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!

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

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.

Nursing homes need plants, too. Select with care!

My mom, who’s 80, announced her newest project (my new assignment) a couple weeks ago.

“The patio at Nan’s nursing home is just … bleak,” she said. “There’s nothing. A concrete slab and a white fence. It needs color. I want to put some plants there, starting with a big pot with a little tree that has flowers.”

elderly man in wheelchair at Dunedin, Fla., nursing home, sitting at patio table with white umbrella surrounded by tall white privacy fence on concrete slab.

My mom, a registered nurse with an active license (and, ahem, a 2005 inductee in the Florida Nursing Hall of Fame)  really likes Cross Terrace Rehabilitation Center in Dunedin. The staff are loving and kind, and the care is good. But that patio really bothered her.

Mom’s little sister, my Aunt Nanette, moved to Cross Terrace a few months ago, despite her son’s best efforts to keep her at home. She has some chronic health problems, but the one that finally crashed his resolve was dementia. Her son, my cousin Tony, is quadriplegic, so he couldn’t really jump up and chase after her when she wandered out into the streets at night.

Aunt Nanette may have some dementia, but she’s still Nannie — very funny with a big, generous heart, and so sassy, always ready to break some rules.

Here she is in February, on a visit to Tony’s, with my niece, Melli.

NH nanny

Mom — a plant-loving non-gardener — enlisted my help to transform the patio, which is very open and sunny. I thought crape myrtle might be good for her small tree.

Last weekend we visited Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes to shop. It was darned cold, so a slow day, which meant we got owner Pat Duncheon’s  undivided attention for a good long time! (I love Duncheon’s because, even if you don’t get Pat, you get really knowledgeable, friendly & helpful staff. I’ve learned a lot at that nursery!)

Turns out Pat’s Mom has been living in an Alzheimer’s unit in the Midwest for about 10 years. Pat has tried to introduce plants there but, since some residents may try to eat them, you have to make sure they’re not poisonous.

Crape myrtle, he said, can be trickier in a container than you might expect. The dwarf varieties are particularly  vulnerable to pests. He recommended instead a grafted gardenia, which produces fragrant white blooms multiple times throughout the year. (Non-grafted bloom just once.)

grafted gardenia, no blooms, and arm planting a siign that says "Water Me Mon. Wed. Fri." in terra cotta colored container

We got this one, covered with buds, for $19.99. He also suggested adding a colorful annual to the bottom. Mom chose violet Calibrachoa, which should soon mound up and spill over the container sides a bit.

He told us it needs water every couple days for the first few weeks and should do fine with once-a-week watering after that.

Someone had tried to color up the patio with plants in the past. There were a few containers with dead and dying color. We found a stubborn Mexican petunia putting out new sprouts amidst lots of dead stuff in a broken pot. We put it in a new pot with fresh soil and WATER!

broken terra cotta pot, pot in back with Mexican petunia looking unhealthy and bag of Miracle-Gro potting soil

And, since I  just happened to have a couple little bare-root crape myrtles a friend had given me from their Arbor Day Foundation goodie bag, we figured we’d go ahead and give Mom’s original idea a try.

terra cotta planters clustered against a white fence on a nursing home patio. gardenia without blooms, small crape myrtle, unidentified small tree, small Mexican petunia

That’s the little crape myrtle in the big yellow pot. There was also a healthy looking small tree in a corner, so I added it to the group to make more of a focal point.

My plan is to add a bunch of larval and nectar butterfly plants and see if we can’t get a drama going on this patio! I asked Robert Bornstein, a horticultural therapist who works at nursing homes in Fort Lauderdale, for non-poisonous suggestions.

Here’s what he said:

“I don’t recommend poisonous plants due to the liability issues, but if you must use them — like scarlet milkweed, the only larval food for monarchs — you have to be sure  to place them in locations where casual visitors can’t easily reach them.”

Milkweed is easy to grow from seed, and inexpensive to buy.

“Keep the pot close enough for the residents to see the butterflies but far enough away so that they will not eat the plant. Or put them in an area where residents will visit only with supervision,” he says.

Same for lantana.

“I love the firebush. I also use native wild coffee but be cautious,” he adds. Wild coffee is another that should be in a supervised area.

He recommends this guide by the late plant guru Julia Morton.

In Florida, early spring flowers join winter’s wonders

Azaleas are one of Florida’s signature spring bloomers, and for good reason. They burst into heaps of pinks, purples — even whites – when our “winter” gives way to spring.

