Many of the homes in Hillsborough County are blessed with tall and spreading oak trees. But growing other plants beneath them can be a challenge.
Elizabeth and Richard Crawford found a way, starting when they first moved from Temple Terrace to Brandon 13 years ago. They started with a plan and their son James helped them build wooden walkways and decks within the fence in the back yard, actually the tightest part of their 1/3 acre.
Elizabeth grew up gardening. She says that if her mother left the shovel in the soil too long, it would bloom. This Florida native has been gardening for at least 30 years in her own homes.
Under the oaks she wanted a fern garden. Luckily one of her friends had a fine fern garden and gave her starts of maiden hair, rabbit’s tail, a huge staghorn, elk horn ferns, bird’s nest ferns, asparagus fern, Boston fern, silver lace fern, and rainbow fern. Most came to her in 4 inch pots and now fill large containers since there are so many roots that it is difficult to impossible to dig large holes in the ground. This way both the ferns and the tree get their need water and nutrition.
For color she has added coleus and caladiums with colored foliage, Anthuriums with pink flamingo flowers, and garden art. Many wind chimes add to the songs of the birds she feeds.
One end of the sitting area features a wrought iron butterfly chair and comfortable wicker chairs surrounded by both ferns and succulents. I never thought that they would go together so well, but many of the succulents do well in the shade. The wall of the shed adjacent is decorated with a neat trellis and thriving hoya plant, that was often has many showy and fragrant flowers. They are doing well with medium light.
Beside that deck is an eating area a step or two higher and under roof. A large chiminea was still wrapped up for safekeeping until the weather is ready. Elizabeth has a fine flair for decoration that adds much interest to the background of fence and green. Both of decks are visible from the sliding back doors of the house.
They bought a gazebo that has now become their outdoor kitchen. It sits beyond the fern garden where the sunnier part of the garden begins. With considerably more sun since the trees were trimmed, so they are planning a vegetable garden in the future.
Had we come through the driveway, we would have entered from the garden gate and had our first impression of the most intensely gardened area. Instead we came in the front door, passing the wishing well on the corner that they brought from their former home.
Today’s pick is the Jatropha, also called coral plant. It is an evergreen shrub that can get 8 to 15 feet tall. There is also a J. podagrica, also called gout plant, maybe because it has a swollen base, that stays 3 feet tall. All have red flowers through the warm months and the zebra longwing butterflies were fluttering among the blooms in the Crawford garden. The flowers also attract hummingbirds. Jatrophas like sun. All parts are poisonous if ingested but none are very tempting and few of us eat our ornamental plants. Jatrophas can die back in a freeze but usually come back in our area. I have tried and failed to root green stem cuttings. Dave’s garden says they do better with woody stems or from seeds.
Now’s the time to...say I am sorry I didn’t have more time to talk to each person at the plant sales. I hope I was not rude. I didn’t mean to be, but we got pretty busy and sometimes I forgot what plant I was looking for for whom. I really enjoy having you all come to visit. I wish I could be many places at once and enjoy each of you separately. I had that same feeling when I was raising my children. I hope that you will forgive me, as they have. And I hope it won’t take as long.