NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL — Four years ago, Miriam Lykes took a look at her back yard and decided it needed a makeover.
In a Charleston-meets-Tampa sort of way.
The new garden features tailored iron sofas and chairs accented with bright lime-green-and-blue cushions, antique orbs and a row of elegant ligustrum trees for privacy.
The old garden, well, wasn't a garden at all.
"At the time, it had literally turned into a bayou," said Lykes, who has four sons, ages 11 to 18. "They loved to play football and baseball out here, and everyone was always going home with black knees."
So Lykes, who was raised on Lookout Mountain, Tenn., and whose mother loved to grow everything from jonquils to vegetables, decided she wanted a no-fuss garden area with a few formal Southern touches where the family could entertain and hang out.
The finished garden features an outdoor living space decorated with vintage brick salvaged from Georgia. A columned, covered sitting area mimics the sweeping front porch of the Lykeses' 1928 colonial-style home.
There's a pool long enough for laps that includes a spitting gargoyle fountain at one end and a kitchen garden where Lykes' husband, Christopher — a passionate New Orleans-inspired cook — grows herbs.
The garden includes also what may well qualify as the world's most attractive basketball play area that features more touches of old brick and a basketball hoop that can't be seen from the front of the house.
"We use it a lot. We love to watch games out here — basket ball and football," says Lykes, who is opening the garden from 4 to 6 p.m. April 20 for the annual Amaryllis Garden Circle Tour.
The popular late afternoon tour, which last year drew more than 300 visitors, will be held entirely along Prospect Road in New Suburb Beautiful.
It spotlights five gardens, including that of Julie Brown, former Tampa City Council candidate. Brown's garden is an ideal spot for entertaining and neighborhood events, says Molly Siegenthaler, tour co-chairwoman.
"They love to entertain, and it shows the moment you walk into the back yard," says Siegenthaler, who adds that the yard, which features a built-in bar and grill, pool and pool house, offers a good lesson in how to maximize a small space "and turn it into a tropical paradise."
Highlights of other gardens include one with a real, working shuffleboard court and fountain area.
"It's well-done tropical with polish that hasn't become a jungle," Siegenthaler says. It also features a deck where the couple's English bulldogs hang out and hunt for lizards.
Another garden on the tour is a certified Florida Friendly yard with lots of native plants, a rose garden, koi pond and wrap-around back porch.
The tickets, which are $10, include wine, lemonade and hors d'oeuvres.
Weatherly Bentley, another New Suburb Beautiful resident, says the tour's appeal may have more to do with its "close neighborhood feel" even though it draws visitors from all over the area.
"It's relaxed and informal with lots of chatting among neighbors and friends from across Tampa," Bentley says. "Because it's held in such a small space, people chat up and down the streets as they walk under the oaks from house to house.
"Since you really only have to park once, it's easier for someone with a baby stroller or for an older person who has a hard time getting in and out of a car a lot."
The event is one of several such tours in the Tampa Bay area that offer a rare public glimpse into some of the area's most beautiful gardens and outdoor living spaces.
The Lykeses' garden area was designed to flow seamlessly with the historical feel of the house but also provide a comfortable area for entertaining.
It has already lived up to its promise, Miriam says.
Just recently the family hosted about 100 people from the youth group at St. John's Episcopal Church. It's also a great space for quiet family time.
"I love that we can gather back here on the porch and look at the pool and the garden," she says. "It's so serene and peaceful."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.