But … spring doesn’t officially start till March 20. This year, the azaleas, and lots of our other spring bloomers, are making an early appearance.

lavender blooms on shrubs about 5 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter, azalea, spring florida azalea bloom

I found these beauties growing at a house near Memorial Highway in western Hillsborough County. Old neighborhoods like this one, with landscape plants that may be decades old and are often heirlooms, are my favorites for drive-by gardening.

If you’re falling in love with all the azaleas in bloom and itching to get your hands on some, keep in mind, they require just the right conditions to survive and thrive. They like filtered light and acidic soil, so they do best in yards with oak trees. They’re not drought-tolerant, so they’ll need water when it’s dry. Most bloom only once a year — they’re green shrubs the rest of the time — but some varieties (the Encore series) will re-bloom.

Bougainvilleas are also strutting their stuff!
crimson bougainvillea blooms with palm frond in background. close-up of red flowers blooming in february in tampa florida

Bogies are wonderful color for Florida gardens nearly year-round. Plant where they’ll get lots of sun and have plenty of room to sprawl or you’ll be cutting them back more often than you care to. (I can always tell when someone’s been trimming their bougainvillea — their arms are covered with scratches from the thorns.)  This beauty was covering a wall in another old Tampa neighborhood, Palma Ceia.

A few blocks from this home, on South Brookline Street,  you’ll see a rare sight around these parts: A bed of blooming tulips! (But move quickly, because they won’t last long. Or check back next February.)

bl spring tulips

Tampa gardener Janice Straske plants tulips each year, as does her mother and a couple friends. They’re the only local gardeners I know who have mastered the tricky horticultural feat of tulip beds this far south. If you want to try it, you’ll need a spare refrigerator. Learn how Janice does it by clicking here.

You might have better luck with the easy-to-grow Hong Kong orchid tree. I found this and several others blooming along Elliott Drive, off Memorial Highway. I wasn’t surprised to see several neighbors with the same tree — they’re easy to propagate from seed and tend to produce lots of volunteers.  To avoid that problem and the mess of seed pods raining down on your yard,  get the hybrid variety, which doesn’t produce seeds.

bl spring hong kong

These are beautiful trees, which are just as pretty when they’re not in bloom. They have rounded leaves on branches that tend to have a weeping form, which forms an attractive canopy as the tree matures. Like azaleas, they prefer acidic soil. If you have lots of decomposing oak leaves, you likely have acidic soil, but you can always get it tested for just a couple bucks at your local University of Florida Extension.

If you’ve got room for a seriously fast-growing, vigorous vine, you’ll love this one for gorgeous winter and spring color.

bl spring flame vine

Florida  flame vine  is popular for covering walls and fences in Central and South Florida. At this time of year, you can see it blooming along Interstate 4 — which tells you something about how hardy and drought-tolerant it is. But be warned: If you don’t have a big area to let it go nuts, you’ll have a big headache trying to contain it!

I found this one at Sprout, the garden complement to Relic home furnishings in South Tampa. No, I didn’t buy it. I’ve finally learned there’s room for only one or two “vigorous” vines in my small garden!

Remember, before you plant anything, be sure you know how big it will get and plant in a space with that in mind. Even drought-tolerant plants require regular watering when they’re first planted so they can establish a good root system. The rule of thumb is water new plants every other day the first week; every couple days for the next two weeks; and at least once a week for the next couple months. During the rainy season,  that’s not a problem.

The Bright Lights of Shade!

Readers told me they wanted MORE PICTURES when I wrote about Peter and Betty Peck’s Walmart-inspired garden in the Tampa Bay Times  last month. Peter manages Walmart’s No.1 Florida store in Bloomingdale, Fla.; Betty works for a company that supplies Walmart with books and music. Can you say merchandising? These two have the market cornered when it comes to arranging for visual impact.

birdhouses amid green foliage, crinum lily, green pink cream Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar' , march, tampa, florida

The green-cream-red plant in the foreground is Stromanthe sanguinea‘Triostar’, a super plant for adding color to shady situations. The lower growing flowers are impatiens and, on the two trellises, bougainvillea. If you can find at least a half-day of sun in your shady garden, bougainvilleas will reward you with lots of color. (They’re a Peck favorite.)


goose statue next to bench

“Goose,” left, is among the many old statues Peter and Betty inherited from Betty’s parents’ and grandparents’ decades-old gardens in Plant City.

red brick, path, georgia reclaimed










Peter bought the pavers, above right,  from a local stone-supply store and dug up the 120-by-4 feet of paths himself. He paid for the hands-and-knees work — strong work ethic has its limits! … I yearn for the day I can add paths like these.

wooden adirondak chair, confiners. garden art

Peter admits Dumpster-diving (when pressed) for this beautiful old wooden Adirondack chair that someone left in a bin outside his Walmart. Pots of impatiens and other plants create a beautiful vignette beneath a shade tree.

black magic cordylene, hot pink dark green *almost black" leaves, chartreuse, green leavesThe Pecks love cordylines. In the foreground, Black Magic, and behind that, good old red ti.

