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

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

GreenFest — Tampa’s spring garden party

There’s more than one way to catch a pesky — OK, downright evil — garden-devouring pest. Dig for them!

the digging for nematodes game. three women dig in black plastic buckets filled packing peanuts using children's  toy garden tools in a race to find "nematodes" - actually Gummi worms. a game at GreenFest

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.

But rewarding!

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!)

three people with squirt guns shooting at unseen targets (posters of flowers surrounded by "aphids" made from pumpkin seeds

From left, Ioan Fernandez, Camille D. and Dina Lott fire away at nasty, giant aphids threatening some beautiful blooms.

three white posters with flowers surrounded by "aphids" made from pumpkin seeds. Two people with backs to camera are armed to shoot them with squirt guns

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.)

two men holding small plastic containers full of ladybugs discussing how to wake them from their dormant state

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.

Birding photographer Reinhard Geisler of Oviedo, Fla., got this amazing shot of one at Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands in Brevard County.

bird called loggerhead shrike with gray head, black eye mask, white chest holding adult Eastern lubber grasshopper in beak. Grasshopper is red yellow and black. Close-up. Credit Reinhard Geisler

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.

three women at a card table, hands flat on the table, three little wind-up plastic grasshoppers in the center,  preparing for the 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.

vintage hand-crank silver colored meat grinder used as a container for succulents

forest green metal vintage tool box planted with a variety of succulents

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!

What’s a kumquat — and WHY does it have a festival?

When I told a friend earlier this week that I went to the Kumquat Festival over the weekend, her reaction surprised me.

“KOOMquat? My baby was a koomquat! It freaked me out!”

Four years ago, she had signed up at BabyCenter, where pregnant moms can get alerts as their fetuses reach milestones. At 10 weeks,  it notified her that Mason-to-be  was “almost the size of a kumquat.”

Rachel was offended. She didn’t know what a kumquat (pronounced “kum-quat”) was, but it didn’t sound good.

I understand. I knew kumquats and I wasn’t a fan. The little citrus fruits, eaten skin and all, were too tarty-grapefruit for my tastes.

And then I tried a chocolate-dipped kumquat at Betty Cakes.


small orange oval citrus fruit half covered with chocolate

Betty Cakes co-owner David West was enthusiastically hawking the two-for-$1 treats outside his shop during the Jan. 26 Kumquat Festival. I witnessed  lots of newbie reactions while waiting for my friend, Sherri, to return from Betty Cakes’ very popular bathroom line.

This one was typical.

blonde 8-year-old with a chocolate covered kumquat in one hand and a lollipop in the other. Bowl of chocolate covered kumquats in foreground. At the 2013 Kumquat Festival in Dade City, Florida

Dade City, population about 6,000, is a quaint, old-Florida city. Come Kumquat Festival, businesses go kumquat crazy. Every window display is an ode to sweet-bitter tang.

storefront in dade city florida during the kumquat festival. orange kumquats in crystal glasses.

More than 400 vendors line the streets selling everything from handcrafted jewelry to puppets. I focused on kumquats. How many ways can this sassy citrus sweeten my life? I was surprised.

Lotions! Yup. Lather up. Quirky Kumquat lotion is “home-crafted” by  Sharon Guild,

bottle of kumquat body lotion, white

Cindy at Heavenly Scent Soap had beautiful, translucent handmade soaps made with kumquats and other natural ingredients, like olive oil.

bars of handmade soaps, yellow, orange, red, made with kumquats and olive oil and mica, and honey. Lined up in a display tray

She was also pretty darned proud of her kumquats, which she gets from a Florida grower farther south. Hers put the little freebies provided by one of the event’s sponsors to shame!

(Actually, the sponsor probably provided Nagami kumquats, which are smaller and a little more tart. Hers are more likely Meiwa, which are bigger and a bit sweeter. Both grow well in Florida.)

bl kum size

You haven’t lived till you’ve sampled a tiny spoonful of Queen Kathleen kumquat fusion honey, made with orange blossom honey and kumquat puree. So good! (I learned at this stand that the locals aren’t really big on growing kumquats. Nearby St. Joseph is the “Kumquat Capital of the World” thanks to commercial growers.)

Here’s Queen Kathleen. You can buy her honeys at a self-service stand in Dade City. Check the link above. They start at $5 for 6 ounces, and they’re GOOD!

