The sign along the driveway points in to Rhonda’s World and out to the real world. The former is a two-acre garden that surrounds the home of Jeff and Rhonda Williams in Brandon and is quite amazing. We all know what the latter is.
This couple has only lived here for four years. When they first came, there were so many trees they couldn’t see from the driveway to the far fence. Since they had only lived in smaller places before, they hired Maribet Balestena, a certified Feng Shui practitioner, to draw up a garden design.
The first chore was to have 33 trees taken out by arborist Terry Payne. The trees that were left are pruned for a canopy that’s high enough to let grass grow and a few sunny areas. The house itself is the focal point of the front garden. A circle drive is lined within with many, many blue lilies of the Nile.
The area around the enclosed pool is also sunny and the guest house is the star of the side garden. It hides the garage beyond it. A large raised orchid arbor has a sitting area with a view now of the entire back garden, and there is where Rhonda spotlights many of her orchids when they are in bloom. She has enough to also have many of them indoors as well. Most of them have come from Vera and Marta’s Tropical Garden and those two ladies come by once a month to groom and feed the orchids.
Rhonda was about to go to work the day I visited. Jeff, who is retired, works most every weekday in the garden, two of those days with a helper, and on weekends with Rhonda. Both of them are full of enthusiasm for the work and thrilled with the results. They have live-in visitors for probably 12 weeks of the year and entertain often at other times. Some 200 landscape lights make the garden even lovelier after sunset.
I loved the contrast of the exotic orchids hanging near a small sea of purple wandering jew. They tried purple queen but found the other did better. The large swathes around the trees are gorgeous. I’ve never seen a better planting, and it all being one kind and constant color of foliage makes a great difference.
They have indoor cats that are only allowed out on the patio, which opens into their bedroom where the cats can be kept from danger. There is a cat cemetery near the back wall of the garden, as well.
A swing that could seat six is in the side yard and there is a fire pit surrounded with benches for a dozen people in another spot.
The Bismarck palm on the same side of the garden was a Mother’s Day gift for Rhonda one year. The bottle tree by the guest house came on another Mother’s Day. They have papaya, orange, loquat and mango trees and pineapple guavas. And in one sunny corner there is a herb and vegetable garden with raised beds.
They also maintain the equestrian path that borders one side and the back of the garden.
I have seldom seen such a garden. And the best part is a surprise I’ll tell you about in next week’s column.
Today’s pick is the Anthurium, also called flamingo flower. These are epiphytic perennials that are prized for both their highly colored waxy blooms and for their decorative leaves. The foliage varies considerably but is always bold. Most have heart-shaped leaves. The flowers are heart-shaped spathes, pink, red, green, or white, that are long-lasting and appear year ‘round, some followed by fleshy berries. The actual flower is a protruding tail in the center of the spathe. They do best in full to light shade and have medium drought tolerance. Most are native to tropical America.
Now’s the time to remove dead wood and seedy stems from the garden. I’ve found that you can do much of this by hand. Dead twigs to branches will often break right off. I’ve also been grabbing handfuls of both green and woody Philippine violet stems and breaking them off one or two feet above the ground, thus removing many of the seedpods that make them invasive. Sometimes it takes scissors in the other hand to get them all disconnected. Then they go on one of the compost piles or on the ground as mulch.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.