Sandy Holloway loves the Florida of decades ago. Since 1967, she has lived in a home in Seminole that was built in 1953. She has two acres of property she calls “Holloway Haven,’’ a garden of giant old oaks, fruit trees, bromeliads, coleus, strolling peacocks.
She has opened her yard for public tours as fundraisers for the Seminole Historical Society and said she plans to have tours annually each May. She’s an activist with the society, speaking out against the proliferation of what she calls “concrete boxes and asphalt.’’
Holloway, 79, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about gardening and civic activism.
What’s in your garden?
The main emphasis is it is a little piece of old Florida. I have (nearly) … 100 live oak trees. I have peacocks that walk around the property. It’s got all sorts of assorted plants. And I have avocado trees; I have probably one of the largest avocado trees in Pinellas county. …
Then in the back I have a huge, what I call grandfather oak tree. And it’s massive. (The trunk is about eight feet in diameter.) … Because it’s so much shade, the color I get mainly is from variegated foliage. …
And I did have a comment from a couple of women (on a past garden tour), “Well, where are the flowers?’’...
What I really specialize in is bromeliads. I love bromeliads. … And I belong to the (Florida) West Coast Bromeliad Society.
Were you always interested in gardening?
Not always. My mother was a ... gardener but I didn’t really get turned on to it until I was about 50, and it was when we purchased the property next door and all this. It just started coming out. At this time in my life, there’s nothing I like better than digging in the dirt. It gives me energy. … Now, doing housework does not, but out there it does. …
I’ve been into gardening but I’m also an environmental activist. I’m totally into saving what we have … and Pinellas County is, sorry, but becoming concrete boxes and asphalt. And it just … breaks my heart and breaks everybody else’s heart to see this happening everywhere.
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Did you grow up in Florida?
I grew up in Madeira Beach. … When I was in (school, I) had a friend, his parents were building a house on Old Oakhurst Road. ... This was in the ‘50s. No developments, we had none of this stuff, none of these houses. It was all orange groves. The reason that you came from Madeira Beach over here was to buy fruit. ...
He said we’re going to take a drive this Sunday and I want to show you my parents’ place on Old Oakhurst Road. And I thought … who would ever live in this? It was no people, no houses, nothing. I mean, it was just all woods. All woods and orange groves. Today I say how wonderful, but at the time I went, gosh, Tarzan and Jane are going to be back there. But that’s what it was in the ‘50s.
Growing up in Madeira Beach and of course seeing what’s happened there, oh my goodness. And, you know, as a kid we walked to the beach everyday, crossed over Gulf Boulevard. Just little bungalows. You could access the beach any place you wanted to. … And so to see what it is now and what everything is becoming. … I feel we’re just stewards of the land here. I’m doing everything I can — and I want to get this in writing because I want this (property) preserved. I would love to have seen this entire area from the (Pinellas) Trail to all the way to 113th (Street) preserved.
Do you worry about hurricanes?
Oh, of course. When Hurricane Irma came through, we evacuated, and I must’ve taken a hundred pictures of everything. Because I thought, well, when I’m in an old folks home I can say, this is what I used to have. It’s not there anymore.
In your battle against “concrete boxes and asphalt,’’ what causes have you pressed?
Just down the street, we tried very hard, myself and a group of people (with the) Seminole Historical Society … we tried very hard to save our wonderful water tower. Do you remember the big bird water tower that sat right on the corner? It’s gone. Big fight between the county and the city, and the county owned it and they said it’s no longer working, whatever. Anyway, it was beautiful. I mean you could see it from the Gulf of Mexico.
Big bird water tower?
Tom Stovall ... a well-known artist here, he painted the birds on the water tower and some called it the birdcage. It has these spines that came down. ... We fought as hard as we could, appeared before the county commission numerous times. But it was not to be and it came down.
What went up in its place?
Seven houses. Concrete boxes and asphalt.
You also were active in fighting housing developments on the closed Tides Golf Club property, you say.
Yes, I’ve been involved very heavily and we scored a victory, though how long it will last we don’t know. ... That’s been going on for years. This is the second developer coming in to change the Tides golf course into a development. And it’s just down the street. It almost adjoins the Boca Ciega Millennium Park. …
Ron Stephens has been in the forefront of this fight. This was only a couple of months ago that it came before the county commission and they denied the developer. At this point, it will remain open recreational space. My feeling about it is the only way we know this will really happen is if the county will buy the property, so that we don’t have to fight a third developer. We’ve fought two developers and we’ve won. …
One thing that we were very successful on, too, we saved Old Oakhurst Road over here. They wanted to make it huge going out toward the beaches. And we were successful in that … but it took a lot of people coming together. … We all met in front of the county courthouse with bullhorns, saying give us back our penny for Pinellas if you’re going to do this.
For information on the Seminole Historical Society, visit: www.seminolehistoricalsociety.org