If you missed the Butterfly, Herb and Native Plants Fair last weekend at the USF Botanical Gardens, you'll want to be sure to pencil it in for October. It's a one-stop mini mall of great plants, whether your taste runs to showy and fragrant or ultra easy maintenance.
Debra Thompson, who has a booth at the spring, summer and fall fairs each year, says October's the best time to go.
''The crowds are low because the [human] transplants don't realize winter here is the best time to plant,'' she says.
Debra grows butterfly plants, herbs and lots of veggies, including heirloom tomatoes, raspberries and blackberries.
Over at Sweet Bay Nursery's site, Richard Beaupree showed me around a tempting selection of healthy plants, including many I had never heard of. I liked both the plants and the prices - most were $5 for a 1-gallon pot.
The Parrish nursery owned by Tom Heitzman is a wholesaler but recently began opening to the public the first Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It's at 10824 Erie Road in Parrish, near the Ellenton outlet mall. E-mail email@example.com or call (941) 776-0901.
If you go, check out Richard's favorites: dotted horsemint, greeneyes and Florida pennyroyal. None of them happened to be in bloom at the fair (the greeneyes picture comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) But all do bloom, and they all do well in a dry, sandy, sunny location, which is why Richard loves them.
''I push things that do well in my yard,'' he explains.
The scarlet hibiscus was the favorite of Brandon Wolfram, an 11-year-old gardener from Seffner. It, too, was at the Sweet Bay site.
A pretty little flower that grows wild in parts of Florida, greeneyes is a compact plant that blooms nearly year-round.
Great for boggy areas, these can be stuck - pot and all - on the shelf of a water garden. Scarlet hibiscus produces large, red blooms 6 to 8 inches across in the summertime. It grows up to 7 feet tall and dies back in winter, resprouting in the spring..
A short, shrubby plant that likes sandy dirt and sun, pennyroyal blooms periodically from winter to late spring, depending on location. Its leaves brew into a tea that may settle an upset stomach, and their mint scent makes for a nice potpourri mix.
''It's not the most beautiful plant in the world, but it's one of my favorites because it does so well,'' says Richard Beaupre.
Horsemint likes full sun, where it grows tall and bushy, and produces small purple blooms. American Indians used it for a variety of medicinal purposes, from soothing stomachaches to reducing fever. The bunch clustered here perfumed the area with a refreshing mint scent.