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Grow the garden you envy

Northern transplants Ken and Linda Garrity did a lot of homework on Florida foliage before designing and landscaping their yard in St. Petersburg.

YVONNE SWANSON | Special to the Times

Northern transplants Ken and Linda Garrity did a lot of homework on Florida foliage before designing and landscaping their yard in St. Petersburg.

Some people make gardening look so simple. They choose the right plants, put them in the right places, provide the right amount of TLC and voila! Their gardens are picture-perfect. No weeds. No brown edges. No drooping.

They plant a 3-foot Australian fern and two years later, it's at least 10 feet tall and thriving. You planted the same fern, but it's barely inching along.

The $20 bougainvillea vine they set by the back wall has worked its way to the roof line and produces so many blooms it could easily make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Yours is still bouncing back from a windy cold spell last winter, but even in its best days it never looked so good.

Is it the plants, the growing conditions, or are some people just a whole lot better at gardening than others?

The tropical garden at Ken and Linda Garrity's vintage Mediterranean home in St. Petersburg's Old Northeast neighborhood is a perfect example. It's lush, thriving, colorful and surprisingly only about 2 years old. Originally from the Boston area, the couple bought the house in 2005 and completely relandscaped the back yard, adding outdoor patio spaces and walkways.

You'd think that being Northern transplants, the Garritys would go about Florida gardening in all the wrong ways. Just about every gardener new to Florida has a story about planting the wrong flower in the worst possible spot at the wrong time. It usually takes a planting season or two to catch on to subtropical gardening.

But the Garritys got it right the first time because they did their homework.

Linda checked out local garden centers and home stores with outdoor accessories. Together they read Florida gardening books and scanned the Internet. They visited Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. They shopped at a plant show at the University of South Florida in Tampa and at the Green Thumb Festival in St. Petersburg. (This year's festival is today and Sunday; see the Garden Calendar, Page 4F, for details.)

Closer to home, they walked around the neighborhood to look at the plants their neighbors were growing. They learned about palms at the outdoor Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum in North Shore Park, just a few blocks from their home.

"We had landscape companies come and look, but we knew we liked our own tastes best," says Linda Garrity, who loved growing summer ferns and coleus up North and is delighted they're year-round fare in Florida. Mixed with an assortment of tropicals, including bromeliads, ginger, hibiscus, jasmine, palms and flowering vines, the Garrity garden is exactly what Northerners picture when they dream of a Florida vacation.

Ken Garrity, a retired civil engineer, designed and assembled the red cedar pergola, which was crafted by a New England company and shipped in pieces. It lightly shades one of the two outdoor patios where the Garritys relax and entertain.

"We start our day out here with coffee and breakfast," says Linda Garrity. "In the evening we're out here with a cocktail or wine."

Sounds like the perfect place.

You can get ideas from the Garritys' garden and see several others May 4 at the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Garden Stroll (see accompanying box), which showcases lush landscape designs, native and exotic plants, creative patios and unique water features and garden accessories.

Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.


Stroll the gardens

The Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Garden Stroll, noon to 4 p.m. May 4, features private garden tours and free admission to Sunken Gardens that day. Advance tickets are $10 and available at these retailers:

• Dolin's Garden Center, 801 62nd Ave. N, Jene's Tropicals, 6831 Central Ave., Marion's, 1301 Fourth St. N, Savannah's Nursery, 2601 34th St. S, and Twigs and Leaves, 1013 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, all in St. Petersburg;

• Bloom, 3005 S MacDill Ave., Tampa.

Day of stroll tickets are $15 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 126 11th Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

For details, call (727) 825-0479 or visit

Grow the garden you envy 04/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2008 4:31am]
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