I promised in last week’s column to surprise you with the best thing about Rhonda and Jeff Williams’ garden. It’s adjacent to her parents’ garden.
And the biggest and most pleasant surprise to me was that Rhonda Williams’ parents, Ronnie and Linda Ory, bought their home and garden from my good friend, the late Bill Streit. Many of my readers will remember a column or two about that garden, and many also have visited there.
Donna and Bill Streit moved to Panama several years ago where they built another garden. Bill died of cancer in December 2009.
Before he sold his Brandon property, he told me that his full-time gardener, Guadalupe Perez, was part of the package for at least a year. Linda Ory says they would not have purchased the place unless Lupe would stay. He is still there and doing a wonderful job. The Orys can go away for weeks and know that all is well in the garden at home.
There have been a some changes. When the Orys saw how nice it was to have an outdoor, screened-in cabana and outdoor kitchen and TV at their daughter’s house, they screened in from the back of the house over the pool and much of the garden behind it. They also moved the gazebo that held the hot tub close enough to be within the screening.
Because there were so many tropical plants, after the two very cold winters a few years ago it took six men six weeks to remove the damage and replace the plantings. The beautiful tiger grass along the side fence was lost in freezes. They replaced many of the tropicals with azaleas and camellias that have done well.
The bamboo garden was one of Bill Streit’s last projects here. He had a wall of cement block buried deep in the ground all around this garden so the roots couldn’t escape, and then planted several different kinds of clump bamboos. Even so, Lupe has to prune the clumps to keep them in hand, but they are truly lovely.
The small enclosed patio on the side of the house with the koi pond and waterfall still has the same design and some of the same fish, grown larger now. A raccoon managed to get in even over the high wall and remove one, so now there is a hot wire on top of the wall. There has been no carnage since.
Some of the gargoyles are gone and some more gentle statues like St. Francis decorate the garden. The greenhouse is still in use, currently full of bromeliads.
Linda Ory brought her own staghorn fern, which hangs in the front garden. She bought it in Louisiana in 1974. The stromanthe and knockout roses in the front are new and gorgeous.
There is a tennis court behind the garden that has a tall wire fence covered with sky vines. These somewhat invasive plants produce some of God’s best blue flowers. Bill Streit must be extra happy in heaven. It makes me happy just to think of this garden and the ones who keep it so well.
Today’s pick is the Stromanthe, one of the most beautiful of foliage plants. It likes plenty of shade and water to do its best, though some of mine have survived with very little watering. I was not familiar with this plant when I wrote “Shade Gardening for Florida,” and when it first appeared I only found it in $40 pots. So I didn’t get it right away. But once the price came down to $16, I bought one and later two or three more. They lasted through the two last freezes and have finally spread enough that I have divided them and even had some at my last sale. They have flowers that are very nice but the foliage is their glory.
Now’s the time... to get ready for the next big growing season. Remove anything from plants that have either overspread or under-satisfied so you’ll have room for new plants or just less crowding. Be ready with sheets and blankets or frost cloths should Jack Frost threaten, and move your treasures close to the house and bunch them for covering. Take cuttings from pentas and other plants in ground.
This is also a good time to try some of those container gardens as houseplants. I find the bromeliads, devil’s backbone and the sansevierias do very well for me. I’ll keep trying some others, because plants indoors are good for our health.
The Tampa Bay Orchid Society will meet on Jan. 16 at Christ the King Catholic Church McLaughlin Center, 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the meeting starts at 6:30. Francisco Miranda of Miranda Orchids in Haines City will talk. He specializes in Brazilian species.
Refreshments will be provided. There will be plants for sale, a plant raffle, a bloom table where experts will discuss each plant and an educational segment. The meeting is open to the public. For more information and directions please visit tampabayorchidsociety.shutterfly.com or call (813) 839-4959.
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.