Earlier this year, when my sister took me to the Strawberry Festival, our last and best stop was the Horticultural Display. I'm so in awe of plants so nearly perfect that people enter them in competition.
I'm happy if my plants just live and bloom or produce a modest amount of food or beauty.
Among all the prize-winning plants, one stood out for its creative presentation, its simple but unusual beauty and the fact that I didn't know its name. That plant led me, a few months later, to the garden of two amazing ladies, Margie Menefee and her daughter, Carol Ann Mathias.
They're not sure of the name of the plant either, which won Award of Merit, or the names of some of their other plants. They don't worry about that. They figure out themselves what to do for each one.
Their Award-of-Merit plant starts with a round bulb about 4 inches in diameter that sits with its top just showing above the soil. From it comes two frail looking green stems with ferny lime-green foliage that weaves around a metal stem of bronze leaves. The contrast is spectacular.
Margie Menefee will be 92 in June. She is very thankful for the years the Lord has given her. She took five plants to the Strawberry Festival and got seven ribbons, five blue, one red and one big orange one for the merit award.
She has lived most of her life on her family's piece of land outside of Plant City. Some shrubs her mother planted as long ago as 1927. Many of the plants, however, were fairly new. Margie knew the source of each one and its price. Most she bought at bargain prices but for a few she spent more. She has learned that if you find a rare plant you really want, you either buy it and love it or woe the day you didn't.
Of her 50 or so orchids, at least half were blooming. A neighbor made the poles on which the orchid pots hang as a special birthday gift.
Margie fell into the ditch behind the garden last year and now uses a cane with four feet to get around. She has always had plants, but she got heavily into gardening the past 15 years or so. Daughter Carol Ann stays in the background, but in talking to her, you realize that she is almost as knowledgeable as her mother. Just meeting them makes me feel happier and seeing their garden will make me work a little more peacefully and worry a whole lot less.
Today's pick is the crown of thorns, Euphorbia milii. This is a tropical perennial cactus that grows 24 to 36 inches and blooms repeatedly in full sun to partial shade. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested, but there is nothing that would tempt anyone to take a bite. It could cause an allergic skin rash for some people, but there again its a prickly plant that's best touched with leather gloves. It's beautiful in bloom, and Margie has one that is almost bright yellow. More often they are orange, pink, red, white or pale yellow. They like to dry out between waterings and can be propagated by stem cuttings.
Now's the time to... admit I don't have the stamina or the energy either of these ladies have but it doesn't matter. We don't all have to be ribbon winners. We can accept our limitations. And when and if the time comes when we really can't garden at all, we can still enjoy looking at what others have done. Gardening can be a spectator sport and still be very rewarding. Just be careful about watching plants instead of the road when you're driving.
?Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.