Peter and Betty Peck not only have loads of color in  a garden shaded by oaks, they have colorful personality. That’s retailer-meets-gardener.

New Year’s Day with winter flowers — a pre-freeze celebration

Thanks to a mild December, my garden is still a colorful palette of fall blooms and winter buds. Since we in Tampa are bracing for our first dip into the 30’s this week, I’m taking time to appreciate my winter garden.

Chinese hat plant (Holmskioldia sanguine, also called cup and saucer), below, is a fall bloomer that will get knocked back in a freeze. This one is a rare bright yellow — most are salmon colored. (The yellow has spoiled me. I love it!) I covered it last winter during freezes and a couple of stems survived, so it came back. Yay!

chinese hat plant, cup and saucer, rare, bright yellow, small cupped blooms look like Chinese hats, fall bloom in Florida

New to the garden (brand new!) is a hosta bred for Florida’s warmth and sunshine. I got it yesterday at Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes ($5.99). Owner Pat Duncheon told me it’s been out only a couple years but was so popular last year, he ordered 1,000 this time around. The trademark name is SunHosta and the label says it’s the only hosta that tolerates full sun in Florida. It’s fragrant, likes slightly sandy soil, and likes to dry out between waterings — all of which bodes well for its success in my garden. The blooms appear on foot-tall scapes (below right) rising from glossy green leaves edged with yellow variegation (beautiful!)

SunHosta bloom, white, six petals, trumpet shaped with long white stamens. Bred for Florida. takes full sun


SunHosta, hostas bred for Florida sun, white flowers, six petals in star formation on a 12-inch scape. variegated leaves










My little cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus, below left, are still hanging in!  They’re not as prolific as they were, but they appear in random spots, winking like new copper pennies. (I’m partial to pennies. Save the pennies!)

These annuals may as well be perennials. They re-sow so frequently, when the more mature ones are on their way out, new little plants are coming up.

Another great old faithful, below right, is Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempevirens), a vine that blooms in winter (I just saw the first flowers and buds today.) It can be a bully to its plant pals, but it’s so drought tolerant and cold-hardy, I forgive it. There have been winters, after a freeze,  that it’s the only color in my garden.

Carolina Jessamine vine with dark green small leaves , yellow trumpet-shaped flower with six petals, deep yellow throat. Blooms in winter in tampa, florida

bright orange cosmos sulphurs. eight petals with three scallops on the edge. Some blooms may be yellow. annual in Florida









Who would have ever dreamed succulents would be such stalwart winter bloomers? Now they’re among my favorites. Christmas cactus, of course, but lots of kalanchoes (you say cal-an-koe-ah, I say cul-lan-choe) burst into bright color when the days grow short and cool. This oyster plant, Kelanchoe fedtschenkoi ‘variegate’, was a cutting friend Janna Begole started for me last year. The leaves are a beautifully marbled blushing cream and jade green, and now I have buds, too!

succulent oyster plant with jade green and cream-colored scalloped leaves with a rose pink tint color. Buds in Florida in winter..

I planted vinca major more than a year ago after getting a cutting from landscaper Johnnie Jones of South Tampa. It took awhile to get revved up, and I was beginning to doubt his description of “aggressive,” but now it’s all up in my penta — and flowering to beat the band.

I love this variegated variety. Once it gets established, it wants nothing but a strangling embrace from the plant next door. I first noticed blooms in the fall.

Central Florida, aggressive ground cover with lavender flowers, five petals with round edges, variegated foliage

Other plants I’ve still got blooming, for those of you looking for winter color, are bleeding heart vine, red firespike, plumbago, black-eyed Susan vine, blue sky vine, some blanketflower, giant milkweed, and my Knock Out, Belinda’s Dream and antique roses. (It will be so hard cutting back those roses later this month. They’re very happy right now.) All but the roses will get knocked back if we freeze, but all should come back — the only one I’m not sure of is giant milkweed, this is our first winter together.

If you know of great winter bloomers for Central Florida,  a lot of us are always on the lookout. I give big props for shares!