Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

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 [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments
Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough C...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA — One highlight of a congressional delegation’s visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

Hillsborough commissioners ask CareerSource chief to step down or be fired

TAMPA –– Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to ask embattled jobs center leader Ed Peachey to either resign or face termination over concerns the agency inflated job placement numbers with the state. Chairwoman Sandy Murman said commis...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Physician seeks Pasco Times building for rehab center

Physician seeks Pasco Times building for rehab center

PORT RICHEY — A Hudson physician hopes to acquire the Times Publishing Co. west Pasco office and convert it into an inpatient center for substance abuse rehabilitation and mental health care. Estaban Alfonzon Ruiz, a doctor of internal medicine, file...
Updated: 4 hours ago
CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CareerSource jobs chief Edward Peachey could soon be out of work

CLEARWATER — The heads of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards will hold emergency meetings in the coming days to consider firing president and CEO Edward Peachey. Jack Geller, board chairman of CareerSource Pinellas, and Dick Peck, chairman of ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Updated: 5 hours ago
Toymakers dive into toilet for poospiration; Rev. Billy Graham dies at 99; MS-13 sweep keeps most basic details secret; more in U.S. news

Toymakers dive into toilet for poospiration; Rev. Billy Graham dies at 99; MS-13 sweep keeps most basic details secret; more in U.S. news

New YorkDiving into toilet for poospirationToymakers have gone to the toilet for their latest creations. Mattel’s upcoming Flushin’ Frenzy game sends a brown plastic poop flying into the air. And its rival, Hasbro stuck with the potty humor after its...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Time line1918: Born into a strict Presbyterian family near Charlotte, N.C.1934: Accepts Christ at Charlotte revival by traveling evangelist Mordecai Ham.1936: Enrolls in Bob Jones College, Cleveland, Tenn.1937: Unhappy at Bob Jones, he enrolls in Flo...
Updated: 5 hours ago