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.

Comments

  1. May I simply just say what a comfort to discover a person that actually understands what they are discussing on
    the net. You actually realize how to bring a problem to light and make it important.
    More and more people need to check this out and understand this side of the story.

    I can’t believe you’re not more popular since you most certainly have the gift.

    • Thank you so much for the kind comment, Charley. I’ve neglected this site in recent months because the column I write for the Tampa Bay Times takes most of my spare time, but I hope to pick up the pace again!

  2. I really like reading an article that will make men
    and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to
    comment!

    • Thank you, Dyan! (Sorry so late on the reply — apparently I haven’t been getting notifications of comments.) Norma has since moved into a high-rise condo and says she has to learn gardening all over again. I’ll be doing a column about her transition in the weeks ahead.

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