Gardens Florida

Monica Moran Brandies

Gardens Florida - Monica Moran Brandies

There is a great new book about shade gardening in Florida

Until now, as far as I knew, my book on shade gardening was the only one for  Florid1 Native_Florida_Plants_for_Shady_Landscapes_RGBa. Well, it isn’t any more, and I am delighted to tell  you about Craig Huegel’s new book, Native Florida Plants  for Shady Landscapes, just off the University Press of  Florida. What I like best is that it is so different, mostly  because it is about native plants.

It will be a must for any gardener or homeowner who is interested in shade gardening, low maintenance, and native plants. Low maintenance is always a blessing and more and more people are appreciating the importance of native plants in the landscape.

Reading his book is easy and doing so is like taking a walk through many woodlands and gardens throughout the entire state with an wonderful guide whose knowledge is beyond belief and who explains all the plants and their needs. Most who buy it will use it as a reference book, but reading through it as an adventure story has been a delightful experience. I was honored to be a peer reader while the decision to publish or not was in the making.

The factual information is excellent. I especially like when he tells how a plant has behaved in his own plantings in Pinellas County.

I have been learning about gardening for 70 years. I learned a good bit more from this book, more of the technicality of shade and soil and even mulch and certainly about many plants, some I had grown myself and many that I have never seen. And all of it was fascinating. The book is interesting to anyone who likes plants, but even more it would be useful in helping homeowners, landscapers, and gardeners in choosing the right plant for the right place and avoiding costly mistakes and frustration.

Craig Huegel’s obviously huge knowledge and experience is the most compelling aspect for me. It seems he has tried almost all of the plants he writes about and therefore his reports are much more useful than just plain facts. He also tell readers when and where not to try certain plants. And he gives detailed information for every county in the state.

2 Huegel au photo

Craig Huegel has written other books on native plants and is the owner and operator of Hawthorn Hill Native Wildflowers. He has a Ph.D in Wildlife Ecology.

The second best aspect to me is the added information of how each plants can be used by birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

While this is a very informative book, there are several places that made me laugh out loud, such as “If not occasionally cold-, caterpillar-, or human-pruned, the native cassias below often become leggy and a bit unruly” and his description of how the trumpet creeper grew “through the side boards and overtook the clothes I had hanging in my closet.” Seriously, this a volume of useful experience and information that is easy to read and inspiring to put into practice for a better use and enjoyment of shady gardens.

So much for the text. The color photos on almost every page are wonderful as well.


Beauty berry is a taller bush, with arching limbs. The white flowers are inconspicious but the purple or white berries are lovely. They can be made into jam or just added to salad, or left for the birds.


Wild coffee comes in two sizes. Mine are the dwarf kind with glossy green leaves, tiny white flowers, and cardinal red berries and can bloom and fruit for months at a time. In my yard it picks its own places and thrives with no care at all. C/ 13 June Nov





Sabal minor, blue palmetto, looks best scattered in an expansive setting, according to Craig Heugel. In small areas, it can look crowded.



Salvia coccinea, tropical sage, one of the easiest and showiest of the native plants. Birds planted the first ones in my garden and I’ve had some every since. It grows in sun to partial shade

Today’s pick is Salvia coccinea, tropical sage, one of the easiest and showiest of the native plants. Birds planted the first ones in my garden and I’ve had some ever since. It grows in sun to partial shade, sends up stems about three feet and blooms for a long time, then sends up new ones. It is also a good butterfly nectar plant. It can be multiplied from seeds, cuttings, or divisions or you can just wait and it will spread itself, but it is not invasive. An Irish friend said that, of all our flowers, these reminded her most of the fuchsias in Ireland. There is a cultivar with pink flowers as well.

Now is the time to admit that I have many plants to feed the birds, but I am not good at feeding them in feeders, mostly because we have no place to put feeders where the squirrels don’t get there first and most often. So I as happy to donate $10 the Flatwoods Bluebird Fund to sponsor a nesting box and I have had my first of weekly e-mails of information on what is happening in the box.If you’d like to do likewise, send your check to the Tampa Audubon Society and mark it for the Flatwoods Bluebird Fund. Send it to Mary Miller, 892 Congress Ct. Tampa, FL 33611 and be sure you include you e-mail address.




You can have a lovely garden under the oaks

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.

