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!

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.

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.

YUM!

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, timeinabottle@tampabay.rr.com.

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!

image_1359822760362399

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 benkroesen@yahoo.com.

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 ourstuff@tampabay.com 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.

In search of garden art treasure on U.S. 41 in Lutz, Fla.

I’m so lucky to have patient friends who love to explore! Sherri, Kathy and I spent Saturday afternoon trolling the stretch of U.S. 41 that runs north of Tampa through Lutz and Land O’ Lakes, our countrified northern neighbors.  U.S. 41 was a main artery through Florida back when Lucy, Desi, Ethel and Fred drove down for vacation in black and white (remember that one?). And it still has reminders of its mid-century heyday — old roadside motels, art deco signs, and … cool little vintage shops.

old undated plaster garden gnome 18 inches tall holding axe lantern red green

Our first stop, Deb’s Whistle Stop Depot, 100 NW 4th Ave., Lutz (despite the address, it’s on U.S. 41), is only 2 1/2 years old, but it’s housed a home much, much older. It has six or seven rooms, plus a big covered back porch, full of knickknacks, furniture, dishes, art — tons of old goodies. It also had the gnome pictured above (note the past tense.)

LOVE my creepy gnome!

I spotted this guy in the window as soon as we walked in. The $30 price tag thrilled me, and Laura — the helpful employee on duty — happily allowed me to talk her down. I got Creepy for $25. When I asked what she knew about him, she happily called the owner. (Laura was very nice.) I learned  he came from the estate of a woman who died at 98 and had hauled him around for years.

Other good stuff I didn’t buy: Old phone for $20 — how cool would that be by your Adirondack chair?

black hand-set phone rotary dial 1960s

Sherri said, “These old iron bedsteads would make nice trellises.” (Nice trellises, I’ve learned, are hard to appreciate after they’re swallowed by vines. So unless they’re SUPER cheap, I save my money.)

woman looks at old iron bed headboards, footboards painted white in antiques store

In Deb’s back yard is Annie’s Potting Shed , a place I’ve heard local gardeners rave about forever. And now I know why!

potting shed at annies potting shed lutz florida large brown purple shed with blue glazed containers

We found lots of plants, herbs, containers and garden art in an area designed for a relaxing visit. Patti Schaefer is the owner — Annie was her grandmother. A big draw here, Patti says, is Helen, the Scottish gardener who creates stunning containers. (I’ve been to Scotland. They’re big on great containers!)

They had lots of plants I’m familiar with and — better yet –surprises. Among them, Australian violet ($5.50 for an 8-inch-or so pot).

small white purple blossoms on low growing plants ground cover Australia

Never saw this before! Patti says it’s a sturdy ground-cover for part sun to full shade. It needs rich, well-draining soil

She also had some cool garden art made from what looks like welded railroad spikes by karynsart.com. How cool would this be for Halloween? And the spider plant in the spider? Cute!! (Sorry — I couldn’t find a price tag.)

spider plant container karyns art iron spikes giant

Patti says she has something special happening once a month — free workshops on container gardening, herbs, whatever you’re into. If you want to create a spectacular container, bring your stuff and play around on shade-covered picnic tables. Want a fairy garden? She’s got the cutest stuff — from $2 for tiny terra cotta pots to $25 for a big fairy house.

fairy garden supplies, gazing ballsl, tables

A couple miles up the road at 2020 Land O’Lakes Blvd. , we found EspiWear Thrift Store in a strip shopping center. This is interesting! Entrepreneur Joe Espi says he had a men’s clothing business that tanked with the economy. While he couldn’t get men into his shop once things went sour, he did have a great international on-line clientele for his low-price men’s designer clothes.

So he turned the brick-and-mortar shop into a thrift store. He buys stuff from estate sales, auctions and unclaimed storage units, and sells them for cheap.

“I’m not a non-profit , so that hurts in some ways,” he says. BUT, he can be choosy about what he puts in his shop. “I don’t have to take all the stuff people want to donate.”

I can vouch for cheap prices — I don’t like to spend a lot for stuff I know will eventually disintegrate in the sun and rain. And he says the stuff moves so fast, there’s always something new.

I was really tempted by this great old drop-leaf table for $25 — much more picturesque than my current cuttings table. Can’t you see this covered with terra cotta pots sitting in colorful metal trays?

old scratched dropleaf table plank top thrift store

I was ready to head home by this time, but Sherri was tapping the spurs. “Just a little bit farther,” she said. “Don’t worry — you won’t get lost. Let’s find something out in the country!”

