When they bought their Hyde Park home 34 years ago, Flip and Rick Miller began transforming the backyard. The result is an outdoor refuge where they can rest and recharge in privacy and comfort - and garden their hearts out.
"He's passionate about trimming," Flip says with a smile. "He gets his aggressions out."
"It's tropical - you have to trim or the plants take over," explains Rick, a broker with Smith & Associates Real Estate.
The Millers recall listening to a speech several years ago by award-winning garden and floral designer Rebecca Cole at the Friends of Plant Park's GreenFest luncheon.
"She kept referring to 'vistas' and 'sight lines,' Rick says. "When you stand in any spot in a garden and look in one direction, your eye should be drawn to something."
Heeding her advice, Rick divided the yard into distinct sections, creating visual vignettes with plants in containers. The double lot that surrounds his home now showcases a series of "outdoor rooms" featuring large pots packed with his favorite tropical plants and succulents.
"During the summer rains I run home from the office to cover the succulents with our vinyl grill cover," he says. "They need such little water that a week of afternoon showers will cause them to rot."
Admittedly "manic about clay pots," Rick believes every yard needs to have a consistency of design.
"Too many different pots takes the focus away from the plants inside them," he says.
His meticulous attention to detail paid off: The Miller yard currently is featured in the 2013 edition of Container Gardens magazine.
What is the secret of his success? A dolly large enough to move a refrigerator.
"During hurricanes or freezes we say to hell with the cars and move 50 pots into the garage," Rick says, grinning.
In addition, gardening in containers makes it easy for him to control the soil type needed for specific plants.
Their backyard is not only a relaxing private oasis, but an exciting entertainment space: The Millers hosted soirees for Las Damas de Arte, The Tampa Museum of Art, Rose Garden Circle, and MOSI - as well as 250 people for a neighborhood picnic.
A playhouse built in 1922 - and enjoyed by three Miller children - was converted to a charming tool shed.
"When our children grew up and moved away, Flip wouldn't let me take the play equipment down," Rick says. "I said 'I'll show her, I'll landscape around it.' I planted beach sunflower, which is a tough native perennial. And now we have three grandchildren who love the swings and the slide."