Amazing gardens at Mary Help of Christians

Wynn Noland is a little lady with a big job as the volunteer gardener who has made the several buildings and the extensive grounds of Mary Help of Christians Center colorful and beautiful.  She goes to 6:45 Mass every weekday and then works on the ground for several hours.  She’s been doing this for eight years.


The many of us who also work on church gardens know there are unique problems.  Wynn was recently rearranging the curbing stones around the gym garden so people won’t run over the edges.  There is no budget.  She has purchased all the plants with her own money.  Sometimes she has some help.  Sometimes there is hindrance.  Too many people think a garden is a good place to throw their trash.


This dynamic Vietamese lady was raising cattle and vegetables before she took on the landscaping.  She is still learning by trial and error, or so she says.  No errors and few weeds are noticeable.  She figures the plants are like us: they need food and water and love and she gives them plenty of each.


She fertilizes with 6-6-6 and the roses get the new food made especially for Knockout roses, available at Home Depot.


There are sprinkles on the property, but they don’t always get enough water to the right plants.  She waters all her gardens by hose at least once a week during the dry months, sometimes standing for hours to revive the wilted and water deeply.


God helps, thank goodness.  Most of her gardens are in full sun and surround the several building and the driveway.  She starts at the gate and just walking around all these places would be a day’s exercise for most people without any digging or bending.


The lilies from Easter altar decorations in years past were blooming in late May.  Knockout roses were colorful along the driveway.  Yellow alder or yellow buttercups reflected the sun from many shrubs.  Bright pink hibiscus and a paler pink that I think is Indian hawthorn bloom beside the statue of the Good Shepherd.  Tall marigolds, red crotons, and white periwinkle will give long color in front of the gym and a crape myrtle will be blooming there by now as well.


Wynn Noland also has a half acre garden at home.  But if anyone out there doesn’t have a garden of there own, their church or school will be glad to have their help.


Today’s pick is the marigold.  Wynn Noland has tall ones in several gardens full of yellow flowers.  I had them in Iowa but haven’t done well with them here.  “They are easy,” she assured me and pulled off a handfull of seeds.  They like full sun and most are low and sprawling, great for groundcovers. These are almost like small shrubs.  All can be started from seeds almost any time of the year.  Read the seed packet to be sure which height you can expect.  You can find the low ones as bedding plants.


Now’s the time to…be sure to empty any standing water within a few days of their filling so mosquito larvae will not have time to hatch into bloodsuckers.  I keep goldfish in my rainbarrels to eat the larvae and the frogs have added a few thousand tadpools who also keep the water cleaner.  If you have neither of these, you can put in mosquito dunks, solid donuts of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which last for up to 30 days or the newer Mosquito Bits that work quickly but need to be replaced every 7 to 14 days.  I keep a large container of the bits on my work bench.  Sometime mosquitoes even hatch in wet potting soil, in which case that also gets a sprinkling of bits.



This fruit nursery hides in a Brandon backyard

Three years ago Bob and Becky Gerstein’s yard was like most, with some lawn, some weeds, two big water oak trees and a few shrubs.

Then one of the oaks split and fell in the front yard.  When the tree service came to take it out, they said the other one was about to do the same.  With all that sudden sun, Gersteins decided to plant fruit, but found that no one carried some of the kinds they wanted, so they decided to start their own nursery.


Soon after that they went to a USF Plant Sale and met the people in the Rare Fruit Council International (RFCI) booth and joined the club.  There is no better place way learn.


Now their front yard has a large flower garden around four young citrus trees.  Though this only replaced a failing turf nine months ago, it is quite striking.


In the back yard of their 4/10 of an acre property, they now have a Nursery they call B & B Hobbies selling mostly trees or shrubs with edible fruit and supplies, but also some ornamentals.  At the moment they have 100 different kinds of fruit for sale.


They also had 30 kinds already in production and enjoyed eating them last year.   This year there will be more.  They already started with more than 200 nectarines from one tree that has only been in the ground for three years.


All of these plants, their own and the nursery’s, are in excellent condition and growing rapidly.  Part of their success is their soil supply.  They have a pile of compost from the landfill and beside it a pile of composted manure from a horse farm.  Bob mixes them half and half to fill his pots or planting holes.


They have two shade houses and two greenhouses when they put the sides down in the winter and add space heaters for frost protection.  Temperatures have gone down to 18 degrees and they lost nothing.  They did have to cut their in-ground bananas back after the cold winters, but they revived and look wonderful by now.


