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

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

 

 

Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town — wild about plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

christmas tree with africa decorations, large brown and white feather

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

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

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

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