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Gardening From Florida

Plant Me! I’m Irish
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.

March 13, 2005

On St. Patrick’s Day annually around the world, everyone wants to be Irish – even the Irish, who began celebrating the exuberant saint’s day with drinking festivals, festive banners, and musical concerts more during the last few decades so as not to disappoint their American cousins looking into their Celtic roots – instead of finding the solemn Catholic mass service, normally reserved for recognizing saints.

When visiting Ireland, tourists are enchanted with the lushness of the verdant rolling landscape. The fairy-like cottage gardens filled with lupines, snapdragons, cabbage roses, daffodils, Canterbury bells, violas, and ivied trellised walls that climb skyward to golden thatched roofs appeal to our sense of charm and enchantment. Dark green beech and laurel hedges kept neatly clipped, exemplify the clean, neat lines of formality and protocol of clan castles. Touring your ancestral homeland, you can feel the intensity of the Fenian people living off a harsh land but finding joy and peace in the simplicity of colorful flowers and fey folk stories. Walking among the quaint cottage gardens or the formal castle gardens can inspire a fourth-generation Irish progeny to recreate their holiday memories upon their return home.

Wherever your ancestral culture hails from originally, there are themes, plants, and hardscape accessories that will help you recreate your own ancestral garden. Showing your friends and teaching your family what flowers, vegetables, and trees grow in your native country is a great way to spend quality time and also keep alive the values and culture from one generation to the next. You may be surprised to learn that a majority of the plants grown in other countries will thrive where you live with the same conditions, such as sunlight, soil moisture, and proper maintenance. If you cannot purchase the actual plant species locally, substituting similar colors, fragrances, and shapes for shrubs and flowers is easy by ordering through a good nursery or plant catalog. Spring is a good time of the year to create gardens that will help transport you to another world to relax, meditate, or remember your own vacations or childhood memories.

Gardens have been an integral part of Pakistan and India since ancient times growing from its earliest agriculture days to individual garden beds rambling without rhyme or reason to blossoming within Islam into ordered geometric grids called charbaghs. This style of Indian garden defines the garden not only as an outside landscaping feature but one, which reinforces the spirituality of the Islamic culture, dividing the garden into four rivers symbolic of paradise intersecting in the center of the garden. The four rivers are made up of water, milk, wine, and honey. You can create a Persian garden in your backyard by using tropical flowers, vines, and trees native to India. Walking through a charbagh, you will find orchids, azaleas, begonias, impatiens, globe amaranth, gloriosa lily, foxtail lily, ixoras, clerodendruns, plumbagos, crossandras, mussaenda, primulas, lotus, water lily, and clematis. Trees include bauhina, cassia, tulip, and coral trees. Fragrance is very important in the garden and can be emphasized by using the many species of jasmines, such as jasminina sambac and tea olives, osmanthus spp. native to India. Enhancing the mood of the twilight in a Persian garden, bright mosaic tiles, flowing water fountains, reflecting lap pools, candle lighting and pottery can be placed to highlight areas of interest.

You can plant tulips in Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon and Canada and you have a tulip garden. But decorating your tulip garden with miniature windmills and Dutch girl and Dutch boy statuary and your imagination is immediately transported to the Netherlands. Add a small cement wall, complete with ‘trompe loeil’ artwork of dripping water, with a hole just large enough to entice a garden visitor to put their finger in, and you will encourage smiles and have an opportunity to relate entertaining childhood stories of dikes, wooden sabots and the history of your Dutch ancestors.

European gardens can be formal or rambling depending on your own interests. Moroccan or Spanish style gardens can be accomplished with container planting of citrus trees in your courtyard surrounding rectangular pools, adding wrought iron furniture and grillwork on fences, chimneas, and decorating with jewel-toned mosaic tiles on stuccoed walls or along garden paths. Large ornamental shrubs like bougainvilleas, ficus trees, and climbing roses, with Mediterranean figs and olives planted around outside high walls to ensure privacy and shade adds to the Spanish ambiance. Oriental gardens are similar to Islamic gardens in that they demand formality and attention to detail in maintaining the symbolism of the garden but unique in that the Oriental gardening style has actually become an art form. The Japanese garden respects nature and uses abstract representations through rock arrangements combining religion and philosophy. The Japanese Zen and bonsai gardens reflect nature in its original earthly appearance. Everything is, as you would find it in nature: water bodies need to be round and not flowing from statues but from waterfalls, trees sway in the wind and brave the harsh elements of the Himalayans. Balance, or sumi is very important in the Japanese garden. You can design a hundred mile long ocean vista within a ten square foot area if you use all the right elements, perspectives and sizes. Rocks symbolize whole mountains, and your pool is a lake. Using rocks, raked sand and swirling linear creases in the sand can be envisioned as an entire ocean and mountains and river streams. Traditional landscaping plants are chrysanthemums, orchids, plum and cherry trees, junipers, camellias, water lilies, lotus, bamboo, moss, peonies, grasses, irises, azalea, wisteria, tea olives, pine, cedars, Japanese maples, and ferns. In the Japanese garden your hardscape items assist in telling the story of your heritage. Adding lanterns, stone basins, temple statuary, bamboo water features, and low bridges will add movement and structure to your Central Florida backyard and easily transform it into an Asian garden honoring the traditions of your homeland. The multiple climates of Africa, from arid deserts to lush rainforests, lead us to a variety of African gardening styles. There is no end to the many plant species available here that are native to the Dark Continent. Unusual succulents like euphorbias and aloes, bulbs like crocosmias, gladiolas, and rain lilies, tall palm trees, feathery proteas blend with Transvaal daisies, aloes, amaryllis, crown-of-thorns, gardenias, periwinkles, African violets, coffee, watermelons, okra, millet, figs, and olives create an ambiance of being on the African continent. Placing African clay pottery and statuary of wild animals in vignettes under large palm or baobob trees and viewed at night from cane furniture with the help of torch lighting will set the mood that you’re not in Central Florida but at hotel in South Africa. Hummingbird-attracting plants will enable you to espy one of Africa’s native birds, albeit only North American species. Mulches of large rounded river stones can finish off your display. Finding inspiration to create a native garden from your homeland or your ancestral heritage can be fun and educational for families and you don’t have to settle for a tropical landscape. Woodland, alpine, and rock gardens can evoke vacation memories and childhood relationships. Dining on international cuisine that teach customs and holiday traditions doesn’t have to be hard with your own specialized kitchen gardens for cooking your own cultural dishes. Imagine having container gardens with herbs and flowering plants from Jamaica, Mexico, Sweden, France, and Italy? Where are you from? What part of the world would you like to have a garden? For more information on international gardens, check out “Gardening Around The World” at I’ve researched countries previously mentioned and include many more like Scotland, Thailand, Australia, Germany, Iceland, and Switzerland. You can go around the world in eighty minutes if you read fast and you’ll still have time to find some shamrocks before March 17th. Go ahead and plant them! They’re Irish and you know everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

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