Beatriz Till of Riverview called to tell me how she took an old makeup brush and used it to pollinate black pepper. I asked if she had a garden I could write about and learned it wasn’t too large, only a quarter of an acre. You can see the whole thing from her patio, which looks out to her back yard.
I had a bum foot and was trying to stay off it. The doctor told me to stay out of the my garden, but he didn’t mention visiting others.
It rained between the time I left home and the time I got there, so I took photos quickly, and then we sat in the garden room and talked. What wonderful stories this dynamic lady shared.
I’m not the only one who enjoys visiting the home of Beatriz and John Till. It’s also a favorite of local wildlife, peacocks, Muscovy ducks, possums, armadillos, rabbits, sand hill cranes, butterflies and more.
Beatriz had photos of a mother duck with 19 babies that were hatched in their attic. The ducks make their own holes to get in. When she climbed up to make a small hole in some screening to let the babies out, she found another duck sitting on eggs. I call it the Till Hilton Maternity ward.
Beatriz has a bouquet of peacock feathers in a crystal vase, gifts from the peacocks that come by every day. She has planted bushes with berries and butterfly plants to encourage them. Yes, they make a racket but she just talks back to them and they stop. She’s even trained them not to make noise until the curtains are open.
John has given her some lovely pieces throughout the garden – lights that shine through the wings of monarch butterflies made of stained glass, wind chimes, a bench shaped like a butterfly where she sits every evening to watch the sunset. He even sent Beatriz to a three-day conference at Walt Disney World, where they shared some of the garden secrets.
She had a purple bougainvillea that she braided and trained into the golden rain tree, and it was spectacular when they bloomed together. For a long time she cut off every new thorn, but one day the bougainvillea bit her one time too many and she got rid of it.
When the Tills had a dry river-bed floor put in the garden room, the men went through the garden and took stems and flowers and pressed them into the thin top sheet of plaster, covered that with plastic matting and stepped on them to push them in. Beatriz can see and name every one of them. With its wicker furniture from her parents home and this floor, the room is lovely.
She apologized that the peacock hadn’t stopped by, but as I backed out of the driveway, a gorgeous one – at least 6 feet from head to tail – came walking down the street and wandered into her garden as if he owned it.
Today’s pick is the yellow cestrum, sometimes called orange cestrum or yellow shrub jessamine. The botanical name is Cestrum aurantiacum and it’s in the potato/tomato family. Beatriz has one pruned as a small tree in a cut-off whiskey barrel where the sidewalk meets the driveway. This evergreen shrub blooms continuously through all our warm months, likes sun to partial shade, is hardy through cold winters here, is drought tolerant and attracts bees, butterflies and birds. All parts are poisonous if eaten but none are tempting to children. They can be propagated by cuttings and can grow 8 feet tall and wide but also can be pruned back.
Now’s the time
Now’s the time ... to pass along one of those Disney secrets. Beatriz puts little plants and garden art at the base of some plants that cover them in the summer. Then it’s a pleasant surprise when they re-appear in the winter. She also has an aloe plant that was given to her as a wedding gift 38 years ago. She has taken many pups out of the pot, but the original roots are still producing and not even crowding. When she has extra plants she puts them out in a box marked “free plants” and they mostly find new homes. I haven’t done that for awhile, but I’m going to start again, especially on Saturdays.
On Monday the Bromeliad Guild of Tampa Bay will meet at Christ the King Catholic Church, 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. A plant sale will begin at 7 p.m., followed by the meeting at 7:30. Tom Wolfe will present Landscaping by the Numbers, which will walk visitors from formulating a plan through irrigation and on to the details of a finished product. All gardeners and plant collectors are invited. For more details, click here or call Wolfe at (813) 961-1475.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit her website here.