MEET: Hunter Freeman, nearly a native of St. Petersburg, who has lived here since the age of 3 months. His spacious back yard is very shady but landscaped with numerous flowering plants. He does most of the sweaty work, but his wife, Elizabeth, helps with garden designing. She especially enjoys the new pond he put in this summer. It quickly attracted various species of frogs, which they have learned to identify.
WHAT HE'S PROUD OF: Several colors and types of anthuriums and a spathiphyllum (peace lily) in full bloom around the back deck during summer's heat. The landscape, cooled by the high shade of oaks, has a great amount of color. Orchids inherited from an uncle have their own slat house. A long border of tall Clerodendron speciosissimum, also called Java glory bower, has scarlet clusters during summer. It's growing in front of a very tall, maybe 40-year-old hibiscus with pendulous, single red blooms. Another scarlet clerodendron species recently acquired is variegated with pale orange. A most unusual blue variety, bought at the USF Botanical Garden plant sale, is getting started against a background privacy hedge of old-fashioned turk's cap hibiscus. For a shaded taste of the tropics, Freeman's beautiful tree ferns have grown a great deal. Pothos climbs up oaks, the leaves becoming huge higher up on the trunk. Heliconias include a colorful lobster claw. Fragrance wafts across the whole yard from the butterfly gingers (Hedychium, pronounced huh-DEEK-ee-um). "I like unusual things," he admits.
CULTIVATION SECRETS: Freeman moved about 14 years ago to this large, overgrown lot with 43 trees and even more shrubbery. The soil had been improved by the previous owner. He took several years to assess the landscape, deciding eventually to thin the trees to 32 and to "loft" the laurel oaks and cherry laurels, cutting limbs from the bottom to allow sunlight to filter through and allow more space for flowering shrubs and flowers.
FERTILIZER AND WATERING: "I kind of experiment around," says Freeman. He uses organic fertilizer such as bonemeal on a bird of paradise and some slow-release fertilizer on other things, but sparingly, he says. Mulch and compost are delivered from nearby Gulf Coast Garden Center. Grass clippings become mulch and "nothing gets thrown away," says Elizabeth. Watering is all done by hose, as needed.
SOURCES OF HELP: Information and interesting plants have been acquired from sales at the USF Botanical Garden and from Allen Spencer, the gardener there. Cliff Brown, horticulturist at Eureka Springs, a Hillsborough County Park, and collector of ferns, bromeliads and gingers, has also been helpful. Bud Spence of St. Petersburg is his orchid resource.
FUTURE PLANS: "I don't know if I'll ever be finished," says Freeman. The front yard, although facing north, has more sun than the shady back. That's where he planted pentas to attract butterflies. Azaleas bloom here in spring with bromeliads at their base and a strange fern attached to and climbing up a pine tree.
_ Times gardening correspondent BETTE SMITH