Spring tour of Florida-friendly gardens




The yards and gardens on Sunday's Spring Garden Tour range from formal to wild enough to have resident raccoons. But what the three homeowners whose gardens are featured have in common is an appreciation of private outdoor living space buffered from busy downtown, the belief in and practice of Florida Friendly Landscape principles and the pleasure of watching a garden grow.


The tour begins at the Sarasota Garden Club, which has 12 distinct garden areas, a project that has occupied botanicals chairwoman Jean Hansen for four years.

Most important, says Hansen, is the butterfly garden. Like all gardens, it has a showy season — in this case, late summer and early fall — but its color and character can change almost daily with the different butterflies it attracts.

AHTour03Of the more than 20 herbs tested by Hansen and other club members, four were chosen for inclusion in the knot herb garden. Selected for their size, growing habit, and ability to thrive in Sarasota's climate, thyme, oregano, basil and chives are woven among Japanese boxwood, Schilling holly and colorful ornamental kale for the English-style garden's knot design.

The succulent garden will be in full color and glory for the tour, says Hansen. Visitors won't want to miss the vibrant purple ice plant in bloom and the large collection of other succulents with intriguing leaf patterns and subtle colors ranging from dusty gray-green to pearl blue and pink to red-orange.

Unlike roses that bear single blooms on the ends of long canes, the Knockouts that fill the Sarasota Garden Club's rose garden cover their bushes with abundant color almost year-round.

Beautiful Italian statuary is the center of and inspiration for the St. Francis garden, in which hollies, bright orange kalanchoe, gazania and lush groundcover thrive.

A popular setting for weddings and photographs is the white garden. White-flowered pentas, bougainvillea and low-growing bacopa vine grow here, as well as variegated green and white ficus.

Horsetail, papyrus and bromeliads live in the falling waters garden, along with pots of colorful coleus and salvia. Large palms and a stand of bamboo enhance the tropical atmosphere, all under a live oak canopy.

Camellias, ferns and bromeliads populate a woodland garden named for its cover of oaks. Three other garden club areas are devoted to ferns, bromeliads and hibiscus. With the exception of two areas that may be reserved for weddings and other occasions, the Sarasota Garden Club grounds are always open free to the public and fliers with maps and information are available.


When Lorin Klukas and Bill Wood replaced an old house in Oyster Bay with a Tuscan-inspired home and landscape in in 2004, they weren't thinking about the Florida Friendly Landscape program. But they were serious about its principles. At the same time, they wanted a formal look for their outdoor living space. Their instruction to landscape architect David Young was to limit the number of plants used in the design, to choose low- or no-maintenance plants and no lawn grass.

The result is a formal landscape of native and Florida Friendly plants like Sylvester date, fox tail palm, pitch apple, East Palatka holly, Yaupon holly, Surinam cherry, purple love grass and bird of paradise arranged and maintained in a style reminiscent of an Italian villa.

"The best thing our landscape shows is that you can have a more formal low-maintenance plan without sacrificing Florida Yards best practices," says Klukas.

Neatly trimmed and shaped hedges line porous walkways and a large circular driveway, continuing the theme and effectively preventing rainwater runoff.

"Anything that grows here has to learn to be abused," says Klukas, "It has to stand on its own." And that includes a jade plant, which they overwatered until it rotted and fell out of the pot.

"Some things, like succulents, are supposed to be left alone," he says. Large terra cotta pots in the shaded deck area are filled to the brim with low-maintenance succulents, including jade plants and large-leaf kalanchoe.

According to Klukas, it takes a crew of three about an hour per week to keep the hedges trimmed, clean up the Sylvester dates and make sure the plants are healthy. Slow-release fertilizer is applied once a year and soaps and organic oils take care of pests and disease.

Each visitor will have a favorite feature: the circular fountain, the statuary, the specimen bird of paradise, an 8-foot pencil plant. Or maybe it will be the large backlit green island ficus bonsai that is the focal point of the pool area and can be seen from the front door. For Klukas it is the peace and privacy of a space that reflects his personal style.


Jane Smith's idea of the "right plant in the right place" is basically whatever catches her eye and the oak-shaded ecosystem that she has been nurturing for almost 13 years reflects that.

Her 1930s-era home sits in the middle of a triple lot near downtown Sarasota surrounded by what most people would describe as lush and tropical but she describes as kind of a jungle. And while she greatly admires the formal manicured look, she has chosen to garden on the wilder side.

Beautiful oak trees, some of them planted by the home's original owner for his children, shade most of the property — and since shade does not encourage flowers, she chooses plants — more than 200 kinds — for their colorful foliage and interesting leaf shapes. Bamboo, ti plant and tree ferns thrive. Plant sales, friends, nurseries and other Master Gardeners all have contributed to the variety of vegetation that visitors will see on Sunday.

Smith uses no chemicals or insecticides, choosing instead to eliminate insect pests by hand and sometimes using Neem oil for fungus. And she fertilizes plants twice a year with slow-release fertilizer.

On one side of the property is a low grassy area that Smith says provides a sense of calm, in contrast to the "jungly" rest of the yard. Besides the graceful oaks, Smith enjoys the fact that butterflies, birds, raccoons and other critters make themselves at home in her wild garden set in an eclectic older neighborhood right downtown.


Visitors to Annette Haile's garden will see red ... as in masses of Patriot Red geraniums. Like Smith, Haile believes you don't have to sacrifice color or interest for shade. And she believes that flat areas of grass are a useful landscape component. She, too, has limited grass to small areas, mostly in front of the house, because it requires water, maintenance and fertilizer.

When Haile moved into her house near downtown Sarasota 5 1/2 years ago from Washington, D.C., she went to work on the landscape. She consulted with Grants Gardens, who surveyed the existing plants and helped her build a Florida Friendly plan.

She uses Grants for heavy pruning, mowing, fertilizing, pest control and irrigation system maintenance. But she prefers to care for her vegetable garden and her orchids herself. Besides the geraniums, Haile says visitors can expect to see pentas, dwarf Poinciana, orchids, pinwheel jasmine, iris and bougainvillea in bloom.

She particularly likes the view from her screened porch and the fact that "you can live in a regular city neighborhood and yet have a tranquil garden space."


Last modified: May 2, 2013
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