Florida gardeners can find inspiration in … Montana!

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

More than you’d expect!

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

At Angie’s Greenhouse in the northwestern corner of Montana, just outside Glacier National Park, I found beautifully repurposed junk. Owner Angie Olsen is a wizard. I love the X’s and O’s of  this old box-spring (above) turned trellis.

green, red and orange heirloom tomatoes in a basket

She also likes heirloom fruits and vegetables. This basket of tomatoes sat among the plants Angie had on sale (great marketing!)

I often think we here in Florida have it tougher than other parts of the country. But when I saw this product, I realized we ALL have it rough.

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

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

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

Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for native wildflowers. They’re beautiful and many have a great back story. Fireweed was all over the place when I visited in early August. It’s edible, medicinal (need a laxative?) and pretty.

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

At East Glacier Park. we visited the Glacier Park Lodge and found this wonderful cottage. A sign in front says “private residence.” It’s the home of Ian Tippet, who has worked at Glacier Park since the 1950s. (He talks about what he does to prep for summer on his Facebook page.)

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

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

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

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

Finally, you don’t need a fishing license to toss a hook into the many streams in Glacier National Park. My husband and I enjoyed a thoroughly heady afternoon (ah, the view!!) on a trout stream along Going to the Sun Road, Eventually, we were joined by a black bear (surprise!) and a wonderful family — the Grindlings.

Elliot, 8, and Simon, 6, were high-energy, non-stop explorers until two other young bucks became as curious as they were. All four stood stock-still for several minutes, checking out the wildlife.

mo boys bucks

(I’ve entered this photo in the national park servce’s viewer-votes driven contest — http://www.sharetheexperience.org/entry/12728181. If you want to vote, I won’t complain!)


Yard art inspiration from Tampa Bay gardeners

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

It was the vision of Maryhelen Zopfi of Lutz, and the workshop project of her handy husband, Simon. Earlier this month, Maryhelen imagined her swimming pool-turned-koi pond with a cool old car front replacing the wooden bridge and fountain that had been in the spot.

“I looked on the internet and found six car fronts at the junkyard. I knew this was the one I wanted because it had the Buick hood ornament,” she says.

old wooden door painted with with pumpkins painted to look like mural. top half o of door is window. yard art placed in gradeJanice “Pumpkin” Vogt of Seminole Heights found this old door in an alley in her neighborhood. She asked her friend and neighbor, artist Bean Spence, to paint it for her. She paid him in oatmeal cookies.

Yard art requires no water or fertilizer. Occasionally, pests find it, but when they chew it up,  we just toss it! There’s no pain in that; only comfort in knowing we’ve gotten the most use possible out of something that would’ve ended up in a landfill.

This is another from Janice, a birdhouse crafted by her husband. He made the roof from an old AC duct from their home.

white birdhouse with metal roof made from discarded AC duct, surrounded by fat pink bloomsAfter spending time with a 20-something friend and newlywed just starting her own garden,  I asked some Tampa Bay gardeners to share their favorite masterpieces to inspire her — and give me a column for the Tamapa Bay Times.

Of course, print is limited, so I couldn’t run all the wonderful photos, stories and tips gardeners shared. So here are a few more. I hope they’ll inspire you as they do me!

From Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, yard art created from actual plants! (Who’d a thunk?) Busch Gardens director of horticulture Joe Parr shared a parterre (I had to look that up — it’s a  low-growing, highly manicured planting design.)

This is just one that he and his staff created.

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

bl Zagora Cafe Parterre detail“For our garden art at Busch Gardens, whether topiaries or parterres, we look for very compact and smaller plant varieties, especially annuals, that can be continuously sheared tightly and manicured on a regular basis,” Joe says.

“We pick annuals that exhibit excellent foliage and/or foliage color. Also it is very important that these plants contrast strongly to bring out patterns and details in the garden art that we are trying to create.”

Susan Gillespie of Riverview went another route with her blue bottle tree.

blue bottles turned upside down on a "tree" with numerous limbs“This started out as a project on branches of a lemon tree that didn’t make it. Then I saw a metal one made by a guy hawking his wares in Webster” flea market in Webster, Fla., Susan writes.

“Then the search was on, for a couple of years actually, for blue bottles. Some of my customers happily supplied me with their contributions to the cause, one party at a time. :) But the rest were from antique outings all over the place and part of the fun of putting it together.”

Bill Carr of Plant City notes that one person’s favorite art may not be another person’s (spouse!).

bl bill flamingo“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” writes Bill. “Here, in what I call my Heron Garden, is a plastic flamingo, which my wife hates and I think adds some whimsy. My wife visualizes it as fitting right in with the gardens around where we grew up that used old whitewashed tires and sinks for containers.”

And finally, one more from Maryhelen Zopfi’s garden: She put this fun face on a truncated tree limb that would have otherwise just looked very, very sad.

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



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!

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.

Florida-friendly yard art — drought-tolerant, fertilizer-free

If you saw this guy, would you be afraid? Or would you do a quick turnabout and snap him up?

