I'm going to a party Saturday, and you're invited!
Florida Friendly Landscaping 101 sounds like a class, and yes, you'll likely learn a few things, but if you've ever spent time at the Hillsborough County Extension, you know a get-together there is more like a family reunion than a day at school.
This year, extension agent Lynn Barber is expecting more people than ever.
"If the economic downturn did one good thing, it got more people returning to home vegetable gardening," she says. "Two years ago when we did this, we had 30 people show up. We were disappointed. This year, we've had more than 200 preregister."
The downside? If you haven't already signed up and you go anyway — which you are more than welcome to do — you may not be able to get into the scheduled talks and presentations. Those who've registered get priority, and when the various venues are full, they have to close the doors — fire code rules.
But there's still plenty you can take advantage of. Lots of information booths and vendors will be on hand, including Our Vital Earth from Apopka, which will have everything worm — from vermicomposting kits to ready-to-use worm castings.
"Worm poop. I love it," Lynn says. "I mix it with potting soil from the big-box stores and my plants are all smiling."
Get all your herb questions answered and pick up some top-quality plants from D&D Growers of Lithia. Grace's Hydro-Organic Garden Center will be there, too. You can get your tools sharpened, buy some beautiful yard art, and meet popular Florida gardening author Monica Brandies.
Guided tours of the Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden are scheduled for 10:15 and 11:45 a.m., or just walk through on your own; everything's labeled. The garden (which is beautiful) has every type of condition you might find in your own yard — from deep shade to bog to full sun. You'll discover which plants thrive where. (Don't forget your notebook and pen; if your memory is anything like mine, you'll want to write down the names!)
The event is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the extension office, 5339 County Road 579 in Seffner (Interstate 4, Exit 10, then south a half-mile).
Lynn says the speakers' topics address today's popular trends. Cheap is a way of life for me, not a trend, so when she said master gardener Virginia Overstreet will share tips for "the frugal gardener," I gave Virginia a call. (Heck, if you go and can't get into her talk, just reread this column!)
Virginia has been an extension volunteer since 2001 and a staff member since 2010. And cheap? She may have me beat!
"Everyone who wants to save money starts cuttings and that's a great idea, but not the only one," she says.
One of her favorite tricks is scouting the curbside leavings on the day before a trash pickup.
"Old iron or aluminum tables make great plant stands. So what if they're rusty or have something bent? They're going to be out in your garden. You don't care what it looks like," she says.
Pots with cracks or chips, half-bags of potting soil and fertilizer, even plants are among the riches folks put out for the garbage collectors.
Virginia's personal favorite?
"I find tropical plants that people have used as indoor plants. They've left them in the original black plastic pots they came in, so they start going downhill in a few months," she says. "They put them out with the trash, and they're still alive, but they don't look so good."
Virginia brings them home, gives them a hard prune, a roomier container and fertilizer.
"They come back most of the time."
Plant swaps are a great way to add to your landscaping for nothing. Some of what you get are old-fashioned diehards that can be hard to find at nurseries. (A Tampa swap is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. Aug. 25. Email email@example.com for details.)
Looking for every opportunity to learn is important.
"Get a library card!" Virginia says. "We have an awesome public library system. There are all kinds of great books on Florida gardening."
She also likes a certain column in the Tampa Bay Times (ahem!), local blogs and even Facebook fan pages devoted to gardening.
On the Internet, when you're searching for information, add "IFAS" to your search words, she suggests. (It stands for the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.)
"That will get you information endorsed by the university's horticultural staff."
Of course, we can't talk frugal gardening without mentioning the basics: planting the right Florida-friendly plants in the right places to begin with.
"If you follow the nine principles of Florida-friendly landscaping, your plants will live and thrive," Virginia says. "You won't be replacing them; you won't have a high water bill; you won't be overfertilizing."
Read up on the nine principles at fyn.ifas.ufl.edu.
And now that you've learned something, you can be all party Saturday!
Reach Penny Carnathan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more local gardening tales at digginfladirt.com or join the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.