1. Life & Culture

Imagination grows wild in grounds surrounding the home of Lutz couple

A rare variety of Rangoon creeper, Quisqualis, adorns the garden of Maryhelen and Simon Zopfi in Lutz. The fragrant flowers are white when they open, pink by noon, and maroon for days after ward.
A rare variety of Rangoon creeper, Quisqualis, adorns the garden of Maryhelen and Simon Zopfi in Lutz. The fragrant flowers are white when they open, pink by noon, and maroon for days after ward.
Published Nov. 11, 2016

Maryhelen and Simon Zopfi have lived in their Lutz home since 1983 and have used every square foot of their unique, imaginative garden.

They take 10 plants each to the Florida State Fair every year and always get ribbons and a nice check. Their plants, from the most common to the very unusual, are all winners.

But to make the plants stand out at home, they make everyday discards into delightful garden art. Both of them are very handy.

Maryhelen gets most of her decorations from the side of the road or from friends who find them for her. They have a large blue bottle tree and more blue bottles around the garden. If you contact Keel and Curley Winery — 5210 Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, or — and ask for a blue or green bottle, they will give you a box full and be glad to recycle them.

Maryhelen, a Florida native, has been gardening since she helped her dad plant veggies and flowers. When they went shopping, she wanted all kinds of seeds. Her dad said, "You have to eat what you grow." Since then, she is more selective with the seeds.

When she retired in 2012, she put her name on a list of 200 who wanted to become master gardeners. She was one of the 20 who were chosen. Now she gives five different talks at libraries.

She started a garden club at the Brookdale Retirement Home in Lutz. Simon cut rain barrels in half and raised them up waist high so the seniors can garden without stooping. Maryhelen showed them how to press their flowers, and the next month, they made bookmarks from them.

Garden clubs often visit her garden and she always has some project for them as a lesson and to give them something to take home. Actually, just the memory of this garden is an unforgettable treat.

There are clear paths throughout the garden. In both the front and back gardens there is a koi pond, a neat sink that drains out into the garden, and a mailbox for utensils. The front is mostly shady but there is a bit of sun at the corner where there hangs a swing once used by her grandmother. This is Maryhelen's favorite place to rest, sometimes read, and even nap.

A swimming pool in the back has been changed into another koi pond with a waterfall that pours from the grille of a Buick. She went to the junkyard, searched for the car front she wanted, and they cut if off for her. She and Simon put a deck across part of the pool so koi can swim under and multiply. Most of their koi were born there. They grow orchids above on the deck.

They have a white powderpuff as well as a pink one, and a rangoon creeper, Quisqualis, which I've never seen before. The rangoon vine has fragrant blooms that open white, turn pink by noon, become maroon by evening and stay for quite a time. I have a healthy vine but mine never blooms, even though it is in the sun.

They do not use fertilizers, just water. She waters her bonsais and orchids from the ponds — pure fish emulsion.

She says once you get a garden started it largely maintains itself and you just enjoy. Her greatest help is Simon, her husband for 47 years. He loves plants and wildlife and handles a lot of the heavy work. On the creative side, Simon loves to air layer crotons, his pride and joy.

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Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener and author of 12 gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture and is an alumni fellow from Temple University. She can be reached at Her website is


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