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A cool, colorful oasis

"I appreciate what I have here," says Marianne DeCosta, surrounded by colorful flowers and plants. She and her husband, Sonny, live in a convenient city neighborhood but, she says, "You almost feel like you're in the country here. We like it. It's a very nice setting."

Allen's Creek behind their house provides a backdrop for tropicals and colorful flowers all year. "I'm the gardener and I think I have a pretty green thumb."

Her husband mows and clips hedges, she says, but finds sailing more to his liking. He's from Bermuda and she hails from Germany and has lived in Canada, Bermuda and Australia before settling here with her husband and their three children nearly 17 years ago.

Mrs. DeCosta adds that she is a member of the Wind Lasses who sail Sunfish, and her husband sets the course off Dunedin for the group every week.

DeCosta points with pride to the thick viburnum hedge that he clipped to mimic rolling hills. He points out a low place to talk to next-door neighbors and a higher place to keep the woodpile out of their view. Mrs. DeCosta says she enjoys their "little park," so close to nature that songbirds, snakes and egrets are residents, too.

Much of her time is devoted to plants. Along with petunias and azaleas in a front oval bed, large containers of flowering plants lead to the front door. But summer sun will get too hot for the beautiful impatiens facing west here now, she says.

Plants of all sorts grow indoors as well as around a swimming pool and on a screen porch. The lawn slopes to azaleas, impatiens in pots and a big staghorn fern. The fern, which once hung from a hook, has now attached itself to the large live oak beside the meandering stream.

Along with petunias and azaleas in a front oval bed, large containers of flowering plants lead to the front door.

The staghorn is 4 or 5 years old, she says. "It was a tiny little thing. I was told to feed it at least once a year, so I stick a banana in maybe twice a year. I'm good to my plants," she says with a laugh. She started a large bear's paw fern, too. "I cut it back every spring."

A neighbor gave her azaleas and a crape myrtle. A tibouchina and a duranta, both with purple flowers, are favorites, she says.

"Lucky we have the creek to supply water for our sprinkler system and a hose," Mrs. DeCosta says. They must abide by the water restrictions, but she can fill a bucket to water her plants.

Most of her indoor plants are grown from cuttings, and they thrive because "I get the nice breeze coming through." Dracenas, jade plants and rex begonias are propagated from the cuttings that she keeps trimming. An orchid cactus and a Christmas cactus do well on the screened porch.

Air conditioning is used only "when it's really hot and too dry," she says.

In a bright corner of the dining room an unusual fern hangs gracefully, reaching down several feet. It was "50 cents from K mart," she recalls, but it was a mystery plant until Opal Schallmo from the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service identified it from a photograph. The tropical fern is Stenochlaena polustris or tenuifolia.

With all of her plant successes, Mrs. DeCosta says with a sad look that she has had no success with orchids. "Maybe I haven't tried hard enough."