Mexican alligator statuary bright red head blue patterned body 4 feet long

Mexican yard statuary is hugely popular here in Florida. The vibrant colors and artistic renderings of critters that usually make us squeal and run hold all the thrill of  jumping out of an airplane — with none of the risk.

On June 1, I shared some of our readers’ favorite yard art in the Tampa Bay Times.  I promised to post here what didn’t get published in the paper. (And the photo quality is SO much better here!) The guy above is Mexican statuary from Southwest & Tropical, 5635 State Road 54, in New Port Richey.

“We sell the monkeys, manatees and LOTS more,” says Dorothy (proprietor, I assume.)

Even though the one below ran in the paper, I’m replaying it here, both to riff on a theme and because, heck, it’s prettier on your monitor.

garden art plate stake ceramic alligator in center of blue and orange plate on stake for planting in garden

That alligator yard art is a tribute to the University of Florida’s Gators (note that I’m a supremely objective journalist! I’ve published this twice despite my loyalties to my alma mater, USF, and my kids’ school, FSU.) Darby Miller of South Tampa and North Carolina is the artist. This one’s not for sale, but you can find more of her goodies at www.etsy.com/shop/Floridaze.

Another Tampa artist who both saves and sells is Beth Nobles of Brandon, creative force behind  Gypsy’s Garden Art. The piece below — her favorite, it’s on her business card! — started with a frog soap dish that she never saw before and hasn’t seen since. (She gave this piece to a good friend.)

yard art tower are with pink vase glass bowl lavender vase and topped with a ceramic frog in a blue bowl      ceramic yard art frog made from soap dish on thrift store bowls, plates, vases













Lynn Barber, Hillsborough County Extension’s super helpful Florida-friendly landscaping agent, is an avid gardener and repurposer. Here’s a better look at the coffeepot planter that ran in the paper.

recycled yard art, electric coffeepot, silver, with artemsia, wire vine, sedum and assorted succulents

It’s planted with Artemisia, wire vine, sedum, and assorted succulents.

Her other favorite is this palm frond-turned-planter.

dried palm frond used as a plant hanger with orchid air plants

“I drilled two holes in the smaller portion (of the frond) and used a chain to hang this creation.” Lynn writes. “I glued Tillandsias on the inside and outside and have a Vanda orchid in full bloom hanging from it. This gives me lots of smiles while sitting on my front porch swing.”

I love Lynn’s porch — and so does she. And her family. And friends. And neighbors. And strangers.

“My front porch is my absolute favorite place to be,” she writes. “My neighbors like it, too, especially at happy hours.”

Are you thinking it’s only us women who are into yard art? Totally not! I know plenty of guys who appreciate a flower made from scrapped car parts. And my kind plumber husband once brought me a black toilet he’d pulled out of someone’s house. “Thought you might like this for the garden,” he said. (Thought appreciated. Toilet, not so much.)

Here’s Dan Dunn’s butterfly sunflower feeder, made with a natural sponge from Tarpon Springs.

sunflower plate on stake with big natural sponge in center yard art

“I make bird feeders (using dinner plates), butterfly feeders(using sponges harvested off Tarpon Springs), bird baths (using ceramic flower pot drainage saucers) and hand-painted gourd birdhouses,” Dan writes. “I make all these products out of my home and sell them at large art & craft shows in Florida.”

His business is My Secret Garden. (He’ll be at the Downtown Dunedin Craft Festival, along with a lot of other yard artists, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 23-24.)

And finally, one of the truly sweetest crafters/entrepreneurs I know — Mary Mirabal of Garden Whimsies by Mary.

“I was inspired to start a plate border several years ago after seeing one while visiting Anna Maria Island,” Mary writes. ” I thought it was so darn charming that I had to have one. My border is still growing with the plates I don’t use for my garden whimsies.”

multi-colored plates, red yellow blue used as flowerbed edging
I hope these creative folks give you some ideas! When the sun scorches our plants and freezes knock them to the ground, we still have drought-tolerant, cold-hardy, fertilizer-free … Yard Art!!


Get your whimsy on with America’s next big business — Garden Whimsies by Mary

Who knows? Garden Whimsies by Mary could be the next Microsoft or Burger King or Hyatt — all businesses launched during recessions.

You may have seen Mary Mirabal’s playful plate flowers and garden totems at Annie’s Garden Shed in Lutz or Dragonfly Garden in Dunedin. She sells them through etsy.com, the online marketplace for artists and artisans, and she makes the rounds of festivals and plant fairs, including the Seminole Heights Sunday Market. She’ll make her first appearance at GreenFest on March 24-25.

plate flower made from plate, candy bowl, candle holder by garden whimsies

Mary’s a Tampa gardener and a friendly, bubbly presence online.  So I’d seen photos of her creations and even “chatted” with her. But she really grabbed my attention when she showed up in my mother’s dining room a month ago.

I unwrapped a birthday gift and immediately recognized a distinctive original Garden Whimsy. The tag confirmed it.

Small world! Big business?

Mary, who lives in West Tampa, launched Garden Whimsies about a year ago, two years after getting laid off as vice president of operations for a broadband internet distributor. She kept looking for something full-time, but then her now-28-year-old daughter announced she was about to make Mary a grandmother. And her now-24-year-old son told her to get ready for a wedding.

