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Friday, Jul 25, 2014
Lifestyle Stories

How Does Your Garden Grow?: ‘I have always had a love and attraction to plants’

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DOUGLASS WELLS, BRANDON

Q: Describe your garden.

Answer: Eclectic. My garden/yard is very informal, with one very strict and difficult rule to achieve: There has to be a flower every day or night to enjoy. Due to limited ground space, many of the plants are potted and the orchids do well in hanging baskets. The inventory list consists of approximately 100 varieties of orchids and bromeliads, along with succulents, cactus, ginger, plumeria, herbs, hibiscus, impatiens, begonias, amaryllis, yesterday-today-tomorrow, crotons, ferns and night-blooming jasmine.

Q: How long have you been gardening?

Answer: Fifty-plus years now. In this current location, it has been only 10 years. I guess I have always had a love and attraction to plants, trees and flowers that started when I was very young — even before elementary school. My next-door neighbor had a citrus tree collection along with two large greenhouses, and I would find myself following behind him when he tended to his citrus, orchids and tropical plants. He had only one rule for me, and that was that I keep my hands in my pockets. From then on, my passion for flowers, plants and trees only grew stronger.

Q: From whom (or what) have you learned the most as a gardener?

Answer: I learned the most very early in life from a four-year Future Farmers of America agriculture program that was offered in grades nine through 12. Getting the basics in the classroom and hands on farm, shop, forest, grove, greenhouse and nursery experience proved to be invaluable. These days I learn the most from the Internet and local gardening clubs and groups that have meetings along with Facebook exposure.

Q: What are your go-to plants?

Answer: Bromeliads and orchids are the plants that offer a never-ending variety of color, shapes and sizes that fit into my limited space and mostly container garden. Both are easy to grow with very little care or maintenance. My current passion is with the bromeliad group of plants. They offer the widest selection of long-lasting color and flower types that are easy to care for and incorporate into a partially shaded landscape or garden. I get a lot of great information, new plants and fellowship with other gardeners and bromeliad lovers from the Bromeliad Guild of Tampa Bay. I would encourage anyone that is interested in bromeliads to visit their Web page (bromeliadguildoftampabay.org), read some of the archived newsletters, friend them on Facebook and attend one of the meetings.

Q: What was your biggest gardening mistake?

Answer: Falling asleep! A few years back, we had three nights of freezing weather that I was fully prepared for. The first night I got things outside covered and fired up my portable propane heater for the tender courtyard plants. The second night I fell asleep on the sofa and never fired up the heater before the temperature dropped below freezing. The damage was already done when I woke up at 4:30 a.m., and the temp was at 26 degrees and falling. I lost quite a few orchids and other tender plants that night that are still missed today. That is a mistake that I will never allow to happen again. Now if there is a chance for a freeze I set the alarm clock to go off every hour.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your garden?

Answer: Limited space seems to be the hardest obstacle to overcome without moving. I have a lot of plants in various sized containers that make it easy to move things around and they can be set on the concrete area of the courtyard. I even have some vertically mounted to maximize the space. Water seems to be a big challenge for most Florida gardeners, and I share the dilemma of either not having enough for some and way too much for others. Another challenge is that our HOA rules dictate that any changes to be made must first be approved, which means that once you decide to do anything outside and the plans are submitted, there is no changing your mind about what or where you are going to plant if it is approved.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for fellow gardeners?

Answer: Do some research on the plant you want before you purchase it. You will need to know how big it grows, know how much sun it will tolerate, what the water requirements are, and ask yourself if you can closely duplicate the plants’ natural environment at home. Just because it looks nice in the garden department doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for the spot you have picked out in your garden.

Have you ever been so proud of your garden that you wished you had some way to show it off? We’re looking for readers’ photos and growing tips for our “How Does Your Garden Grow?” feature in Baylife. It doesn’t matter if you have a small container garden or a long-established landscape; we want to hear about it. Just answer the questions above and email them along with a couple of jpgs of your garden to Baylife@tampatrib.com. Or mail your answers and photos to Baylife, The Tampa Tribune, 202 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606. Please include a phone number and/or email (not for publication).

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