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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
South Shore News

What’s new at USF Botanical Gardens?


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Going back to a garden you’ve visited before has the charm of seeing the familiar. Then comes the delight of what’s been added or improved.

I greatly enjoyed strolling through the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens recently, where I once spent many whole weekends at festivals. But it had been a few years since I’d been back.

I’m writing a long article on their Hoya Hut for the June/July issue of the “Florida Gardening Magazine.” The hut is a fairly small, three-sided shelter with a long red bench in front of about a dozen fairly large hoya plants, but it has considerable importance.

The USF Botanical Garden Plant Shop currently carries about 60 different kinds of hoyas and probably has the best selection of anywhere I know, certainly in the state and possibly in the country.

The Fairy Garden near the shop has all sorts of new little houses. Kimberly Hutton, special events and volunteer coordinator, was taking pottery lessons and has the whole class making things for the garden. Fairy gardens are quite popular these days. My publisher, B. B. Mackey, has a book called “Fairy Gardens, a Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World” that’s a best seller.

I was quite impressed with the vegetable gardens. The plots are available for students and faculty who want to grow some of their own food.

We also visited the apiary of at least 14 bee hives. A class on beekeeping with as many as 60 students each semester is offered.

My son Mike and I had bee hives in Iowa. Bees are fascinating to learn about and the only livestock that produces considerable amounts of delicious food without our having to feed them. Many of the products of the bee hives are for sale in the USF Plant Shop – edible honey and soaps, salves, lip balm and more.

Down through the trees toward the entrance is a new Poetry Garden that the English Department uses for inspiration. Several plaques display poems students have written.

There is also a new Medicinal Garden, where plants are grown for research in the university labs. Many medicinal plants have been used in modern medicines, but many others are ignored due to their lack of profit potential. This program may help us update our use of healing herbs.

The children’s section has also expanded. Classes on recycling things for garden art and building bird houses have added decor to this area. The succulent, cactus and the bromeliad gardens look better than ever, and more fruit trees are growing.

You can visit the USF Botanical Garden at 12201 USF Pine Drive, Tampa. It’s open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4. Adult admission is $5; seniors 65 and older, $4; children 6 to 13, $3; and younger children are free. It’s always a treat for the soul. The Spring Plant Sale, where you can find plants you’d never find elsewhere, is this weekendfrom 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Sunday.

Today’s pick is the periwinkle, Catharanthus roseus, a very common, tender perennial for a good reason. It blooms 365 days a year and needs little care, just a little pruning back to keep it compact. It likes full to partial sun. The lavender-flowered variety self seeds and is the easiest to grow.

My friend Ann Musco has all different colors that came up on their own. These are the hardiest. The ones you buy are more prone to disease but still likely to bloom for a year or two, sometimes more, and you can get quite a variety of colors and combinations. The flowers themselves look much like impatiens. The perwinkle is actually an herb because it’s been used and is still being used in medicines. Recently I’ve read it’s yielding two important anti-cancer drugs effective in the treatment of childhood leukemia. But most home remedies are not recommended except for the juice of the leaves, which will ease the pain of wasp stings.

Periwinkles are good as plant edgings, fillers, containers and hanging baskets and look good with alyssum, dusty miller and ornamental grasses. They’re highly salt tolerant.

Now’s the time... to plant bedding plants of summer annual and warm weather bulbs. Mulch to conserve moisture as April and May tend to be our driest months. Remove spent annuals as needed and prune any deadwood from shrubs and trees.

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