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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
South Tampa News

A most elegant garden with happy surprises


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Every garden is a new discovery – but Sol Davis’ was a whole bunch of surprises.

Large pots of an unusual cactus at each corner of the drive were the first. His garden is full of amazing cacti and succulents. Sol likes them because they take care of themselves. But it was very obvious that he takes very good care of every plant in his acre garden in Tampa.

It’s hard to believe he bought this property 10 years ago after it had been vacant for a time and was, as he puts it, “a dump.” He started by laying pavers for a walkway from the street to his front door. Then he built a pergola over the entrance and began to add plants.

At first Sol hired some help but before long took it over, learned by trial and error, quickly and well. He had found the passion – and put in the love and time needed – to make it one of the most elegant gardens I’ve ever seen. He still has a lawn man for the small area of turf that remains, but he does the rest of the work himself.

All of Sol’s plants are thriving, larger, thicker, more lovely than in most public gardens. Many are in very large and beautiful pots. There are defined paths throughout the garden. One sitting area is open to the street; the next, with a hammock beneath two fishtail palms, was completely hidden.

At the back of the house a large patio has columns holding up a trellis roof just like the one over the front entrance and the driveway. In the center of this patio is a pool table, well-covered from the rains with a large potted plant on top. I had to smile, as I feel sure God does, at the beautiful large picture with the Lord’s Prayer behind it. The bear by another patio and statues of owls, rabbits and swans added a light touch to this otherwise seriously elegant garden.

There is even a garden room Sol calls his bistro that has a TV and cooking facilities.

Thriving plants, many of them cacti, abound. I almost missed the second floor balcony, but there were plants up there also, probably more than most people have altogether.

There were no weeds, not a one I saw. With all those trellises, this man doesn’t have a single vine. There’s great wisdom in that, but I couldn’t live without any. I probably will never get even the smallest amount of his neatness. But I’ve learned to live with that. Every garden is unique.

I was amazed at Sol’s crotons in the front yard. Like most in the area, they were killed back to the ground in our last cold winter. He was considering taking them out but decided to wait. He even put a statue of a swan in the middle when the plants showed signs of revival, which is now lost in the foliage. The crotons came back better than before and are already three feet tall. He uses Nutricote for fertilizer and has a sprinkler system.

Sol trades the use of the truck from his business, Sol Davis Printing, to his favorite nursery, Mannings on the Bay, in trade for special plants. He’s a quiet man, tall and strong, and his garden does him proud. I was especially happy to hear that he sits in his garden and enjoys his coffee and newspaper every morning. His work is blessed.

Today’s pick is the Buddha Belly Jatropha, named for the tan swelling at the base of its stem.

I’ve had a few of these survive in the ground with no special care for years. But none of mine ever looked as good as Sol’s. So I’m putting what I have in a pot in almost full sun. And I will bring it onto the porch in the winter. They drop their leaves, even in this area. They’re said to grow quickly from seeds, so I will be watching for them and try that, too.

Now’s the time...to tell you about having tools handy as you work. I have a carpenter’s apron I put on almost every time I go out, with scissors in one pocket, yarn for tying things, spray for mosquitoes, a bag for harvesting and an extra glove. I have hoes, shovels and trowels in the back and front yards, but I spend a lot of time walking to get what I need. Sol has fixed a garbage can with handles to hook the small tools on the outside. It is on a dolly and full of every tool you could need – even long stakes. It looks big but rolls easily along his paths.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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