Island Grove of Hawthorne Florida

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.)

ceramic birdhouse orange teapot shape with face on front. spout and lid are blue.closupWe were getting hungry and an elderly woman sitting on a bench near us overheard us debating restaurants.

“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!

clear plastic cup of water with blueberries and lemon slice. Vase filled with white blooms next to it  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.)

Other blueberry sightings:white blue and red signs that read blueberry shake-ups, blueberry snow cones anad blueberry corn dogs and slushies

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!

close-up of ripe blueberries on bush several blue blueberries and one red

Yard art inspiration from Tampa Bay gardeners

koi pond with orange and white koi in foreground. waterfall splashing from front grill of a silver 1995 Buick CenturyHalf the fun of gardening is finding, or creating, yard art to complement all those plants, like this koi pond waterfall created from the front end of a 1995 Buick Century.

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.

old wooden door painted with with pumpkins painted to look like mural. top half o of door is window. yard art placed in gradeJanice “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.

white birdhouse with metal roof made from discarded AC duct, surrounded by fat pink bloomsAfter 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.

yellow and green swirls of marigolds and other plants parterre at busch gardens

bl Zagora Cafe Parterre detail“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.

blue bottles turned upside down on a "tree" with numerous limbs“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!).

bl bill flamingo“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.

yard art on tree. Mask of man with big sunglasses, long mustache embed at athe end of a tree stump

 

 

Some lucky home buyer will get a Tampa garden diva’s colorful legacy

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.

“I wanted to have a good view from every window,” Norma says. “And that’s what I have.”

angel's trumpet tree with yellow blooms, large green leaves, viewed from second story paned window with ruffled edge of pink curtainNorma, 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?”

norma bean, white hair, pink sweater, in front of angel's trumpet tree about 20 feet tall loaded with yellow, trumpet-shaped dangling flowersAmong 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.

soft pink and white blooms of Joe Hayden begonia. two rounded petals on each flower with three short hello stamen in the center. close-up of a cluster of bloomsHere’s a look at the foliage — the dark green leaves surrounding the wine-colored, flower-bearing stems.

joe hayden begonia, dark green leaves with shape similar to maple leaf, five points, tall stems topped by clusters of small pink and white two-petal blooms 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.

tiny white blooms with yellow stamens. begonia alba. Close-up of a large cluster of flowers on a shrub with dark green pointed, oval-shaped leaves in backgroundNorma’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!”

She makes her point in a sunny front bed, where silver king Artemesia reigns. It’s a 2-foot tall lacy, bushy alternative to the low-growing Dusty miller we see in all the retail garden centers.

2-foot tall upward growing shrub with silvery pointed leavesWhere does Norma get her inspiration?

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!

bulletin board covered with photos, pages from magazines and newspapers with pictures of flowers, arrangements, ideas for inspiration in the gardenFor the record, Norma already has her new abode picked out. It’s a Tampa condo with a big east-facing balcony.

“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.