Queen Kathleen of Dade City, blonde woman in t-shirt standing behind containers of her home-brewed honeys

After all the sampling, we got thirsty. Thank goodness Queen Kathleen also offers Gourmet Kumquat Soda. It has a mild grapefruit undertone that I actually found refreshing.

For dessert, a slice of the very popular kumquat cake, back at Betty Cakes. (I’m starting to figure it out — just add sugar and kumquats can be my new favorite fruit!)

slice of kumquat cake in plastic container. White frosting with swirls and yellow cake. from betty cakes in dade city florida

Of course, once you fall in love with the fruits, you’ll want to grow the little trees. They’re cold hardy in Florida and are easy to grow in the ground or in containers, according to the agriculture specialists at the University of Florida.  They get up to 10 feet tall and produce fruits after two years, from November to April. They’re heavy feeders, so be ready to fertilize!

Billie and Paul of Brandon left the fest ready for kumquat heaven — they paid $30 for this nice-sized tree.

elderly woman in wheelchair holding a bushy, 3-foot kumquat treat loaded with little orange, plum-sized  fruits. elderly man pushing wheelchair.

For the record, Rachel’s little kumquat, now 4 years old, got some sugar along the way. Perhaps his mom’s love of jelly doughnuts? (Not judging, Rachel!) He’s super sweet!


January ‘gardening’ at Ybor City’s Saturday Market

Would you pay $60 for this mosquito?

mosquito scupture, silver, made from silver plate, outdoor lamp casing, stainless steel forks, faucet strains, outdoor art, fun sculpture, bug-eyed mosquito

I did. (Yikes!) He’s now holding court in my living room, although artist Herbert Friedmann assures me he’ll survive the elements in my garden. (I’ll move him out there, I’m sure, as soon as the price tag fades).

Felix, as Herbert dubbed him, was just one of our great finds at the Ybor City Saturday Market in Tampa.

We Floridians are blessed to garden year-round, but January’s a downer. Weeding, cutting back rose bushes, and adding compost — it all sounds too like delayed-gratification work.

So I hit the Ybor City market  on Saturday with my friend Janna. It was our first visit,  and  we were surprised by both the variety of vendors and the quality of their unusual, mostly hand-crafted wares. Here’s another by Herbert, who lives in Holiday and paints murals in addition to his metal art. He doesn’t have a website, but he’s a regular at the Saturday market. Or call him at (727) 940-2038.

bl bug

While Felix was a splurge for me, we also found plenty to love at budget prices. I got handmade beaded earrings for $2. Janna and I  snagged sterling silver necklace chains for $8. And we both fell in love with with Ben’s Hot and Cold.

bl sign

Ben Kroesen is a Tampa-area retiree who has teamed up with his wife and a half-dozen friends around the country to supply photos and frames for these create-your-own art pieces. You choose from dozens of photos that represent letters and he puts them together in clever frames that he builds. (The friends take pictures and share them, and Ben’s son, a high school art teacher in Indiana, offers his students the opportunity to shoot letters and sell them, so there are lots of choices.)

bl ben

He charges $5 per letter, plus $5 for the frame. And piecing together your masterpiece is a whole lot of crafty fun. Janna and I were thrilled with our little masterpieces, which I can’t show you because — shhhh — they’re birthday gifts.

Ben’s Hot and Cold is also a regular at the Saturday Market, but if you’d like to contact him, call (813) 667-6692 or email

We also met Rita and her daughter Barbara who, along with others in the family, enjoy hanging out on Mom’s porch in Riverview creating art from trash.

bl lightning

These “lighten-ing bug” garden stakes sell for  about $2.

I picked up a “Grow dammit!” sign for my mom’s flowerbed — $5. (Her bed can use the help.)

bl signs

This talented family has all kinds of unusual creations, including 3D picture frames filled with colored glass that glow in the sun.  “We don’t have a lot of overhead; it’s all trash,” Barbara says. “We just like getting together and making things.”

bl rita

I loved their artfully decorated windows — above with Rita. Their enterprise is called Our Stuff. Reach them at or call (813) 651-1424.

They Ybor City Saturday Market is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, October through April, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May through September. Before you pay to park (like Janna and I did) check the signs. A lot of the city lots don’t charge during the day.