As usual, I’m glad I listened.

Waaaaay up U.S. 41, we found Shabby Abbie’s, a sweet little shop — another former house — that opened April 2. Owner Helen Kinyon has several designers who repurpose old furniture and other goodies they find. Like Joe, she shops estate sales and other bargain opportunities, but unlike Joe, she aims to repurpose many of her finds.

We pulled in just as they were turning off the lights and getting ready to leave. But Helen and Melissa, one of the designers (she laughs when Helen reminds her that’s what she is!) graciously re-booted so we could explore. It’s a beautiful place with artsy displays. Who knew Mason jars could be so pretty?

mason jars old

I was thrilled to death (!!) to find a metal tray just like one I’d seen a few years ago at a plant fair — and lost because I dithered too long.  I was excited not only to see this again, but to see it for cheap. $8!

I’m going to love this hanging on my patio wall.

19-inch metal platter black red white man at barbecue grill other illustrations

Shabby Abbie’s also had beautiful furniture — including a mid-century china cabinet that Sherri, Kathy and I fell in love with. It was $595, but Helen told me next Saturday it’ll be $300-something. They’re having a big sale 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 29. Oy vey! If only I had a place to put it!

‘Sall right. I’ve already spent my “disposable” income. And I have a rule: If I can’t pick it up, I don’t buy it.

Usually.

 

 

Winter monarch babies — yes, believe your eyes

monarch butterflies on purple porterweed in Katy Carlsen's Tampa gardenthree black and yellow striped monarch butterfly caterpillars on milkweed in Brandon, Florida

I’m hearing surprise from some dedicated Tampa butterfly gardeners that they’re    seeing monarch caterpillars pupating so late in the year.  (Above, monarchs Kathy Carlsen shot recently on porterweed in her Westchase garden.)

The three little guys at left were on Kelly Schubert’s milkweed in her Brandon  garden  late last month. She found them wandering aimlessly the day before I    took this picture, and kindly guided them to their favorite food.

My butterfly friends are thrilled to see new chrysalises forming but worry they’re       so late in the year, the cats won’t develop into butterflies. And they all think it’s very  odd.

Below, a brand-new monarch chrysalis — shot today by Kathy.

new monarch butterfly chyrsalis on dec. 11 in tampa florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Barber of South Tampa, like Kathy, creates “safe nests” for some of her little cats

to protect them from wasps, lizards

and other predators. (I wrote about her butterfly adventures in the St. Pete Times a few weeks ago.)

She sent me a great email yesterday, complete with photos, about a really wonderful monarch experience (OK — wonderful, but a little sad, too) last week.

She wrote:

“I had had a stressful day on Wednesday, and when I came home I was delighted to find (this newly emerged monarch)  healthy and resting. It was a true blessing.

“This was the final monarch (of 13) who emerged Wednesday. Many of the ones before him were ill and had to be euthanized (very common for them to be infected with Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a parasite affecting only monarch and queen butterflies). OE is aggressive and will spread to other monarchs if the ill butterflies (who have little chance of survival) are in the yard spreading the disease on the plant leaves and stems.

“The other 12 butterflies had emerged long ago, and I was worried this chrysalis was never going to mature.”

It was cold and rainy the day this guy emerged, and new butterflies need warmth, so Laura coaxed him onto her sweater to take him inside.

newly hatched monarch butterfly dries wings dec. 7 tampa florida

“He crawled up my sweater to the top of my head and wouldn’t leave,” Laura wrote. “I came inside and worked for about three hours with him on top of my head (it tickled!). I could not get a good photo of him on top of my head (difficult to take a photo of your own head, I learned).”
I think she got a great shot!
newly hatched monarch butterfly drying out on a person's head. december 2011 tampa florida  “He was very attached to me and didn’t want to leave my  finger yesterday when I tried to release him,” she wrote.
   She posted the picture below on Facebook with  the  caption,  “Laura Miller Barber with some  outside help for her writer’s block.”monarch butterfly hatched dec. 7 dries out on laura barber's finger as she types. tampa, florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, when it was sunny and a good time to release her new friend, Laura found him (and yes, it’s a him) he appeared to have died overnight!

“He was so still and motionless and no longer clinging upside down to the screen mesh, but laying on his side on the bottom of the nest,” she wrote.

She did the only thing she could think of — she took him outside to the sun. And her butterfly came back to life.

As for whether it’s strangely late to see monarchs pupating in Central Florida? I found a University of Florida article that indicates it’s perfectly normal.