The most important part of their growing is their micro-irrigation system.  Bob knew nothing about putting this together, but he studied and learned and now has everything on automatic timers so each plant gets just what it needs, no more, no wasted water, no stress for plant or growers.  They can even go on vacation and not worry.


Their knowledge is amazing and they readily share their enthusiasm and their best growing tips. Their prices are very reasonable.  They have supplies that you would not find elsewhere except at a wholesale company in huge amounts. You can visit their nursery at 2116 Ramblewood Court in north Brandon, but call first (813-681-2386 ) to be sure they will be there.


Today’s pick is the avocado.  I had never tasted one before we came to Florida and now we all love them.  My son has a Brogdon that bears delicious fruit from the 4th of July until September, but it is only hardy down to 22 degrees F.  Gersteins have six varieties that can handle 19 degrees  when they are young and 15 degrees when mature.  They are grafted and will bear fruit right away.  A seedling takes eight to 20 years to bear fruit if it ever does.  Avocados are handsome evergreen trees that need full sun to very light shade and excellent drainage.  Fertilize them just like citrus.


Now’s the time to tell you that the Rare Fruit Council International is a great gathering of friendly and knowledgeable people who can help you grow any kind of fruit.  They meet every second Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Tampa Garden Club, 2629 Bayshore Blvd most of the time except when they are at the USF Plant Sales in the front corner.  Dues are $20 a year for either a single person or a couple and you get a monthly newsletter that is worth more than that.  They also have a fantastic tasting table where you can sample wonderful fruits and the delicious dishes or drinks you can make from them.  Many of my plants came from their plant raffle.  And the members have been both inspiration and mentors for me.  Visitors are welcome and both new growers and experienced ones are sure to learn something new every time.


Don’t be afraid of plant addiction

Wes and Faye Miller [of Seminole Heights in Tampa] both have this condition.  He calls it a disease, but says, “I enjoy it.”  I have a serious case myself and am glad to have it.


The Miller property is not large, perhaps a quarter of an acre at most, and they probably have more kinds of plants than I have.  Faye roots most of the cuttings and has even managed to root the Petra or queen’s wreath vine that I have not.


“I take stem ends, 4 to 6 inches long, the ones with green rather than woody stems,” she says.  She dips them in rootone and sticks them in sterile potting mix. “I may only have 50% root, so I take a handful, maybe 10 or 15.  I’ve been trying to root a white hibiscus for 3 years and finally got one to root.”  Obviously I have not tried hard enough.  We all agreed that rootone wasn’t necessary for easy rooting plants and Wes sticks most of his cuttings in pure compost.  They all stay in the shade until they are rooted.


I have also discovered that some plants root better if most or even all of the leaves are removed.  My bush sunflower and many cuttings of milkweed root better for me just as sticks.  For the basics of rooting cuttings, see the column on my website on How to Take Cuttings.


We all agreed that Earth Boxes and Grow Boxes are a great way to grow many plants, especially the ones that won’t grow so well otherwise.  They have 52 of these, many of which Wes makes himself for less than $10 each.  He teaches a class on making what he calls Garden Boxes.  These line the decks at the back of their garden that borders the Hillsborough river, most of them filled with attractive vegetables.


He also teaches classes on how to mount staghorn ferns, bromeliads, and such and classes on what he calls Guerilla Gardening, which includes frugality, surprises, and general garden success and excitement.  His last class is on beginning bonsai.  He gives talks to groups, so if you see his name, go.  You will learn a great deal.


He also says, “If someone tells me I can’t do or grow something, I set out to prove them wrong.”  He has some small Japanese maples growing.


All in all, plant addiction can give you great satisfaction, constant happy surprises, good food, flowers every day of your life, and many other blessings for less outlay of money or risk of trouble than any other kind.  It is beneficial to both the people who have it and even to the society around them.


Now’s the time to… tell you to contact Wes Miller for classes, call 813-244-3893.

I will also admit that plant addition is not really the best way to make you garden look like a magazine cover.  A group of plants of the same kind and color makes a better visual impact.  But those of us with plant addictions don’t have room for many groups.  That is okay.  Our gardens are one place when we can create a little world of our own choosing.  I chose one of almost every plant…except the thorny ones or those that take up more room than they return in flowers, fragrance, or food.