If you don’t eat at the market, check out Acropolis Greek Taverna just around the corner at 1833 E. 7th Ave. Sitting outside enjoying the scrumptious saganaki appetizer was a perfect Saturday afternoon top off.

Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town — wild about plants

orchids, bromeliads, crotons and poinsettias, a bed of red purple green and yellow at Busch Gardens - Tampa Bay's new Christmas Town attraction

This isn’t one of the huge displays getting brags at Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay’s Christmas Town, a new nighttime attraction that is to Christmas what Busch’s Howl-O-Scream is to Halloween. But I love it! I found this colorful mix of orchids, crotons, bromeliads and poinsettias outside Sultan’s Sweets in Nature’s Kingdom.

Christmas Town is an extravaganza of lights, snow, special shows and poinsettias — thousands and thousands of poinsettias — live hollies, and even a fresh, evergreen scent that comes from mulched Christmas trees.

I visited before the official opening on Nov. 30 and talked to BG’s fun horticulture director, Joe Parr. (You can read about his plant choices, all selected for their pop and suitability for our climate, in the Tampa Bay Times.

zebra pulling red santa sleigh, red poinsettias, busch gardens tampa bay, christmas town

Joe started selecting the plants for this extravaganza last spring. Of  course, he had to a lot of  red poinsettias — he chose the Freedom series for their eye-popping color. But he also wanted some unusual varieties. He settled on two that have color he loves and a tolerance for our unpredictable winter highs and lows.

One was Ice Princess (available locally at Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes.) A rep for the grower said these are so tough, they can travel in her trunk all day and still look perky and pretty in the evening.

pink and salmon colored poinsettias, ice princess, busch gardens, non-traditional poinsettias

The other is Glitter, a deep red variety with sparkly splashes of white. (Remember, Florida gardeners, when the holidays are over, your potted poinsettias can go right into the landscape. Depending on conditions in your garden, they can become huge shrubs.)

Everything at Christmas Town is decorated in keeping with the themes of the area, for instance, Flamingo Way is wrapped in twinkling pink lights. I liked this Christmas tree on the edge of “Africa,” near the cheetahs. Feathers as ornaments? Great idea!

christmas tree with africa decorations, large brown and white feather

My favorite surprise, however, (sorry, Joe!) was the little plant shop just before the gates as you exit the park. It has great, hard-to-find Florida-friendly and native plants, including blue butterfly clerodendrum and gorgeous pitcher plants.

garden shop at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, sign, display of plants

Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay Christmas Town is open 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. Admission is $14.99 for ages 3 to 9; $39.99 for all others (discounts available for online, advance purchases). Forget trying to get the Facebook promotion code for dollars off. Instead, try hitting Chick Fil-A or Fantastic Sam’s for coupons.

Downside: You also have to pay to park. Upside: Some rides will be open, and there’s a big area to play in sort-of-real snow. (Your kids will get wet in there, so mittens and dry socks are a good idea.)

Chickens & sun hats & ice plants — Oh my! It’s GreenFest!


florida chickens, black, gray and white, coop, little boy, happy

I could want chickens. Heck, I could want everything. Which is my one complaint about GreenFest, the annual spring plant festival that reminds us Floridians why we put up with hurricanes, droughts, deep freezes (didn’t sign up for those!) and Eastern lubber grasshoppers.

The chickens at Holloway Feed Stores’ booth mesmerized my friend Zane, 6, his little sister, Annabelle — and lots of other kids and kids-at-heart, who got to cuddle little chicks, too. Proprietor Joey Holloway is ingeniously capitalizing on the urban chicken craze by building beautiful coops. They’re not just for your Grandma’s double-wide in Webster anymore!

GreenFest, which continues tomorrow (March 25) at the University of Tampa’s Plant Park, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, is celebrating its 15th year. It’s always Tampa’s first big spring plant festival, and the combination of 80-plus vendors, a beautiful setting (Plant Park), and a hard-working team of volunteers bent on making everyone happy makes it a hit year after year.

