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Tampa area artisans offer garden gifts for the budget-minded

Frugal gardener that I am, I started my holiday shopping months ago. But here we are, 12 days till Christmas, and I'm still hunting down gifts that ooze love and thoughtfulness — preferably at less than 20 bucks a pop.

You, too, huh?

Fortunately, most giftees enjoy garden-inspired presents — so much easier for me — even if they're not gardeners.

Give a self-proclaimed plant slayer a fun mix of succulents that you've potted up in a container with good drainage and a 50-50 mix of potting soil and perlite, and you've given the gift of life! (And maybe turned that brown thumb a snappy green.)

What foodie doesn't appreciate fresh herbs? Especially easy ones (mint, parsley, basil) in attractive containers with a side of fish emulsion for organic fertilizing.

Anything recycled, upcycled or repurposed qualifies as "garden-inspired" in my book. That includes great yard art, the little black dress for ailing landscapes. Would your giftee appreciate a funky metal sculpture to distract from her brown plumbagos? (Best not to mention the haggard shrubs on your gift card!)

If you're looking for inspired, last-minute gifts, these locals offer well-crafted, unique products at affordable prices. I've purchased from all of them, and loved the people, their prices and their products.

Wishing you weld

Jeffrey DeBlasio — He Who Metals — imagines all kinds of possibilities in discarded auto and bike parts, tools, silverware. In the garage shop behind his home in Seminole Heights, he brings those visions to life every evening, after he has punched out from his day job.

His biggest sellers are wind chimes made from elegant old silverware dangling from almost any hub you can imagine: cats and dogs, coffeepots and Coke bottles, fishing reels. They're all $23. I love his plant stakes. He flattens spoons and engraves them with plant names (blackened to stand out), from "tomatoes" to "weeds," and helpful reminders like "Feed me." At just $5 each, they're a classy way to dress up a potted gift.

Jeffrey's forte is fun sculptures, all priced at less than $100.

"What you see on the website ( has usually been sold, and most of those pieces I can't reproduce in exactly the same way," he says. "But most people don't shop on the website. They come out to where I'm selling, see something and fall in love with it."

Jeffrey will be at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Road, Tampa, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, he'll be at the Seminole Heights Morning Market at Hillsborough High School, 5000 N Central Ave., Tampa, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. He also sells from home; call (813) 928-0803, or email hewho

Get folksy with flair

I spent a long time poring over Melody Swindle's robots made from vintage tins and her '50s and '60s soda bottle vases, all mounted on wood for hanging on a wall or fence.

I took so long, I felt bad for my friends, who'd arrived earlier at the Seminole Heights Morning Market and had already shopped Melody's Heart and Soul booth.

"You guys go on — I'll catch up," I called to them.

"No, no, we'll wait!" they called back.

I turned to see what they were doing. One was looking through birdhouses roofed with license plates and accessorized with silverware and drawer handles. The other was fondling 3-dimensional wall-hangings created from yard stick sections and bottle caps.

Melody's crafts delight the eye — and the pocketbook. A graphic designer by training, she says she started out doing serious art.

"But I'm not a serious person. I'm a folk artist."

She uses Scrabble tiles and clockworks, old stair bannister posts and fence planks to create detailed works with a joyful aesthetic.

Those birdhouses are $23; bird feeder/waterers made from tea sets and stair bannisters are $9. I bought a 3-dimensional piece to hang for $22 — and later went back for more.

Melody will be at the Saturday Morning Market, 100 First St. SE, St. Petersburg, on Saturday and at ArtPool's Crafty Fest, 2030 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 21. She'll also sell from her home and deliver for free in the Tampa Bay area. Contact her at website,

Who doesn't love stuff?

I met Rita Lichtenwalter and her daughters, Barb and Sue — Our Stuff — at the Ybor City Saturday Market a few months ago.

These three love hanging out on their porch in Brandon, yacking and turning trash into art.

"We don't put hardly any money into our stuff; that's why it's inexpensive," says Rita, a longtime gardener.

Garden signs — "Grow dammit!" "Garden of eatin' ," "Welcome pirates!" — made from recycled wood are Our Stuff's bestsellers at $5 each. But the trio have so much more: 3-dimensional picture frames filled with colored glass, tea towels stamped and painted with birds and ladybugs, dragonflies made from palm fronds.

Our Stuff has been at the Ybor City Saturday Market, 1901 N 19th St., Tampa, for seven years. It's open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Reach Rita at or call (813) 651-1424.

Reach Penny Carnathan at Find more local garden stories on her blog,; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt, or follow her on Twitter, @DigginPenny.

Old favorites: I've written about these folks in the past. They're still great!

• Garden Whimsies by Mary sells garden sculptures handcrafted from scavenged ceramics; $18 to $65; free local delivery. Information: garden; mary@gardenwhimsiesby; (813) 928-9124.

• Bill Hebert sharpens and cleans tools and knives for $5 or less each. He'll be at the Temple Terrace Winter Wonderland, Woodmark Park, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 14. He also works from home; call (813) 986-1568 or email

• Give a gift certificate for David Whitwam's hands-on help building a raised bed, setting up a microirrigation system or anything else your gardener desires; $75 (a portion will be applied to mileage). Information:; (813) 803-0024;

Tampa area artisans offer garden gifts for the budget-minded 12/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 2:18pm]
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