And Edith Smith of Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm in Brooker, Fla., (near Gainesville) says the monarchs will keep laying and feeding as long as the milkweed is green.

“They don’t always live to adulthood,” she notes, and they’ll take longer to emerge from their chrysalises when it’s cooler.

“In mid-summer, it takes about seven days. In late fall, in north Florida, it can take up to three weeks.

“They don’t do well when temperatures are below 60 degrees. BUT they can survive cold nights and a couple of cool days.  They survive temperatures in the upper 30s without trouble as long as it warms up and they can eat again.”

Plenty of monarchs make their homes here year-round (just like people!) and they breed year-round (just like people!)

So keep the milkweed growing and keep watching for monarch cats.

Garden voyeurs, step inside the seed queen’s palace

I used to think that once I’d visited someone’s garden, that was it. Nothing new to see and no reason to return. I know better now!

Bachelor button flower in Tampa, Florida bright pink narrow petals in a star shape and rounded leaves with serrated edges

I’ve been to Janna Begole’s Citrus Park (Tampa) garden countless times since my first visit about three years ago. I always bring my camera, because Janna’s garden — like everyone else’s, including mine — has fun new stuff to see, and maybe a whole different look, every time I visit.

The photo above is a bachelor’s button flower (Centaurea cyan’s). You may know it as coneflower or basket flower. And you might be saying, “What the heck? That’s not bachelor’s button!” There are a lot of varieties with a lot of different looks. Florida’s native “bachelor’s button” really does look like a button, but it’s Polygala rugelli.

Janna’s buttons were grown from seed — the girl’s amazing with seeds. She could grow a stone flower from a pebble, I’m sure. But she drives me nuts because she doesn’t give a hoot about what’s popping up where.

(These bachelor’s buttons were from a seed pack mix that included asters. “So is this bachelor’s button or aster?” I asked. She shrugged and smiled. “Oh, I don’t know!”)

She does, however, save all her packets. A good suggestion fo you random sowers.

This one I recognized. Do you?

Nasturtium with reddish bloom, five rounded petals. rounded leaves with veins radiating from center     I’ve had a hard time growing nasturtium from  seed. And I keep trying. Nasturtium is totally edible, and the flower has a spicy flavor, great for salads. In the Tampa area, it’s a fall-winter annual.

     But, for all it’s supposed to thrive on neglect, it’s darned picky. The seeds need to be  nicked or soaked to encourage germination. They should be planted in the ground, or the pots they’ll live in, because they don’t like to be transplanted.                 And fertilizer will encourage only leaves; it discourages flowers.

      I haven’t had a lot of luck with nasturtiums, although Janna and a lot of other gardeners I know have. It’s one of those “easy” ones that aren’t so easy for me.

 One reason Janna’s garden looks so much better than mine is she gets a lot more help. I’m not complaining (really!) but her husband pulls weeds and lays paver paths. And even her newest dog, the “puppy,” Junior, walks around yanking out weeds with his teeth and debriding beds of dead sticks. Seriously! I saw him in action!

Here’s Junior, scouting for weeds. (I apologize for decapitating Rasta-man.)

dog searching for weeds in a garden box (yes, he really pulls them up!_

 One of the things I love about Janna is she actually does some of the things I write about in my garden columns. In one of my first for the St. Petersburg Times back in August, I asked one of my favorite Florida garden writers, Robert Bowden, director of Leu Gardens in Orlando, for suggestions on winter veggie gardens. (One of his books, which I highly recommend,  is Guide to Florida Fruit and Vegetable Gardening.) He had one word: sugar snap peas. OK, three words.

Danged if Janna didn’t plant peas! We had a delicious time hunting down her many pods. (Tip – Janna didn’t have room for a trellis, so she wrapped a big old tomato cage around her sweet peas, instead. It works!)

sugar snap pea pods with sun shiny through. These are sugar snap snow peas

Of course, I envy Janna. Which means … cuttings!

I got a nice one from this purple and red bleeding heart vine. I have a beautiful bleeding heart with scarlet and white flowers; it’s been blooming in full sun since early summer. I’ve always loved this hardy Clerodendrum, but everyone said it was a shade plant and mine is a sun-filled garden. I didn’t give it a try until a local gardener tipped me off to the truth (thank you Gardendipity!)

Now I’m greedy. and I can’t wait to give these fuchsia look-alikes a try.

small lavender purple and scarlet blooms on a fast-growing vine. sun. tampa floridaCheck out the surprise! Janna thinks it’s a monarch chrysalis on her oyster plant — a succulent!