One plant I saw in lots of wagons was Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoeches, sold at Mitch Armstrong Nursery’s booth.

lavender blooms sprout from a scape, look like rabbit ears, soft fragrant leaves, thumb-sized bloom portion sprouts petals on top

vendor annie sprague rubs foliage of Spanish lavender to awaken aroma. bushy green plant, fern-like foliage, lavender blooms








Annie Sprague, right, says Spanish lavender is fairly new to her and Mitch. She says this non-edible variety is supposed to better tolerate our summer heat and humidity. In the photo above. she’s fondling the foliage to awaken a sweet scent tinged with a piney undertone. Beautiful! The blooms, left, last through spring, but those soft green leaves keep the fragrance going.

“Lavender’s good for the soul,” Annie says. I have to agree — I forgot everything when she started massaging the foliage, which is a pleasantly soft feel.

Annie has her Spanish lavender at home doing well in morning sun (no afternoon sun) and complete shade.

Another item that was getting a lot of buzz, and buyers, was the habanero honey, below left, at Briarwood Farm’s booth. Apparently, it’s really good on chicken — the dead kind. Below right, purple ice plant — a little something I picked up for my sunny spots. I have another “ice plant” that looks completely different.  This one is Delosperma cooperi.

lavender, daisy-type flower with yellow center, elongated succulent leaves, green











I didn’t plan to buy a sun hat — I’m a $5 kind of garden-hat girl. But I’ve gotten lots of unflattering comments about my current hat (below left), and wow, the palm frond hats at It’s Our Nature were beautiful! My new hat is 6 times $5 but, what the heck. It’s also supposed to protect me from ultraviolet rays, which should make my dermatologist happy.










Someone who wasn’t hat shopping — Patsy Woodruff, president of Friends of Plant Park. She’s been wearing her “blooming’ idiot hat” since the first GreenFest 15 years ago. She’s so much braver than me!


At Orchid Society’s show, it’s not real complicated — just real pretty

I’m still in the pre-beginner phase of my orchid education, but at the Tampa Bay Orchid Society’s annual show on Sunday, I learned you don’t have to know a whole lot to fall in love.

If 6-year-old Romina McKernan is brave enough to take on a Phalaenopsis well, darn it, so am I!

6-year-old girl holding phalaenopsis at Tampa Bay Orchid Society 2012 annual sow

Romina was among the many flower fans who turned out last weekend for the orchid society’s big annual three-day show and sale at the Egypt Shrine Center in Tampa. For the record, this beautiful young gardener readily admits she hasn’t yet mastered everything — but she’s willing to try, try again. (A good lesson for the rest of us.)

“My Grandma bought me some plants, but they died,” she told me. “I forgot to water them.”

The show was judged by official American Orchid Society officials who have very strict criteria. Basically, if you get one of their certificates, you can put your plant out to stud. Individuals, vendors and orchid clubs also competed for ribbons from the orchid society. The Tampa Orchid Club kicked butt. Its display of members’ orchids had as many colorful ribbons as blooms. AND it took the American Orchid Society’s Award for Most Outstanding Exhibit.

Tampa Orchid Club's award-winning display at Tampa Orchid Society's annual show 2012. Blue and red ribbons flutter among yellow, red, purple orchids

Disappointed (I’m betting) was Paul Phelps of Phelps Farm Orchids in Odessa. He has snagged the coveted Most Outstanding trophy the past four consecutive years, and really busted a root this year with a display featuring Mr. and Mrs. Terra Cotta Pot. (Can you spot the Mister?) I’d give this a People’s Choice Award, Paul! Too bad that wasn’t an option.

orchid display at tampa bay orchid society show, man made of terra cotta pots, surrounded by dendrobiums, cattleyas and other orchids in bloom

Eileen Hector, the society’s director of communications (as I’ve dubbed her because she communicates a lot with me!) stayed really busy helping check in shoppers and signing them up for lots of free raffles.

smiling woman checking in visitors to orchid society show But she was kind enough to take a break and give me a personal walking tour of the show, during which she very patiently allowed me to test my fledgling orchid knowledge. (“That’s a VANDA!”) We ran into her mother-in-law, Urpiana Hector, (below) who entered her pink Phalaenopsis Schilleriana (behind her to the right) in the individuals competition. (For the record, you don’t have to be a club member or even pay a dime to enter your orchid in this show. And imagine the bragging rights if you won anything!)

gardener with white hair near her pink phalaenopsis entry in the tampa bay orchid society annual show

