Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell's inspiration for her 1970 hit Big Yellow Taxi was a huge parking lot in Honolulu, but it could just as easily have been Seminole. With one strip shopping center after another and big box stores with parking galore, this Pinellas County city indeed fits Mitchell's description:
Someone paved paradise to put up a parking lot.
In the old days, Seminole was Florida country. Open spaces, moss-draped oaks and so many pine trees that it's no wonder that Pinellas was named for them. Wildlife meant eagles, hawks, herons and other birds, plus plenty of critters like raccoons and opossum.
These days, wild refers to navigating your way along busy Seminole Boulevard or finding a parking spot at Seminole Mall.
But not all is lost. Seminole has lakes and parks, plus its share of the Pinellas Trail. There are even a few jewels just off the beaten path, if you know where to look. Historic "Holloway Haven," a 2-acre residence next to Seminole City Park, is paradise in the concrete jungle.
Took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum. And charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em.
Mitchell's song refers to a downtown garden in Honolulu, but it might as well be about Holloway Haven, which is open to visitors Sunday during the Rare Plant Network's Garden Tour and Plant Sale. At just a $1 donation, it's an even better deal.
The tour, which features a rare plant market, is as much about celebrating the unique and unusual as stepping back in time. The Holloway property, with hundreds of live oaks, ponds, cottages built in the 1950s and plenty of old-fashioned plants, is about as close as you can get to experiencing old Florida in Pinellas County.
The property was developed more than 50 years ago by a wealthy family from Chicago and included several cottages for family and friends who visited from up North. Meares Lake is across the street on city-owned property that was the original homestead of Albert and Dell Meares, who raised their 10 children there in the late 1800s.
"We feel like we are caretakers of it all. We just want to preserve it. It's old Florida, and you can't experience that anymore," says Sandy Holloway, a member of the Rare Plant Network. She grew up in Madeira Beach and settled at the Seminole property 42 years ago.
It's landscaped with all kinds of rare and not-so-rare plants, including fruit trees, bromeliads, orchids, cactus, ferns, flowering vines and more. There are old plants, such as the 50-year-old jasmine cascading through the oaks and the night-blooming cereus twisting high into the massive trees.
Garden paths meander throughout the property. Take one path to the seating area under a grape arbor, another to the screened gazebo with a brick oven for smoking poultry. There are aviaries, ponds and rock gardens. Hammocks are hung here and there, while creatively refurbished furniture and decor are at home outdoors.
All is quiet in this garden sanctuary, except for the occasional crow of a pair of roaming roosters and a white peacock named Capote. Stay awhile and you'll spot all types of birds and butterflies.
Holloway created the gardens with her partner, Andy Drombolis, an accomplished painter whose colorful oil landscapes will be on display at the tour. Like art, gardening is creative expression, although it's painted in nature, not on canvas. And unlike one of Drombolis' paintings, it is always changing.
"It's like a painting you never finish," Holloway says of the gardens. "It's a work in progress."
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a Pinellas County master gardener. Contact her at email@example.com.