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!

Chickens & sun hats & ice plants — Oh my! It’s GreenFest!


florida chickens, black, gray and white, coop, little boy, happy

I could want chickens. Heck, I could want everything. Which is my one complaint about GreenFest, the annual spring plant festival that reminds us Floridians why we put up with hurricanes, droughts, deep freezes (didn’t sign up for those!) and Eastern lubber grasshoppers.

The chickens at Holloway Feed Stores’ booth mesmerized my friend Zane, 6, his little sister, Annabelle — and lots of other kids and kids-at-heart, who got to cuddle little chicks, too. Proprietor Joey Holloway is ingeniously capitalizing on the urban chicken craze by building beautiful coops. They’re not just for your Grandma’s double-wide in Webster anymore!

GreenFest, which continues tomorrow (March 25) at the University of Tampa’s Plant Park, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, is celebrating its 15th year. It’s always Tampa’s first big spring plant festival, and the combination of 80-plus vendors, a beautiful setting (Plant Park), and a hard-working team of volunteers bent on making everyone happy makes it a hit year after year.

One plant I saw in lots of wagons was Spanish lavender, Lavandula stoeches, sold at Mitch Armstrong Nursery’s booth.

lavender blooms sprout from a scape, look like rabbit ears, soft fragrant leaves, thumb-sized bloom portion sprouts petals on top

vendor annie sprague rubs foliage of Spanish lavender to awaken aroma. bushy green plant, fern-like foliage, lavender blooms








Annie Sprague, right, says Spanish lavender is fairly new to her and Mitch. She says this non-edible variety is supposed to better tolerate our summer heat and humidity. In the photo above. she’s fondling the foliage to awaken a sweet scent tinged with a piney undertone. Beautiful! The blooms, left, last through spring, but those soft green leaves keep the fragrance going.

“Lavender’s good for the soul,” Annie says. I have to agree — I forgot everything when she started massaging the foliage, which is a pleasantly soft feel.

Annie has her Spanish lavender at home doing well in morning sun (no afternoon sun) and complete shade.

Another item that was getting a lot of buzz, and buyers, was the habanero honey, below left, at Briarwood Farm’s booth. Apparently, it’s really good on chicken — the dead kind. Below right, purple ice plant — a little something I picked up for my sunny spots. I have another “ice plant” that looks completely different.  This one is Delosperma cooperi.

lavender, daisy-type flower with yellow center, elongated succulent leaves, green











I didn’t plan to buy a sun hat — I’m a $5 kind of garden-hat girl. But I’ve gotten lots of unflattering comments about my current hat (below left), and wow, the palm frond hats at It’s Our Nature were beautiful! My new hat is 6 times $5 but, what the heck. It’s also supposed to protect me from ultraviolet rays, which should make my dermatologist happy.










Someone who wasn’t hat shopping — Patsy Woodruff, president of Friends of Plant Park. She’s been wearing her “blooming’ idiot hat” since the first GreenFest 15 years ago. She’s so much braver than me!