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A Mother's Day gift idea: a container garden filled with love

Bloom Garden Shop owner Julie Lohoefener creates container gardens that she sells at her South Tampa shop.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Bloom Garden Shop owner Julie Lohoefener creates container gardens that she sells at her South Tampa shop.

You now have no excuse for waiting till next Saturday to pick up a Mother's Day card at the supermarket and a gift card from the carousel by the checkout to give Mom on May 13.

Do you really think that's payment for services rendered?

As a mom, and the daughter of the best mom ever, let me assure you: It's not. I could go on (and on) about 3 a.m. stomach bug cleanups and white-knuckle drives with drivers in training. But I wouldn't want to make any kid, age 6 or 66, feel guilty. We moms don't play that. (No, we don't. No arguing!)

So, it's my mission today — more than a week before Mother's Day, plenty of time! — to give you some ideas. If your mom lives within driving distance of Tampa Bay, this is for you. If she's farther away and you plan a visit, you're off the hook; your gift is your presence. And if your mom is no longer with us, how about planting a perennial or tree in her memory? Take care of it as she took care of you, and she'll feel the love. (So will you.)

For those of us lucky enough to be with our mothers next weekend, here's a gift idea from readers. They suggest I visit Julie Lohoefener, co-owner with husband, Chad, of Bloom Garden Shop, 3005 S MacDill Ave., in Tampa, for tips on creating the container gardens that are the shop's signature dish, so to speak.

Bloom draws gardeners from throughout the Tampa Bay area for its unusual inventory, including plants — I spotted rex begonias, Amaranthus caudatus (love lies bleeding), and African blue basil last week. It's also well regarded for its accessories and garden art. In addition to the shop, Chad, Julie, her mom and dad, Evie and John Burks; sister, Jill Burks-Sanders; and a half-dozen employees offer landscaping and decorations for events, including weddings.

But what they're best known for are innovative container gardens filled with unexpected plant combinations.

"We can't keep them in stock," says Julie, 42, who grew up in Dade City, where a park bears her great-grandfather's name, and her parents owned Casa Verde wholesale nursery. Her dad is a past president of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association.

"My mom is really the innovator. I learned it from her," Julie says. "She waves a magic wand and makes everything pretty."

Ready-made "pickup-and-go's," as Julie calls them, are available throughout Bloom. Or, customers can drop off their own containers — called check-ins — for custom creations.

"The check-ins are a huge part of our business," Julie says. "People bring in all kinds of containers, including gorgeous old antiques."

How does she keep all those customers coming back? Julie gave me a demonstration — and tips for you.

• Choose an unusual, whimsical container or one with special meaning. For her how-to, Julie chose a funky metal faux birdbath topped with a removable birdcage-type dome. If your container doesn't have drainage holes (like the birdbath), you'll need to warn Mom to water judiciously. "You can always add water — you can't remove water once you've added it," Julie says. Before watering, stick your finger in the soil, all the way to the bottom if you can, to see if it's wet or dry.

• Use a light, airy potting mix. Fafard Organic Potting Mix is the official Bloom dirt. "When you pick up a bag of potting mix, it shouldn't feel like you're lifting a dead body," Julie says. "I like Fafard because it's nice and light."

• Choose your centerpiece plant, which will guide the rest of your selections. Julie started with two miniature phalaenopsis orchids sporting fuchsia flowers. Behind these she inserted a silver lace pteris fern; the light-colored foliage makes a dramatic backdrop for the power-pink blooms, she says. She added an heirloom miniature African violet with dainty, pale pink blossoms; a peperomia with deep rose-colored veins; a miniature caladium; and pink splash — Hypoestes phyllostachya. "I looked for touches of pink to complement the orchids," she says.

• Finally, moss, moss and more moss! "People are nuts over moss. We use a boatload," Julie says. "If I were going to rename this store, I'd call it Moss." Treated sheet moss — it's not living — finishes most of Bloom's container gardens. It's available in a variety of colors, from deep forest green to popular lime green. Use fuzzy green moss wire, if necessary, to subtly hold things together.

Julie's finished birdbath garden will be priced at about $75. If you were to create it, using your own container, it would cost you about $45, she says.

Other container garden ideas:

"Fairy gardens are really, really popular now," she says. "Growers have renamed their 2-inch 'terrarium minis' — they're calling them 'fairy garden plants' now. Add dollhouse furniture and other miniatures."

As Tampa heats up, so do sales of succulents, she says.

"People like cactus, agaves, stuff that can handle the heat. They make beautiful container gardens."

Finish with monochromatic stones or sea glass.

So, what does Julie plan for her own mom for Mother's Day?

"My mom is definitely my role model. She has always been so supportive and inspiring," Julie says. "For Mother's Day, I love to pay a surprise visit to her courtyard garden, adding new plants and perhaps a new garden ornament.

"A good mom is all about the time she gives, so I want to give her something unique and thoughtful. I try to give her my time."

Ahem!

Penny Carnathan can be reached at penlyn1@tampabay.rr.com. Find more local gardening stories and photos at digginfladirt or join the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.

A Mother's Day gift idea: a container garden filled with love 05/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:30am]

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