Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Greg Charles, a.k.a. 'Dr. Hort'

Times gardening columnist Greg Charles, a.k.a. 'Dr. Hort,' dies at 59

ST. PETERSBURG — Greg Charles never seemed to stop thinking about plants. In this peninsular, southernmost state proud of its native species, he taught everyday gardeners, students and professional landscapers with professorial zeal.

At Pinellas Technical Education Centers, where he taught more than 30 years and was the longtime director of its horticulture program, Mr. Charles was the bearded man ("I do enough pruning at work," he would say) in collarless shirts decorated with bugs or butterflies or roses.

Tampa Bay Times readers know Mr. Charles as the author of "Ask Dr. Hort," a weekly gardening column in the Sunday HomeLink section. Until two weeks ago, he was their diagnostician and consumer watchdog, offering tips on fighting diseases and insects. Mr. Charles, who won multiple countywide teacher-of-the-year awards while at PTEC, died at home Aug. 28, of cardiac arrest. He was 59.

"His name is definitely synonymous with education and the horticulture industry in the entire state," said Merry Mott, who directs industry certification for the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association.

He knew genus and species, always including the Latin name, along with potting soils and poisons.

"He was the go-to person for anyone who had any question of any kind about plants," said former PTEC student Debby Laramee, 53. "He just knew everything."

Other ex-students have gone on to start their own landscaping and pest control businesses.

One of those, Phillippe Piquet, opened Twigs & Leaves eight years ago. Co-owner Michael Manlowe described Mr. Charles as an ecological advocate who fought against invasive species and was an expert in native Florida plants.

"When you think about all the landscapers he's influenced who have taken his class, it's humbling," said Manlowe, 48.

Gregory Joseph Charles was born in Sarasota in 1954. He went to the University of Florida intending to become a pharmacist, but became disillusioned after working at a drugstore. Unlike surly customers, plants wouldn't talk back, he later told students — "and you won't get arrested if they die on you."

He started at PTEC in 1978. Mr. Charles welcomed all types of students, making time for inmates and teenagers with shaky track records.

In 1991, he married former student Leslie Waters, his second marriage. She sewed more than 200 open-collar medical scrub shirts for him with designs that represented holidays or the subjects of his lectures.

On vacation, they visited the world's great gardens, bringing back seeds to plant around their Broadwater home. Now more than 60 species of plants line all sides. Mr. Charles cultivated sugar cane and apricot and macadamia trees; bananas, mangos and pecans; sage and mint and rosemary.

The couple also enjoyed a property in Cedar Key, a refuge until 2009, when Mr. Charles fell down stairs and was paralyzed below his chest. He spent six months in a rehabilitation center. Mr. Charles started writing "Ask Dr. Hort" in December 2009.

In the meantime, he worked out with weights, regaining much upper body movement. He spent hours in the yard again, pruning and weeding from a motorized chair. His spirits were so good doctors worried he was in denial.

On Wednesday, Waters stood beneath a loquat tree as tall as the house and with yellow flowers, the result of seeds they once brought back from Paris. A few feet away, a zebra longwing butterfly paused on a firebush and sucked out the nectar of the flower.

"Our lives were meshed together," she said. "I can't imagine being without him."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Gregory Joseph Charles

Born: Aug. 10, 1954

Died: Aug. 28, 2013

Survivors: wife, Leslie K. Waters; sons Ryan, Mat and Corey Charles; daughter, Michelle Koceja; sister, Linda Johnston; six grandchildren.

Celebration of life: 9 a.m. Oct. 6; Sunken Gardens, 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. In lieu of flowers, the family recommends donations to the Gregory J. Charles FNGLA scholarship. Email deblaramee2002@yahoo.com to reach the Pinellas FNGLA chapter.

Times gardening columnist Greg Charles, a.k.a. 'Dr. Hort,' dies at 59 09/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 11:48am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Culpepper falls just short on 'Survivor' finale

    Human Interest

    In the end, Tampa lawyer Brad Culpepper fell just short, and the ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneer lost Survivor: Game Changers and the $1 million prize to Sarah Lacina, a police officer from Iowa.

  2. Families dispute claims that slain Tampa Palms roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs

    Crime

    TAMPA — Andrew Oneschuk never liked making small talk on the phone, his father said, but the last time the two spoke, something seemed off.

    Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman lived in a Tampa Palms apartment with Devon Arthurs and Brandon Russell. Oneschuk and Himmelman reportedly planned to move out.
  3. Brad Culpepper makes it to final 3 on Survivor, but jury picks Sarah

    The Feed

    UPDATE, WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Tampa's Brad Culpepper make it to the final 3 on Survivor, but jurors chose Sarah as the winner of the $1 million.

    Original report follows:

    "The Tables Have Turned" - Brad Culpepper, Tai Trang and Hali Ford on the fourth episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Jeffrey Neira/CBS Entertainment
  4. Steven Souza Jr. snaps out of slump as Rays defeat Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After Tuesday's shutout loss to the Angels, Steven Souza Jr. stood in front of his locker and talked about his need to contribute to the offense.

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (45) hugs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout after his two run home run in the second inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
  5. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]