Maybe it's just icing on the cake, but I ask you this: Who wants cake without icing?
I'm talking about the new plants in the medians at the southern entrance to Brooksville, all of them beautiful and tough:
Magnolias, a Florida native; coontie, commonly known as the fossil plant because it has survived since the dinosaur era; a rose hybrid called the knockout — as brilliantly red as old varieties but much hardier; society garlic, which looks like liriope but releases chemicals that retard subterranean pests.
Then there are several beds of plumbago, a personal favorite because it blooms almost all year and because even my black thumb can't kill it, which means it is very, very tough.
The work, which fills the medians of the State Road 50 bypass and U.S. 41 south of downtown, was completed this week by Paff Landscape of Brooksville for $56,000, nearly $100,000 less than the state Department of Transportation had set aside for it.
Because of the choice of plants — which, unlike the previous, more delicate bunch, are expected to survive — maintenance should also be a relative bargain.
This kind of work is, of course, called "beautification," a term I'm not sure I like. It makes it sound superficial, frivolous, something that could painlessly be cut in a lean year.
Which is just what the County Commission is thinking of doing to a similar project.
Ten years ago, residents and businesses helped the DOT cover the $91,000 cost of dressing up what is known as the county's Gateway, the stretch of SR 50 that greets drivers at Interstate 75. Earlier this week, commissioners put off a vote on whether to continue to maintain these plantings at an annual cost of $14,000 or, for $4,500, dig them up and cover the ground with sod.
Here's one reason that second option is a bad idea: It would betray the trust of the all the residents who chipped in to improve the Gateway back in 1999.
Another reason? Well, just look closer at the SR 50/U.S. 41 intersection. On three corners are shopping centers dating from the 1980s, when local landscaping ordinances didn't demand much of builders and blank expanses of asphalt were considered perfectly fine.
Describing what this is — bland, faceless — never works as well as describing what it isn't: comforting, inviting, and (definitely not) beautiful.
Now compare it to the newer, tree-shaded section of shopping center in front of Publix, and the intersection itself, where the city and DOT had previously installed sidewalks and lines of crape myrtles and that, with the new plantings, has started to look like an urban corner rather than a forbidding highway crossroads.
It may not quite be inviting, but it's a lot closer than it used to be. See, people crave sights that connect them with either the natural world or a community, and good landscaping can do both. It can decide whether we look out our car window and think "What a dump!'' or, as we are more likely to do now, "Hey! Pretty nice!''
That goes for potential home buyers, and people thinking of relocating a business, and those of us who drive by every day and just want to feel good about where we live. That's why beautification is important. Because beauty is important.