“With a baby and a wedding coming, I thought, ‘I don’t need to be looking for full-time work.’ I started looking at what I could do to make some extra money.”

She cast about online for ideas and found garden sculptures created from thrift store tchotskes and throwaway dishes. She never considered herself creative(!), but she and her husband, Dino, are longtime masters of re-imagination: The kids’ old swingset is now a charming potting shed, its all-purpose countertop fashioned from the metal slide. A discarded coatrack displays vintage watering cans. You get the idea.

potting shed made from children's swing set

Mary did some research, put together a few sculptures crafted from vases, bowls and candleholders, and showed them to her friends. They snapped ‘em up.

Since then, she’s created 250 totems — themed sculptures crafted from stacked plates, bowls and candle holders topped with some nifty find — and garden stakes, usually three-dimensional flowers on copper-pipe stems. They’re all designed with an eye toward pleasing combinations of color and texture. A fluted candy bowl might work as a dainty glass ruffle; a white scalloped saucer can become swirls of creamy frosting.

garden totem made from platter, candle holders, teapot by garden whimsies by mary

Mary’s studio is daughter Blair’s childhood bedroom. She stores her hundreds of plates and ceramic figurines on shelves in bedroom and bathroom closets; a bathtub is stacked drain-to-ceiling with packing supplies for mail orders.

closet full of supplies for garden whimsies by mary

Usually twice a week, Mary makes the round of thrift stores, down to Sarasota, around Hillsborough County, over to Pinellas, in search of discards priced at $3 or less that scream, “Buy me!” Goodwill stores are a favorite. “They have a lot of variety and good prices.”

thrift store, ceramic, rooster, plate, blue, white, price tag

Then the fun begins. (I lie — obviously, the fun has already begun.)

“I have all of these unique things that inspire me — look at these Blue Sky birthday cakes!” she says pointing to two brand-new collectibles she got for $3.99 and $4.99, a splurge. “Isn’t this blowfish neat? Look at these plates! MacKenzie-Childs. Oh my gosh, they sell for $50 and I got this one for $1 and this one for 50 cents. … My mind just spins with ideas and I really have to tell myself, ‘Focus, Mary.’ I do talk to myself a lot.”

So, will Garden Whimsies by Mary be the next Burger King?

Mary hopes to grow her business, but Dino keeps warning her, “Don’t quit your day job” — she works two days a week as a bookkeeper. And he still won’t let her use his drill. (What is it about husbands and their drills?) Then there’s granddaughter Bella, her new love, whom she babysits some days. She has no plans to give up that!

But she adores her new vocation. Getting down to business by the light of the sun in Blair’s bedroom window is sheer pleasure, she says. Finding just the right colors and sizes, pieces with surfaces that will adhere, putting them all together, it’s relaxing and rewarding.

“I could do this for hours,” she says. “It’s much more fun than cleaning the house.”

Make a Garden Stake Sculpture

Mary shared her tips for creating a garden stake using a miniature sculpture for Valentine’s Day. If you want to create a plate flower stake, the process is slightly different. You’ll want to flatten the bowl of a serving spoon and attach that end to the back of your flower so the handle can insert into the “stem” of copper pipe or rebar. flattened spoon attached to back of plate for use as garden sculpture

Materials: *Exterior silicone caulking (Mary and Dino like GE Silicone II*, 1-hour Rain Ready. It costs about $7 a tube.)

*Mary loves her Tomboy caulking gun — made for women!

*A razor and/or Exacto knife.

*The pieces you plan to assemble.

Step 1: Identify your centerpiece, in this case, a teapot decorated with hearts, and find coordinating saucers or bowls to create a miniature sculpture. Don’t use anything with cracks, which will doom your creation. In this case, Mary used an upside-down vase on the bottom of her piece for display purposes. It will slide over the copper or rebar stake.

Step 2: Assemble the parts in a “dry stack” until you’re happy with the look. You might try saucers right-side-up and upside-down. Pay close attention to how surfaces of objects fit together — if they don’t meet, you’ll have gaps in the adhesive and your sculpture won’t hold up.

stacking vase, dish, ceramic cupcake to create garden sculpture

Step 3: Clean up the pieces. Use a razor to scrape off stubborn price tags, and if they’re super stubborn, squirt them with Windex and let them sit for a minute or two.

Step 4: Start gluing from the bottom up. A continuous bead of caulk is important. Don’t worry about straying outside the lines, you’ll clean that up later. Once she puts two pieces together, Mary eyeballs them for perfect centering. You can slide them around for a minute or so, then apply pressure to set. Note: It takes a minute or two longer of firm pressure for glass.

Step 5: Allow the piece to sit for 24 hours, then pull out your razors and trim away the excess caulk. If your piece has a hole (like a teapot or bank) that might collect rainwater, plug it with a marble or caulk. If water collects in it, it will eventually crack.

Step 6: Enjoy!

Cost of this piece: 99 cents for the milk glass vase; 99 cents for the glass plate; $1.06 for the pink saucer; $2.06 for the teapot. (Plus caulk.)