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 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.




Clubbin’ on a Thursday in Plant City

I knew I was doomed when I saw Al Latina and his Membership Flowers doing their push dance at the District VIII Florida Federation of Garden Clubs meeting Thursday. I just wish I’d gotten pictures. Women in hot pink, or neon yellow, of Nehi Grape purple matching sun hats and gloves will definitely turn a head!

I was a speaker at this lively group’s annual meeting, but anyone who knows me knows — I ‘m no expert.  I definitely don’t qualify as a workshop. So I say a little something about frog sex or decapitating lubbers or whatever’s going on in my garden, and then we get down to business. Which is games. I love games! And this bunch had some players.

First up — digging’ for earthworms. Or Gummi worms. And not really in dirt (since we don’t have that here) but in packing peanuts.

I have loads of critters in my garden, but nary an earthworm, so I figured the good members of FFGC VIII wouldn’t mind helping me find some. (And many thanks to Plant City Garden Club prez Eileen Reed for shooting these photos and taking names. If they’re wrong, you know who to blame!)

Gwen Pryor and Jeanne Corbin play a digging for worms game at FFCG Disrict VIII meting 2011That’s Jeanne Corbin, right, diggin’ like heck for Gummi earthworms, and her assistant, Gwen Pryor, logging her catches. They were a great team!

Dru Trahan, left, adopted a much more demure approach, with assistant Mary Grevencamp, coaching (I’m gonna guess Mary was saying. “Please, Dru, make a mess! It’s not really dirt, for goodness’ sake!”) That’s me on the right,screaming . I’m sure Dru appreciated  it.

Another hot topic among gardeners is weather. Of course! And winter? Oh my gosh. We watch those freeze forecasts and swear “I’m not gonna cover this year. No! If they can’t get by on their own, they’re gone!”

As soon as that mercury starts dropping, or when one person says, “I’m covering,” we all run out and freeze our fingers, ruin our 300-thread-count sheets, and break a lot of limbs to save our plants.

So for our second game, three veteran gardeners chose three tender perennials from the crowd and had 1 minute to cover them. They ALL did a great job. Those poor perennials were covered head to toe. Some of us wondered whether they were still breathing, until Loretta Scott did a beautiful pirouette. What a relief!

The winners (by applause) were Suzanne Caldwell (gardener) and Loretta Scott (lovely perennial). The other fantastic teams (and truly, they were fantastic) were Maida Atkins and Lucille, and Kathy Stone and Liz Miller.

If someone from FFGC can tell me who’s who in these pictures, I’ll gladly update. (Eileen!! What the heck? I told you I need help!)

For the record, I was impressed by the great good nature of the District VIII folks. They hail from Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Manatee counties. They do lots of great works in their communities: beautifying public spaces, raising money for scholarships, introducing kids to gardening — and that’s just scratching the surface.

They are also the NICEST group of people. If you’ve been looking for some new friends, interested in learning about gardening, or want to add some volunteer work to your resume, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs is a great opportunity.