John Starnes made his living as a landscaper in both Denver and Tampa. He was also a garden columnist for the two metropolitan newspapers and wrote magazine articles, as well.
Some say he’s off-the-wall, but most gardeners are, to some extent. I’m constantly intrigued by his information for the Barefoot Gardener Yahoo group, which anyone can join. Vicki Parsons, a friend of mine, took me to visit him in his garden. Getting to know him better was a treat for this gardener’s soul.
John has been a rose breeder since 1989. He started that in Denver. When he first moved into his Florida home in 1998, he planted 170 rose bushes, but Florida was wetter then and most of those roses died off. The ones that remain, like Seagull and Old Blush, he hopes to breed and select into a group that will do well here without great amounts of water and will be repeat bloomers throughout the year. He has met his hero David Austin, a famous rose breeder, and has communicated with other experts toward his goal.
With all his experimenting, his garden, praise God, is even more of a jungle than mine. He has plants everywhere, some I had not seen or tasted before – and we did graze as we gazed.
Our first delight was the garden by the gate with a bush allamanda that blooms almost all year round. I am definitely going to move mine to full sun because his was gorgeous.
The next plant he showed us is his worst weed – the male of the paper mulberry that was once imported in hopes of a silkworm industry in Florida. Apparently the female has an edible fruit, but the one in his garden is a terror. Though John’s garden is mostly organic, he has found that the only way to get rid of this monster is to cut it back and spray the stubs with Roundup.
He fought skunk vine for seven years and eventually dug it all out. There is hope for the rest of us.
Many of John’s plants are edible. We tasted the Kantuc leaf with a flavor like peanuts, and the non-prickly pear leaf (Optunia) that tastes like green beans. He gave me seeds of Fife Creek okra that has pods that can grow to 11 inches without getting tough. I can’t wait until next spring to plant them.
He has a healthy Myers lemon even though greening has come close. He managed to find a few fruits from his Jamaican cherry tree. They are delicious. Unfortunately, the birds think so, too, and get most of them.
John is a master recycler. Much of his fencing and all of his hen house were made from gates someone threw away. His hen house is covered with grapevine.
He is also a master neighbor. He put in several small gardens for his favorite one, who lives in the house behind his. She and her late husband have been his best neighbors since he moved here. When her dog died, he began sharing his dog, Crackers, who now has to visit her a few times a day. A gate in the back fence makes it easy.
For more of his wisdom, join the Barefoot Gardener group or email him at [email protected]
Today’s pick is an annual I’d never seen, the African foxglove, Ceratotheca (ser-uh-toh-THEK-uh) triloba. It loves hot weather and full sun to partial shade, is good as a cut flower and self seeds. This one is poisonous if ingested, which to me is no big deal. We just don’t eat them. They have nothing like berries that would tempt children to eat them either.
Now is the time...to weed and mow, widen paths, prune as needed and just generally neaten up the garden. It tends to get ahead of us in the summer, and the work we do now will last much longer as the days grow shorter and the temperature finally drops so even weeds don’t grow as quickly. Fall is the time to start over, the beginning of the next garden year. Make the most of it.