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Gardening From Florida

...Exterior Decorating
by Teresa Watkins
by Teresa Watkins

Teresa Watkins, University of Florida's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods multi-county program coordinator is a recognized leader on xeriscape principles and creating 'environmentally-friendly' landscapes.

An award-winning radio and TV host of a variety of gardening shows in Central Florida, Teresa recently designed the landscaping of the 'first energy and environmentally efficient' home in the state of Florida to be certified as a 'green home' by the Florida Green Building Coalition and Florida Solar Energy Center. Currently, she hosts a weekly radio show, 'In My Backyard' on WLBE 790 AM, sponsored by the Lake County Water Authority, that features environmental issues and landscaping advice on for backyards.

When not digging in someone else's backyard, you can find Teresa digging in her own garden, looking for slugs and lubber grasshoppers --- creatures, that she adamantly swears, do not have souls --- aided in that effort by Sheila, her loyal Scottish terrier and legendary lubber killer.

August 1, 2004

There are reflecting mirrors, reflecting lights, reflecting prisms, reflecting pools, and then there are gardens that reflect you, your individuality. In creating and growing a garden in your yard, you will want to show off your individuality, your personality. The most common complaints I hear when discussing garden themes is: 'I am tired of growing the same old plants' or 'I want something different, a garden that doesn't look like anyone else's.'

I attended the 10th annual EPCOT's International Flower and Garden Show recently and noticed how Walt Disney World reflected their own international flair within each World Showcase. Walking through one country to the next, all in one afternoon, without airfare, a passport, luggage or shots was a wonderful way to spend the day. Except for a few locations and plants, EPCOT's landscaping professionals and garden experts used Central Florida plants throughout its attraction to create those unique and exciting gardens that transported you to another realm and you can too, with the right plants and a lot of forethought.

Adding your own touch of fantasy to your landscaping can be accomplished with 'one-of-a-kind' plants, interesting surprises, imaginative garden ornaments, and sensatory accoutrements. When you live in certain zones of the United States and Canada, that isn't too much of a problem because of the wide variety of seasonal perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees that grow in those areas, but here in Central Florida, it's a little more work for people to imagine unique gardens because of the mindset that perpetuates the myth that certain plants won't grow here. Gardeners in Florida do have to contend with having warmer temperatures most of the year, but we have our wintertime with cooler temperatures and the occasional freeze. You can have daffodils, tulips, columbines, and hostas if you really want, providing you know that exactly what your plant's limitations and needs are. The secret to growing springtime bulbs like daffodils and tulips in Florida is providing them with forced refrigeration instead of relying on Mother Nature's cooling fall temperatures outdoors. In late September or early October, put your favorite bulbs in a paper bag on a shelf in your refrigerator for 12 to 15 weeks before you want them to bloom. Make sure there are no 'pome' fruits such as apples or pears in your refrigerator.

If you do, your bulbs will not sprout because of the gases that pomes emit. After the daffodils have 'wintered' long enough, you can plant them in your garden or into container pots for that surprising touch of northern 'spring' in December and January. The only downside to growing bulbs is that when forced, they do not return for another season. Composting or leaving them in the ground is their only future.

Right now I am growing hostas and native columbines in my Zone 9a location when the gardening books tell us they should only thrive down to Zone 8. They shouldn't be doing as well as what they are, blooming their little hearts out 'But I haven't told them that yet'. I carefully place them on partially sunny patio and provide consistent watering. My hostas and columbine are the only two plants in containers that receive a flood of attention, sometimes getting watered as much as five times a week in the summertime. I have been growing the large hostas for over twelve years now and the only downside to cultivating them is collecting the snails and slugs every night.

Called Royal Standards, these supposed northern beauties with deep green leaves, white fragrant flowers that tolerate sun, bloom at least twice a year for me. Florida native columbines also like mesic (moist) soils and do well near lakes and in low-lying shade.

They naturalize easily with seeds and are a source of nectar for the hummingbird. I love showing the long-blooming spring perennial columbines to my surprised guests. They literally turn green with envy and I feel like I have a showcase on my patio.

A unique garden can be one of color. EPCOT chooses to use the colors of each country's heritage and environment to delineate imaginary boundaries. Your house paint and style should be considered when deciding on a monochromatic color scheme. The Norway attraction featured an alpine garden but it could also be called a 'moonlit' garden. Here in Florida you could grow striking white flowering shrubs all year round, such as spirea in the late winter, abelia, mock orange and Asiatic lilies in the spring, white Duranta dewdrops or white plumbago in summer, white chrysanthemums or crepe myrtles through early fall. You can choose reds, blues, pinks, or yellows, or any combination to reflect your personality. Making color the theme in your garden can be magical.

Adding another cool and comfortable room that is an extension of your house will beckon you outside more similar to the theme in the Japanese showcase. Think of your garden perimeter as walls and create shelves out of shrubs and trees, adding lower shelves in front of them and then floor accents with your annuals and groundcovers. Just as you collect knick-knacks for your house, finding ornaments to decorate your outdoor living room can become an obsession and life-long hobby too.

You can create vignettes at different eye levels with ornaments such as gazing balls, birdhouses, water features, or obelisks. Hang artwork on your invisible walls with windsocks, chimes, or cement sculpture. In one of my Florida cottage gardens, I added my grown daughter's two story Southern colonial dollhouses that her grandfather had built her for Christmas one year. It was a home for several bird families for over five years.

Take a chair and sit in each corner and look at yard. Visualize what you can and cannot see from your vantage point. Decide on how big your room should be, what the walls should look like, and what kind of furniture and ornaments you will have. Make a little footpath to your room, possibly hiding a surprise at the end. Conjure up imaginative stories to tell with flowery décor that stirs conversations and good times for all who enter your garden.

Take time to find out what works best in your soil, pH, sunlight, and remember to find out mature size and special needs of your plants before you buy. Make a commitment if the plant needs special attention. If you don't, your room won't stay attractive very long. Just like humans, some plants are more independent than others and they are quite a few that are not 'high maintenance'. But once in a while, having plants, shrubs and trees that need a little more attention are worth it, just like the cost of visiting a magic kingdom.

Fashioning a 'one-of-kind' garden does not only mean having unique flowers and shrubbery, it means designing a garden that reflects what makes you special and has meaning in your life.

Landscaping can show your heritage, your culture, and your interests. Sowing the seeds of imagination in your landscape to escape from the everyday tribulations of the real world, allowing your soul to relax and enjoy your own little magic kingdom. Your endeavors will be worth the cost of planning and planting your heart's dream. Just think you won't have to stand in line or fight heavy traffic to enjoy it and that will good for your soul.

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