A garden both rare and reliable

Jeani Alvarez has a garden that is as close to wall to wall color as a garden can be.  And she does all the work herself.

“When I feel a little down,” she says,  “I just have to plant something, and soon I feel so much better. Gardening gives me a sense of peace. The beauty cannot be beat.”


She has been gardening since she got her first home, always in the Tampa area, in this garden for 13 years.  She learned by doing.  “I started with bags of peat and flower seeds.  The flowers came up and bloomed and people would stop to tell me how beautiful they were.”


Her property is small and the pool takes up much of the back yard.  In the front she has most plants in large pots because the ground is so full of roots from the palm tree and perhaps also still from a huge oak tree she had to have removed.  “It shaded my whole yard and the first summer it was gone, I couldn’t believe how much hotter it was,” she says.  She is now planting new shade but with smaller trees, frout crape myrtles and a Drake elm.

All except the front is surrounded by privacy fence and the two side areas are long and narrow, but the one side is full of gorgeous plants that alone would make any gardener proud.  The other side is mostly her service area with A/C, rain barrels, potting area and a shed.


Having so many plants in containers means that she has to check for watering every day and in the hot dry times, twice a day.  She waters by hand with a hose and also saves rain water and hauls it around bucket by bucket.


“I will try to grow anything, even if it will not grow here,” says Jeani Alvarez.  “I’m always looking for something new.”  She has a blooming veronica and a plant called “Black something” with the deepest red, glossiest leaves I’ve ever seen.”   One blanket flower plant that self seeded was blooming over a full square yard.  Her many different coleuses were tall and wide as a bushel baskets and cuttings from the same plant showed different colors only a few feet apart where there was more sun.


Jeani Alvarez has the knack of garden decoration down to an art.   She finds treasures in antique shops, thrift shops, and nurseries, such as  the old wrought bed and dishes and teapots that turns into small and colorful towers.


She also has many plants like milkweed and butterfly bush to invite and feed the many butterflies that live in her garden.


Today’s pick is the blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella.  This one in  Jeani Alvarez’s garden is one self sown plant.  It is actually an annual, which explains why it was always short lived for me.  The secret is to save some seeds and start again and to learn what they look like as seedling so if they come up on their own, you will recognize and nurture them.  They like sun but will grow almost anywhere and tolerate both heat, drought and even salt.  The showy flowers attract butterflies and are lovely in bouquets.  Sow seed in late fall or early spring.  There are several different colors and double forms.


Now’s the time to…enjoy the garden anytime from dawn to dusk.  What a relief after the summer.  It is also a time to confess that the celery plants I was so excited to grow from the bottom of the stalk have so far all died for me once they are planted in soil.  I still enjoying my fourth one, but if anyone has a secret to getting them transplanted and growing in the garden, please let us know.

This garden has a new and stunning plant

Sandy and Michael Taylor came to my first open garden and I overheard him say something about a plant called Witfieldia or white candles.  He had some blooming in his garden and it only took me a few days to get there to see it.  Sandy gave me the information so I could research and it looked very appealing.  But when we saw it in his front yard in all its splendor, we coveted our neighbors plant.  See Today’s pick for more details.

“I’ve been gardening ever since I moved to Brandon in 1985 and bought a then bachelor pad with a beautiful oak canopy yard.  The yard has been evolving ever since as I gradually eliminated the grass areas and turned it to beddings.”


Some of the trees are live oaks. “That name is ironic,” he says.  “There is much dead wood up there and it falls in every wind.”  But live oaks are still the best.  We have much more branches dropping from the laurel oaks.


Sandy’s part of the garden includes an amazing collection of orchids that hang inside the pool enclosure.


“Be careful,” he said.  “I’ve fallen in the pool a few times trying to get around the plants.”


Sandy also has her collection of unusual staghorn ferns there.  She was at work when my sister and we visited.


“She will be surprised that of all her plants you (my sister, who was visiting from Ohio) asked for leaves from her African violets.”  We made sure that Sandy wasn’t planning to show any of them soon before she clipped.  We are bold but not enough to ask for bits of orchids.


Ivies cover most of the ground that doesn’t have shrubs, trees, or perennials.  Mike put in all the stone work in the front yard and keeps careful paths all through.  He had a pad and pencil ready to get any names he didn’t yet know and I might.  There was only one jasmine that none of us could name.


