Thursday, May 24, 2018
Home and Garden

Repurposed items, gifted plants and rocks dot a yard full of surprises

Perfect circles of granite, cut from bathroom countertops for the sinks in a new subdivision, now form a garden path in New Port Richey.

Industrial-grade glass light coverings from a North Carolina factory have new lives as durable ground-light covers, as do globes from retired streetlights.

"The hose glides right over them!" says Larry James.

His 40- by 20-foot back yard, with its dramatic centerpiece candelabra — a 15-plus-foot angel's trumpet tree dripping with pendant blooms — is stuffed with blossoms and repurposed Americana. And it's all firmly rooted in fertile imaginations and the love of friends and family. With all that, who needs dirt?

"I don't buy a lot of plants," Larry says. "Most of what I have people gave me or I traded for. All the rocks, people bring them to me. My sister's husband drove a tow truck in North Carolina. He'd see a rock and throw it in the truck for me.

"My boss flew from Maine with that," he says, pointing to a distinctive, 18-inch spear-shaped specimen. "Airport security wasn't happy."

It's easy to see why people haul rocks all over the country, give loads of plants and invite garden writers (okay, just one that I know of) to visit Larry and his partner of 33 years, Jim Crouch. These are two seriously fun and charming guys. And their garden?

It's packed with surprises!

Eileen Clougher, Larry's co-worker at Pasco County Utilities, sent me an email with enticing photos and suggested (strongly encouraged) that I visit Larry's garden.

"It's beautiful, you'll love it," she wrote. "But don't tell him I wrote you. He doesn't know and he might get mad at me."

Hmm, Eileen. I'm hooked but ... awkward!

I emailed Larry and begged him not to do something crazy, like shutting off Eileen's water. He responded that she lives in Brooksville — well beyond his retaliatory reach.

And, really, he's just not that kinda guy.

As it turned out, Eileen was right there when I visited Larry and Jim recently, happily helping to point out highlights and snapping three photos for every one of mine.

So here's the story.

Larry and Jim bought their circa 1963 home near Grand Boulevard 30 years ago. It was a bland little house with a boring strip of bare back yard, they say. Over the years, they renovated. Jim, the purchasing supervisor for Florida's HCA hospitals, is a skilled carpenter and the wizard of their home and garden's hardscape.

"There wasn't even a back door,'' Larry says. "We put up a fence and started just planting along it. Nothing was planned. It was more like, 'Oh! We need something in the middle there!' "

Inserts Jim: "What really got us going was when we put the pond in." The two-tiered Sam's Club purchase burbles at the foot of the angel's trumpet.

Back to Larry: "The garden started to get closer and closer to the house."

Jim built a back porch for lazy evenings watching the encroaching vegetation. With its tin roof and North Carolina yard sale rocking chairs, it gives these Pennsylvania natives the mountain feel they yearn for.

Larry, the green thumb, follows no rules. He loves growing staghorn ferns — monstrous things! Fourteen of them form a thick hedge on the southern edge of the garden, balanced on old chairs and pots. (I love this idea — skull-thumpers dangling from oak limbs scare me!)

Pink, purple and white vinca cascade from containers atop retro farm tools, including the grape-picking cart Jim used as a schoolboy to earn pocket money. Florida morning glories and candlestick cassia provide daylong purple and yellow color, and pudgy Buddha belly jatropha add a tropical flair.

A Jim-built wooden outdoor shower, open to the garden, gets used daily — a tranquil way to wake up or wind down.

"We don't plan a thing," Larry tells me.

I believe him.

"It all just happens," he says.

No way.

Reach Penny Carnathan at [email protected] Read more of her garden tales at or join the garden chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.