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‘Gardens change over time’


Q: How long have you been gardening?

A: Thirty years — since I grew pothos ivy in a bottle in my dorm room.

Q: Who or what have you learned the most from as a gardener?

A: The Internet has been the best source of information regarding what should work in our area, especially the University of Florida IFAS site. But it is still necessary to trial test plants to make sure they work in this micro-climate. My design inspiration comes from Gertrude Jekyll, a famous English designer who specialized in lush color gardens, although I love the modern simplicity of designs I see in Architectural Digest on the rare occasions they focus on the landscaping.

Q: What are your go-to plants?

A: My go-to plants are white fountain grass, African iris, bush daisy, rosemary, thryallis, beach sunflower, confederate jasmine, old garden roses, caladiums, pentas, milkweed (for the butterflies) and loropetalum as a small tree.

Q: What was your biggest gardening mistake?

A: Gambling with tropicals, even though I knew a bad freeze will kill them. When the big freeze happened, I took the opportunity to replant with all food crops: vegetables, citrus, peach and apple trees. It’s nice to know that my work in the garden is also going to repay me later, and with the right layout, look good, too.

Q: What are some challenges you face in your garden?

A: Nematodes — two kinds. Because of them, I can’t grow carrots in the ground. I tried solarizing and only ended up killing all the worms, which turned my topsoil to dust. Also, when I heard about colony collapse disorder, I decided to keep bees (and they really help the yields in my veggie garden). The problem is how hard it is to find a pesticide that doesn’t kill the bees, too. All I’ve come up with is neem oil sprayed at night for the citrus, the bacteria bacillus thurengensis (BT) for the tomato/corn worms and boric acid for the ants. It’s not as perfect as the commercial pesticides, but I’m not hurting the threatened honeybees, at least. Learning to share my food with the worms, grasshoppers and other pests has been a big challenge.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for fellow gardeners?

A: Many people plant their garden and think, “OK, done.” Gardens change over time, and not always for the best. The key is to plant with a three- to five-year timeframe in mind. You want it to look better with age, not worse. Set up micro-irrigation for drought conditions because it doesn’t fall under the restrictions, and you won’t lose your investment. Sod is cheap to replace; ornamentals are not. Always plant hardy plants in the front of the house because that is what the public sees. If you plant all tropicals and you get a freeze, it’s a mess you have to live with until summer. You can always interplant herbaceous perennials, like pentas and porter weed, among the evergreens.

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