A few hours with Willow Lamonte of Willow Herbal Delight Nursery in Valrico is sure to lift the spirit, soothe the soul and give you all sorts of new ideas for your garden.
I was part of her recent Spice Faire, which included talks, demonstrations, garden tours and a Flower Fairy Tea Party for kids of all ages. There were also book vendors, organics (herbs, spices, chili peppers, tropical edibles), heirloom seeds and garden supplies. Willow makes her living raising such plants and selling all of the above most every Saturday year round at the morning market in St. Petersburg.
On Sundays from November until May, you can find her at the Sweetwater Organic Community Farm’s afternoon market – except when she is at Greenfest or Green Thumb, or any one of the other larger festivals.
It isn’t an easy life, loading that station wagon every week, setting up, taking down, coming home to water the plants, and much more. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Willow was hurt in a car accident many years ago and has a hard time walking, even with a cane. But nothing stops her smile and passion for organic gardening.
Willow often has classes, workshops and garden tours at her home, but only available by appointment. Her next class will be on herbs and trees of the Bible on Aug. 17, when she will show and tell about the sacred plants of the Holy Land we can grow here. I recommend every gardener email her at [email protected] with Willow’s List in the subject line to be kept informed of her events. Even if you don’t get to one, the information will stir your interest. Call (813) 643-7285 for details and directions.
Willow has lived in many places here and abroad, but she was as lost as most of us were when we first tried gardening in Florida’s unique climate. She tells people that if only she had had my “Florida Gardening, Newcomer’s Survival Guide,” and “Herbs and Spices for Florida Gardens” sooner, she would have saved hundreds of dollars.
But since she has lived here for 44 years, she has gone way past me in many ways. I never see her without learning something exciting and important. And I never even talk to her on the phone without feeling new energy and inspiration.
Here are some of the things I learned at the Spice Faire:
• Putting aloe on exposed skin before you go out in the sun will protect you from sunburn. See more about aloe below.
• Eating bananas invites mosquitoes. I guess I’ll just have to swat, because I can’t resist bananas, especially homegrown.
• The leaves and small daisy flowers of Spanish needles or Bidens are edible and good for digestion. This is a common weed, but it is also good for butterflies so save a bit and use it well.
Today’s pick is comfrey, also called knit bone. When I found its many uses, I was appalled that I had not learned about it in college. In Ohio and Iowa, it was a standard herb to add to every kettle of tomato juice or to make a tea for any ailment of man or beast. It doesn’t grow quite as well here as it does up North but I have a nice bunch at the moment that has been there a few years, and if it disappears I’ll find more.
It’s a perennial, drought resistant, grows in light shade and thrives on considerable neglect. Willow told me to put some leaves in one of the rain-gathering buckets and let it rot. The worse it smells, the better it is for watering other plants and helping them thrive. The fact that cats and dogs go right to that bucket to drink tells us something.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 12 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.