“I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and, with my six siblings, had to do some rather extensive mowing of two acres of grass (including a ballfield) and the family garden (tomatoes, large raspberry and blackberry patches).  My Mom also planted a large traditional flower garden every year that, of course, had to be turned over and prepared every spring.  Aside from these influences,  I think my exposure to Longwood Gardens, located across the state line in Pennsylvania, inspired a lifelong interest in plants,” he says.


“My favorite plant is always the one that is currently in bloom, but I’m somewhat more fond of my ornamental cherry tree which, although it hasn’t bloomed anywhere nearly as profusely, reminds me of the absolutely gorgeous cherry blossom season back home in Delaware,” he says.


Sandy’s part of the garden includes an amazing collection of orchids that hang inside the pool enclosure.


“Be careful,” he said.  “I’ve fallen in the pool a few times trying to get around the plants.”


Sandy also has her collection of unusual staghorn ferns there.  She was at work that day. “One practice I have that maybe makes up for all my other miscarriages and neglect is my annual application of 150 to 200 bags of oak leaves that I collect every spring from the nearby neighborhoods to build and maintain a layer of mulch throughout the yard,” he says.


Today’s pick is the White candles, Whitfieldia elongata, that are hardy from Zones 10a through 11 so Mike Taylor covers them in cold times.  They do best with a little morning sun and dappled shade.  Too much shade and they  will be mostly dark, glossy leaves, attractive even so.  But the spires of white flowers are spectacular and they bloom in flushes all year round.  They do need constant moisture, so plant them within reach or the hose or irrigation and mulch them well.  We are hoping they will start from cuttings, but we aren’t sure yet.  There are two vendors offering them on the web.  The Taylors don’t remember where they got them.


Now’s the time to consider Mike Taylor’s experience: “I abandoned my sprinkler system when I lost pressure in it and couldn’t readily find the source of leakage.  It was getting ineffective anyway as things grew and ‘water shadows’  prevented adequate coverage.  I now water by hand when necessary, but things suffer a lot due to my inattentiveness at times.  Same for feeding.  I just use regular retail garden fertilizer (6‑6‑6) for the most part, but very irregularly, if at all.  I think things are actually better off when I don’t, since I tend to be heavy‑handed with it and have done some damage many times.

Come or come again to my garden

With my Open Garden this Saturday, Nov. 3 and again the next week, Nov. 10, from 10 am to 1 pm., I am still working to make it better.  I  have been working on it almost every day since last fall.  And part of me is scared.  How do I dare invite people to a garden that still has too many weeds, mostly in the form of invasive vines?

There has been has been plenty of bloom most of the year, and for weeks now there have been dozens and dozens of blue ginger blooms.  The Philippine violets have burst into bloom with white, and two shades of lavender flowers.  The floss silk trees has also been blooming for weeks and the garden beneath it is a carpet of pink orchid‑like flowers.  But will any of those be left?  I am hoping at least enough so you can imagine how many of them looked.  I have found that by pruning some back, it prolongs the bloom season. I have a friend who sometimes says, “Did you get your work done?”  And I have to answer, “Not since I can remember.”  But what would I do without it.  It is my entertainment as well as my work, with constant rewards that balance the needs.


This very morning I was facing a mass of weedy vines and momentarily depressed.  Then suddenly I dug up one of my hand choppers that had been missing for weeks.  I also uncovered one of those rare kinds of crotons with bare midribs in the middle of the leaves, sometimes called “mother-and-daughter”.  I carefully weeded and pruned to give it light and air.  Next I found the cardamon ginger starting into bloom.


And best of all, I found not only another monarch caterpillar when I had been without any for two weeks, but also another beautiful caterpillar that I guessed must be important.  I picked the bare stem it was on and brought them both in to my butterfly cage.  Then I checked my book and the new one will be a Zebra longwing, our state butterfly.  And it lives on passionvine, one of my many invasive vines.  Nothing is all bad.


At our first Open Garden in 2000, one lady remarked, “Now I know it doesn’t have to perfect.”  I took that as a compliment because that is what I want people to remember.  No garden will ever be perfect, but it will always be wonderful.  I’ve seen many better ones, but come and see mine anyway.  I do have a very large variety of plants and you can learn a bit of what to do and what not to do.  Most important is to ENJOY.


Directions to the Garden Open House, Nov 3 and 10, 10 am to 1 pm.

