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Lifestyle Stories

Meet Carole, Patron Saint Of Plants

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 01:25 AM

Some people rescue greyhounds, some old buildings. Carole Shepherd rescues plants.

"I've saved so many, many from trash piles," she says. "If it's pretty sad-looking, needing work or help, I will get 'em."

She points to a few brawny walking irises.

"They came from a handful I got off a leaf pile, no more than this much," she says, cupping her hands to form a small bowl.

The glossy spider plant crawling with fat babies got put out with someone's trash, and the rambunctious ferns began as two sickly and seriously marked-down pots on a Lowe's clearance shelf.

"I begged them to live."

Shepherd's here to prove that you don't have to be rich to have a beautiful garden. People need to remember that as they scrimp and fret over the economy, she says.

"If you want to be surrounded by beauty, you should be. You can do this!"

Besides rescues, she's big on cuttings. Her son, Alex, got her going on them more than 20 years ago when he was kid mowing lawns for pocket money.

"Some kids bring home kittens and puppies. Mine brought home plants."

Her pentas, crimson and hot-pink old-fashioneds, were in full, happy bloom last week. All are descendants of some of the first cuttings little Alex brought his mom.

She does buy annuals - for 25 cents from a produce stand just south of Interstate 4 at the Forbes Road exit.

Her yard art comes from trash piles, thrift stores, Super Saver ads in the Tribune and courtesy of her handy husband, Tom.

The mix of benches, florid containers, angel statuary and pole-perched bird houses amid sunset-gold lantana, lemon-yellow desert cassias and baskets of pink froth is a real traffic-stopper.

Located as it is on a main drag through Plant City, the Shepherd home is sometimes mistaken for a garden shop. Or maybe a little park.

"One lady stopped because she thought it was a flower shop and she was on her way to the hospital to visit someone," Shepherd recalls. "When I told her, 'No, this is my house,' she got a little upset. She was in a hurry and she really needed to get some flowers."

So Shepherd cut her a bouquet of pentas and ferns.

Another time, a man and woman walking by came right up into the yard. She went out to greet them, curious.

"We just feel like we need to sit here for a little while," they said.

And that was fine with her.

"I believe this garden is here for other people," she says, "and I'm just the caretaker."

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