We also ran into dentist Howell Morrison, president of the orchid society and husband of Donna Morrison, orchid painter extraordinaire. (He is SO proud of her, and rightfully so — her watercolors are gorgeous. It’s always nice to hear a hub extoll the wonders of his wonderful wife!) He was manning a booth featuring her paintings for sale. He’d also done some shopping; all those plants are to-go.

lowell howell, president of the tampa bay orchid society, with orchid paintings by artist wife donna and assorted orchids he purchased. patricia phelps cattleya hybrid

Among my favorite orchid varieties are the lady’s slippers, which have way too many Latin names and families for me to even try to get technical. When I was a little girl growing up in Vermont, finding a lady’s slipper in the woods was an exciting treat. Ours were delicate lavender blooms with big, fat lips, and we were taught never to pick them (which made me soooo want to!)  Even then, they were threatened species. Eileen showed me the difference between lady’s slippers from different parts of the world. (She also kindly advised me to stay far, far away from the cash register — apparently they’re hard to grow. And she knows me!)

slipper orchid, bright green petal with stripes, big pink lower lip

If you’re into orchids, or think you could be with some friendly guidance, this is a great club to hook up with. They meet at 6:30 p.m. the third Thursday of every month at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa. Look for Eileen. She’ll make you feel welcome and not like an orchid dummy — even if you are.






Whoa! Gardeners scored at Tampa’s Super Bowl plant swap

two women bicycles coming to tampa plant swap helmets blue bike yellow bike

They came by bicycle.

That’s Ann Thomas with the blue bike and Doreen Jesseph riding caboose. (Note the handlebar baskets full of goodies!) They pedaled over to Wes and Faye Miller’s house ready for trading at the Diggin’ Florida Dirt 2012 Plant Swap, which the Millers (so kindly!) and I co-hosted on Super Bowl Sunday.

I’ve organized a few swaps at this time of year, but NEVER one like this! Gardeners — about 150 — from all over the Tampa Bay area came to give plants, get plants, and (many) just to ask a lot of questions. Which is what a swap is all about. Yeah, I was surprised to see bicycles, but there were so many more surprises in store!

Along with car after SUV after pickup truck pulling up and unloading, we had folks like Hillsborough County Master Gardener Wonderful Virginia Overstreet (I’m a fan!) trundle up with her little red wagon.

master gardener virginia overstreet in sun hat and sun glasses with a wagon of cuttings for plant swap

Virginia was crucial for identifying mystery cuttings. I greeted people at the check-in, and if they — always apologetically — said, “I don’t know what this is but it’s a terrific plant,” I said, “Go out back and scream, ‘VIRGINIA OVERSTREET!’ ” She put lots of names to leafy stems.

And then there was Phil Compton, field organizer for Sierra Club Florida, and his wife, Liz Taylor, who paddled up in their canoe.

man woman canoe on river paddle canoe plant swap

Swapping — which really isn’t “swapping,” people just bring stuff and take home stuff — got super hectic. As soon as new arrivals brought their cuttings and seeds, they got snapped up.










Above left, swappers pore over the offerings. Above right, Nanette O’Hara (in pink), an environmental reporter years ago and  now safeguarding our estuary, and Nigel Barrable get intense about their cuttings. (Love it!) Behind them in the red shirt is Brittany Aukett, , just 23 and blogging about organic veggie gardening.

People who had no cuttings or seeds to bring (which was totally cool — gardeners just love to share!) came loaded with goodies.











I was going crazy trying to get names but  I just couldn’t get ’em all! I loved this lady, above left, who expertly balanced her very delicious cupcakes while filling out her name tag.

Faye and Wes’s amazing backyard includes an outdoor kitchen that became a landing spot for gardeners to sit, chat, and suck up cupcakes (and fresh-squeezed lemonade, courtesy of Faye.) I spy Janice Vogt on the left. (I got one of her Chinese lantern cuttings. Score!!)

Everyone left just as they came, Ann (right) pedaled off with a

bike loaded down with cuttings.

I got a cool bounty of bromeliads that do well in sun and a well-established  Vick’s plant (thank you, Sharon) , among other goodies.

I really, really enjoyed co-hosting with Wes and Faye, who did all the work. Thanks, you guys! Everyone enjoyed the extra bonus of roaming  the Millers’ beautiful garden — which will be next Friday’s Times column.











Bye-bye 2012 swap!