From south Brandon, go to Lakewood and Highway 60 and turn north on Lakewood to Windhorst Road, the second light.  Turn west or left and go to the second right hand turn onto Estatewood Drive.  This becomes Burning Tree Lane without any turns at the next block and we are on the left on the curve at 1508.  There will be signs.  Call 813- 654-1969 if you get lost or need  further details.


From elsewhere, go off I4 at exit 10, go south on 579 to MLK Blvd (to the Race Trac just past WalMart) and turn right.  Go to Lakewood and turn left.  Cross the railroad and go about half a mile.  Watch for signs at either Woodhaven or Windhorst, turn right, and follow the signs.


I ask you please not to pick any citrus.  They look ready but they are still very sour and we need them all.

Starting from scratch

Barbara Thompson has a unique gardening background.


“My Grandmother lived in Key West and grew what seemed like every plant and fruit tree that existed.  My Mother, sister and I lived there a couple of times when my Father’s Navy ship was out to sea,” she says.  “In 3rd grade my ‘show and tell’ was about the ‘jungle’ in my Grandmother’s back yard.”


“In the 70’s my Grandmother left Key West and moved into our house in Illinois.  Every spring she planted flowers and vegetables.  She was also very good with house plants.  That’s were my love of gardening originated,” Thompson says.


When she and husband Mark moved to Brandon 24 years ago, they built their present home and started landscaping literally from scratch.  Mark is the garden architect who decided where the trees, including five crape myrtles in various colors, and bushes should go.  He also planted them all.  They both share the mowing,  edging, and raking.


Barbara has taken several classes at the County Extension Office including Compost Happens and the Rain Barrel Workshop, and is a graduate of the first Community Forest Steward program with Rob Northrup.


Their home is on a corner and is also unique in that the door between the kitchen and the garage is their main entry with a very small but lovely, shady yard in front.  The side has more turf and larger gardens along the house and surrounding the side patio and French doors to the dining room.  The other side yard, inside the privacy fence, is very narrow but lined with flowers on one side and young fruit trees on the other.


Mark laid the long brick walk that leads past a screened garden room and all around the pool enclosure to the back gate. He also put in the patio floor, all with bricks recycled from the Hillsborough Hotel in Tampa.


They have an irrigation systems that waters once a week during the dry months and Barbara water the container plants and window boxes with the hose. Barbara feeds with Miracle Gro every few months.   Most amazing, she has succeed with window boxes.  See details below.


Window boxes are possible here


Why don’t more people in Florida plant window boxes? Because they take constant care, especially watering?  So do other container plants but many of us have many of them.  Window boxes should be easier than hanging baskets, since they have one long side protected from drying wind.  The biggest drawback, it seems to me, is that you can’t move them out of the spotlight when they have their down time.


There is one gardener that has found ways to succeed and has done so for many years.  Barbara Thompson now has four colorful window boxes.


“I had impatiens in all of them over the winter,” she says, “but the others got downy mildew and looked so bad that I threw all the plants away so it wouldn’t spread.”  The problem hasn’t spread to the box has on her kitchen window.  It is very striking.


“One year I planted only red impatiens for Christmas but I  don’t think it was as pretty as the mixtures of reds, pinks, salmons and whites,” she says.  “Impatiens are my favorites because of their billowing effect.  They get very tall and drape over the front of the box.


“I water them when the plants start to droop.  Depending one rain (or lack of) and  temperature, it’s usually 2 times a week.”


“We put in our kitchen window box after our house was built 24 years ago.  I started out mostly planting petunias.  It was very sunny because the oak tree in the front yard was a baby,”  she says.  “The dining room box we’ve had for about 10 years.  That’s when I started planting impatiens since it’s almost always shady.  My husband gave me the two bedroom window boxes this past Christmas.  They have reservoirs in the bottom and wicks so I only water them once a week.”


She uses Miracle Grow potting soil.  She doesn’t change the soil often, only when plants die from a fungus or disease.  She does put on a top layer of Miracle Gro Garden Soil when she replants.  She does that in May and early November.  Begonias and New Guinea impatiens do well during the summer months.  Impatiens, petunias, geraniums, and oyster plant are good for the cooler months.  She revives what she can and discards the others.  “I’ve had impatiens that lasted 2 years.”


She feeds them with Miracle Gro once a month in the summer, every other month in the winter, when they also need less water.  Constant color is possible in window boxes even here.