The home of George and Cassandra Banning in Plant City is surrounded by Brittany Park, named for their beloved dog. It’s lovely and fairly formal from the front but what’s behind the house is so different it was used on HGTV as one of the Tampa area’s secret gardens in 1999.
The Bannings’ backyard garden is designed so that once you go a few yards from the house, you can’t see where you have been or the surprises ahead. Its paths are paved near the house and there are signs all along to “Watch Your Step.” This yard drops 16 feet from the street to the farthest property line. And when you come to the end of one path, you follow back by another path with different vistas.
Not far beyond the house is a covered outdoor eating or sitting area. Beyond that the path winds along one of several moving water features that provide a pleasant background sound. Then a covered outdoor room opens onto a raised boardwalk with boxes full of plants and sitting areas along it. By this time, the garden around you is more natural. One large area is covered with jasmine, and Cassandra insists they keep it that way to be their quiet place.
The boardwalk ends like the stalk of a “T” at a well-mulched and edged path. We took to the left and went back along what is actually a wetland.
George said the first thing to do in designing a garden is to lay out the permanent paths. He and Cassandra have been working on and enjoying this garden for 20 years, and the plantings are always changing. They try everything. Every year they take something out and put something new in. The two years of hurricanes took out several of the trees and made more change than they appreciated at the time.
But the damage has long since healed. Hundreds of newly planted caladiums were just coming up. It has been and continues to be a labor or love for them both. They fertilize with Miracle Gro solution about three times a year and find Kerby Nursery’s 8-9-8 fertilizer very successful for the container plants. When a former stable area in Walden Lake was sold for development, George brought home and spread 10 pickup loads of the well-rotted horse manure. No wonder every plant is thriving.
They have a small but productive vegetable garden with tomatoes in large containers and other plants on a raised bed.
Many couples and families come to the garden for prom, family or Christmas card photos. I learned from good sources that the garden is also a site for community fundraisers for the YMCA, Rotary Club, United Food Bank of Plant City and others. But you must see next week’s column to find the most fascinating facet of this and another garden.
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Today’s pick is the dwarf chenille plant, Acalypha pendula, one of several well-used ground covers in the Banning garden. It stays about 6-inches tall and blooms most of the time with dark red, furry spires 2-3 inches long and a half-inch wide. It grows in partial shade to full sun, has few pest problems and will root from cuttings.
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Now’s the time to tell you that, as a Mother’s Day gift, the e-book of my citrus book will be free to download Thursday and Friday for 48 hours, Pacific Standard Time. Just click on this link. Unfortunately, the book won’t tell you how to avoid citrus greening because, as of now, there is no practical way known. But it will tell you many ways to enjoy citrus trees and fruit.
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♦ The last Master Gardener talk of the season will take place at the Bloomingdale Regional Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave, Valrico, tonight from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Rosalind Scriven will present the program on butterfly gardening. For details or directions, call (813) 273-3652.