Teri Brockway came to my garden in November and invited me to visit hers in Sun City Center. It took me six weeks to get there and she reminded me that it was winter and there would be less bloom than at other times.
The Bismarck palm in the front yard alone was worth the trip. It’s the finest I’ve seen. Only later did I notice the many beautiful and interesting fruits in the center of its huge, silver fronds. Unfortunately they’re not edible, but they should be very interesting in arrangements.
Crotons and a blooming hibiscus gave color to the entrance. She had some unusual plants on the back porch, including a dwarf white caladium and a fern-like sea onion. She had already moved her orchids to the porch from the camphor tree where they hang in the summer to protect them from the cold we both hoped wouldn’t come. The orchids will stay there until all threats of frost are past.
Teri grew up near Buffalo, N.Y., and greatly enjoys Florida’s climate. She’s been gardening all her life, loves plants and has a talent for growing and showing them.
Her back garden is fairly large and completely mulched with stones. Wide paths, black wrought-iron trellises, tables and benches set off the plants, including a huge Texas tarragon that blooms all year with hundreds of small yellow daisies with dark centers and a Panama rose full of rose-colored flowers, much like pentas but different in leaf and habit. Quite a few ceramic frogs add interest throughout the garden.
Teri has many of her plants supported by tying the branches together and prunes almost constantly to keep everything in such good control. She fertilizes the first of March and again the first of June with a balanced food – such as 10-10-10 – and waters mostly by hose or from rain barrels. Most of the native succulents and other native plants don’t require much water. The azeleas do need to be watered, and the irrigation system is usually needed in the spring.
Both sides of the house, the least lovely in many gardens, are full of color here. In the front there is a raised garden under a window that gets full sun plus what reflects from the white wall. She had several combinations of plants fail there. Teri feels the right plant for the right place is the most important step to success. She has a thriving succulent garden there with many different varieties.
Indoors she has gorgeous permanent arrangements of dried plant parts, even one with peacock feathers one of her cats finds fascinating.
Her mother was a flower show judge and Teri absorbed much of her talent, even when she didn’t realize or even want it. Only at the end of the tour did she admit she has been the president of the Elegant Gardeners Club of Sun City Center for three years, a group of some 75 members who are interested mostly in gardening, though they also have some social events.
This garden club has offered excellent gardening workshops over the years that are open to the public with free admission.
Today’s pick is the Chinese hat plant, Holmskioldia sanguinea, that has been blooming since November and continues to bloom now. Teri Brockway has the one with showy orange flowers and another with lime-green ones. She’s had a yellow and I’ve also seen this plant with dark red flowers.
These plants like sun to light shade and look much like bougainvillea without the thorns. They supposedly have low drought tolerance. Mine grow with little or no watering, but they don’t bloom like Teri’s and that may be the cause. They can be started from cuttings but are somewhat difficult to root. Nematodes can hurt them, so plant near the house or mulch heavily.
Now’s the time to admit that most of the gardens I see would have made me jealous 10 years ago but now they only make me more determined to do better. I claim shade as much of my excuse and enjoy my garden in spite of its lack of perfection. You can learn to do that. Don’t compare your garden to others. Just be glad you have what you have and the health to enjoy it.
The Elegant Gardeners Club of Sun City Center will present A Florida-Friendly Gardening Workshop Jan. 28 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Community Hall, 1910 Pebble Beach Blvd. S. There will be speakers from the Hillsborough County Extension Service, vendors, plant sales and refreshments. Admission is free but pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, call (813) 633-9767.
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.