Do you sometimes wish you could return to a garden of your past or start another garden in another climate? Betty Denton lives in Dover on property adjacent to where she was raised with her mother’s house on one side and her sister’s on the other. She and her husband, Richard, are also landscaping a yard at their North Carolina home.
Their little Florida compound is tucked away from traffic and surrounded by woods. Betty’s father ran a small nursery there when she was a child and she learned many of her gardening skills from him.
Betty’s secret to gardening in both places is to find what is happy in each micro-climate and plant more of it. Her favorites here are bromeliads and ferns, which enjoy her shady, sandy soil. At last count she had 10 varieties of bromeliads and at least six types of ferns. She also has five or six colors of Christmas cactus and several gingers.
The Dentons installed the ornamental split rail fence themselves around the border of the green lawn with locust rails they purchased in North Carolina and brought home on their trailer. It makes a great show of the plants along it. Every second or third lawn mowing, they bag the grass and put it under the rails to keep down the weeds and make mowing easier.
They also paved the circle driveway and the path to the front door with used bricks, an amazing work that involved transporting, cleaning the 7000 bricks, and laying them out on a level path. Richard is an engineer who plans highways and he found it was much harder to pave this short road by hand.
The entrance way is charming and welcoming. Two staghorn ferns growing along the front fence were given to them more than 25 years ago. They’ve survived all of those winters without covering. In the side garden, which is actually on her mother’s property, but maintained by Betty, is an amazing group of trees with a bench beneath them. The large oak is bent because of a fire decades ago. They were told it would die and should take it out, but it’s still here. One of the trees is an avocado that produces by the bushel.
Another sitting area with a small patio gives a fine view of the back garden, where a whole row of angel trumpets were just folding up after their evening-to-morning spectacular and fragrant display.
It’s easy to miss a small sign that says B and S Trail. Betty and her grandchildren Blain and Sarah made the secret trail to a hidden bench.
The couple goes back and forth between their two gardens several times a year. It sounds wonderful when she mentions the iris, many hostas and Japanese cherry trees in North Carolina.
It could be great. Or it could be a more happiness and travel than some of us could handle. I’m in awe.
Today’s pick is the peace lily, which comes in several sizes and species. It’s one of the favorite houseplants up North. I had given my husband, David, a plant in Iowa that he kept alive in his office for five years. Somehow it got left behind when we moved to Florida, but our sweet daughter-in-law saved it for us and brought it down on her first visit. It has since been divided into many plants that bloom in the shade and take hardly any care at all in the ground. In containers peace lilies need some watering. The ones in the Denton garden were in full bloom in late May and bloom repeatedly through all the warm months. All parts are toxic if ingested, especially for cats, but our cats have never even tasted mine.
Now’s the time...to tell you that Betty loves the Don Juan rose and bought two of them, one for her mother’s yard and one for her own. Her mother’s thrived, while hers languished. So she moved hers to her mother’s yard and now both are thriving. She has visiting and picking rights, she said. Don Juans have large, red blooms and are one of the few roses that will thrive without spraying.
Betty also is a fan of the weedeater, hedge pruner and other garden implements that work by battery power. They have had theirs for quite a few years. These are a godsend for those of us who can’t pull that starter rope well and don’t want to drag along a cord for an electric one. I’m seriously considering such an investment.
The Tampa African Violet Society will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Common Ground Christian Church, 4207 North Boulevard, Tampa. Therese Lynam will lead “Violet Bingo.” Growing tips for African violets will be offered. Parking and admission are free. For information, email [email protected] or call Mina Menish at (813) 681-1910.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of a dozen gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.