This “oyster plant,” unfortunately, shares its common name with a Florida invasive. That oyster plant is a bad guy; this one is a good guy, one of our many friends from the kalanchoe family — Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi ‘variegate.’

monarch chrysallis on oyster plant kalanchoe gedtschenkoi. green succulent variegated with lavender veins also called lavender scallop

An Open Garden? Heck yeah, I’m open! A visit to Monica Brandies’ fall wonders

tree with blooms that have yellow background and red veins. 2 inch diameter. tampa brandon florida

Look into my eye!

Florida garden writer Monica Brandies has hosted an Open Garden at her home in Brandon, Fla., two Saturdays each November for years. Every year she says, “This will probably be my last.” And every year her many children, friends and fans rally round to make her a liar. Monica is a longtime Florida gardener who studied horticulture and landscape design in the Midwest and applied homespun wisdom and trial-and-error lessons to her book learning. Among her 12 books, “Florida Gardening: The Newcomer’s Survival Manual” is considered a bible by many — especially all those newcomers.

The photo at top is an insider’s view of the bloom on her Abulilon flowering maple,  Abutilon hybridum ’Marion Stewart.’ Yes, I got a cutting — or two. This big shrub/small tree blooms on and off pretty much all year, according to my old garden-bloggin’ pal Eric “Mangoman” Young, who has spent many an afternoon helping out in Monica’s garden. I’ve never heard of flowering maple. A quick check on-line shows it’s a tender perennial. Below 40 degrees, it might need protection, but it can sometimes tolerate mid 30s. This one was growing in dappled light.

By the way,  it was so nice to see Mangoman (clipping dwarf porterweed cuttings for us, below left) all grown up at 16. And look how happy he made Janna Begole, my Citrus Park garden pal.

dwarf porterweed purple bloom spikes ground cover brandon florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric did a wonderful job showing us around, clippers always at the ready. I lost count of the number of times he said, “Want a cutting?” I especially liked his story about an earlier visitor who flew to the African moth plant like, well, like a moth to a lightbulb.

“She thought it was bee balm and she rubbed it all over her hands,” Eric said. “It smells … really bad. And it’s hard to get the smell off your hands. Trust me, I know. So, beware of plants that look like bee balm!”

(He also noted it’s a great plant to sit unwanted guests near at a party. They’ll leave early!”)

Less aromatic and far prettier is Chinese hat plant — Holmskioldi sanguine. It’s one of my favorites, even though its long canes get all floppy. I love the unusual little Chinese hat blooms, which are commonly pale orange, a color that  doesn’t rock my garden. (My Chinese hats have vivid yellow blooms.) I’ve never seen this blood red variety. Like! chinese hat plant holmskioldia sanguinea usually has pale orange blooms that look like a Chinese hat or a cup and saucer. This one in Brandon Florida has red blooms with a red stamen. Salvia madrensis, often called forsythia sage because of its resemblance to that Up North favorite, is one of the few yellow-blooming salvias. It likes part sun to full shade and well-drained soil. Give this baby some room —  spreading clumps can get up to 10 feet tall. A perennial, it puts on its show from fall to early winter. I planted a little cutting in my garden a few months ago. I’m still waiting for it to look like these.

If you’ve got some shady spots, pinecone ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) will quickly fill them in. They spread by underground rhizomes, and no, these are not the gingers you eat with sushi. This website says pinecone ginger will do fine in full sun, but while mine survived their sunny spot, they didn’t thrive. I didn’t get gorgeous bracts like these. Another note: They die back in a freeze but will return every spring … unless you pull them out because you planted them in a sunny spot!

    Monica’s huge flowering lilac shrub was a big hit with lots of visitors, Eric told us. They (like me) were surprised to learn lilac can grow here in Central Florida. Actually, as with many Northern favorites (see forsythia!) you have to find the southern counterpart. This is tropical lilac, Cornutia grandiflora. It blooms spring to fall and is drought- and cold-tolerant.

tropical lilac lavender bloom clusters on a large evergreen shrub with dark green leaves in Brandon Florida

Finally, here’s a cute little trick for dressing up those old votive candle holders during the day. new use for old garden votive candle holders - fill with blooms during the day

Monica’s are stuffed with bright blooms. (The cut ends are wrapped in aluminum foil, which presumably holds water.)

If this year is not the last for Monica’s Open Garden (and how could it be?) mark your calendar to be on the lookout for details next November.She usually opens her garden two Saturdays, from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.Most of her plants are labeled (a detail I love) and if you see Mangoman,you can probably come home with an armful of cuttings. Admission is free.