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Sunday, Oct 26, 2014
Lifestyle Stories

How Does Your Garden Grow? ‘We wanted shade, but trees do grow’

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LEWIS H. ELLSWORTH/Tampa

Q: Describe your garden.

Answer: My gardens are shaded by large laurel oaks, two longleaf pines and a fat magnolia tree. The backyard is surrounded by rhapis palms for privacy. This area has two brick patios and flower beds at different levels. Bromeliads and several varieties of palms are the featured plants. There is a figurative fountain and three other forms of falling water, also a Gullah-inspired bottle tree. A small greenhouse for orchids, some large planted areas and hanging baskets, and a garden room with a stone wall that drips water complete my urban oasis. Did I mention my wife’s “frog pond”? At night, the area is lighted with vari-colored spotlights, strings of miniature lights and three gaslights.

Q: How long have you been gardening?

Answer: I’ve been gardening since I moved into this home in 1965. I’ve had several layouts and grown a variety of plants. Changes were usually made for a “new look” or because nature decreed it — the raccoons kept eating the goldfish, so that pond had to go.

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

Answer: My chief mentor was Jack Holmes, who owned Holmes Nurseries for many decades. He introduced me to many unusual plants and garden designs.

Q: What are your go-to plants?

Answer: Bromeliads, palms and other tropicals. Tropicals can be a problem in freezing weather. If the weather service is predicting 32 degrees or less, I cover them up or take them into the garden room, where I can provide heat.

Q: What was your biggest gardening mistake?

Answer: Planting too many oak trees. We wanted shade, but trees do grow, and we now have very few areas with sunlight.

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

Answer: In my case, shade. Not only did the trees grow, but most of them are evergreen, and this limits my ability to grow colorful flowers. I have resorted to the use of other features, such as the bottle tree, a bird house, the fountains, rocks both large and small, and the special lighting.

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

Answer: The use of compost is very important in Florida. I typically mix one-half compost (a generic is fine) with existing soil. I fertilize when planting, but only fertilize one time a year after the plants are established. I usually fertilize at the end of February or early March. Make a plan based on your water and shade/sun conditions and visit public gardens for inspiration on new plants and garden features.

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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