Venice Area Garden Club's Home Tour


PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more photos of  homes on the tour

After the Venice Area Garden Club featured the garden of Peter and Parichat Cartwright on its annual home tour several years ago, the organizers heard plenty of moans.

But not from those who took the tour. They came from people who missed out on seeing one of Sarasota County’s outstanding home landscapes. “When are you going to feature the Cartwright home again?” they begged.

Thai garden/home blend in VeniceA second chance has arrived. The 26th Annual Venice Area Garden Club Home tour will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 13-14, and the spectacular Cartwright garden, which won first place in a magazine competition in Parichat Cartwright’s native Thailand, is once again a star attraction.

Also included in the tour is a 1926 Spanish-style, two-story house on Harbor Drive that was home to an early Venice mayor; a 4,354-square-foot, gated home directly on the Gulf; a 2013 home built with green systems and materials; and a renovated, 1957 house sitting where once stood the movie theater for World War II aircraft pilots-in-training.

The Cartwright landscape is the only garden-only stop on the tour; houses make up the other stops.

But they all have nice landscapes. “We’re a garden club,” said the VAGC’s president, Sandra Walters. “Every home should have some individual outstanding landscaping quality.”

As any home-tour organizer will attest, finding appropriate houses and willing homeowners is challenging.

“We do not want to have what we term ‘cookie-cutter homes,’ ” Walters said. “We want each home to stand on its own and be a showplace for that particular resident.”

Walters said a VAGC committee known as the “traveling girls” searches for tour candidates during the summer months. “They knock on doors, and most people are very kind and talk to them and graciously open their homes for our tour in March,” Walters said.

Most tour houses are on the island of Venice, which has a finite number of historic homes from the 1920s Florida land boom, when the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) bet its members’ pensions on the success of Venice, was “late to the game” and lost it all when the boom went bust in 1926.

But being a garden club, the VACG is not limited to historic homes. On the tour this year are two new houses and a remodeled ranch built in 1957, when World War II veterans, many of them stationed at seaside air bases here during the conflict, were flocking to Florida.

What they learned about gardening is a lesson that is constantly relearned by Venice newcomers today, said Walters, a West Virginia native who is in her second term as VAGC president.

“There is no soil,” she said. “Good sunshine, but you have to augment the soil you grow in.

“I live in Mission Valley, and my husband is a gardener. Therefore we know, there is no soil. Even when they say ‘topsoil,’ it really isn’t what we are used to up north. Underneath, it’s basically sand. And you have to augment it any way you can. We have tried Black Kow, horse manure, Fafard. It’s good for containers and pots.”

Parichat Cartwright knows this through trial and error. Much of the garden around her 605 Menendez St. home is populated with potted plants, and she changes them out as necessary.

Walters described the Cartwright garden as “unique,” and a “reflection of her and her husband’s talents and their interests.” With Asian-inspired themes and icons, the garden is separated into distinct outdoor rooms that the Cartwrights change over time.

“It evolves, it changes all the time with them. They are super people — very talented, very creative.”

“We attempt to stick to Florida-friendly plants,” Peter Cartwright told Herald-Tribune correspondent Marsha Fottler in a 2014 feature story, “and we grow from cuttings, seeds and things that friends will ask us to try.

“I think one of the secrets to the garden is putting some of the plants into containers instead of into the ground. The other is that we tend to the garden all the time. It’s a passion with Parichat, who is also an excellent painter. The garden is an expression of her artistic vision and her talent.”

“We were delighted that she would let us have the tour there again,” said garden club member Linda Kenfield Andrews. “There were so many people who didn’t get to see it. You know how it is, once the tour is over, people say, ‘I would love to see whatever you have just done.’

“As long as the Cartwrights are willing to work so hard at it, maybe they will be willing to share it” again.

Other homes on the tour:

• Tina Marrelli and Bill Glass, 416 Parklane Drive, Venice. Completed in 2013 by Ashley Builders, which also built a home for Marrelli and Glass in Boca Grande, this house displays the recently popular “Key West” design motif. The property also has a guest house.

• Kathie Keppler, 241 Harbor Drive S., Venice. The Blalock House was one of the first built in Venice’s Venezia Park section as the city developed in early 1926, and a few of the original cabinets are still in it.

The home was first occupied by George and Helen Youngberg and their four children. Youngberg was a civil engineer whom the BLE put in charge of making Roberts Bay into a port. That never happened, but he oversaw the dredging of the channel through Casey’s Pass where the Venice jetties jut into the Gulf.

Soon, the Blalocks took up residence in the house. During the boom, “Jim Tom” Blalock was elected cashier of the Venice-Nokomis Bank, founded by Dr. Fred Albee, when it moved from Nokomis to Venice.

As was common in the 1920s boom, the bank’s board of directors was stocked with developers — in this case, the executives of the BLE. They were prominent members of the community, until the boom collapsed around them. A couple of years later, the pension-less BLE membership saw to it that most of them were relieved of their leadership roles.

Jim Tom Blalock, mayor from 1929 to 1941, died in 1957, and his widow, Ethel, died in 1992, when the house was sold. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the house was enlarged by the previous owners, who sold it in 2013. “I bought it sight-unseen,” said Keppler, who moved to Venice from New Jersey. She has made some minor changes.

• Don and Patricia “Dixie” Griffin, 412 Hunter Drive, Venice. This gated, Gulf-front house was built in 1995 after the previous owners, who were in the marble and stone business, tore down the original house on the property and built a 4,400-square-foot house that is rich with . . . marble and stone.

• Tom and Julie Whittaker, 427 Spadaro Drive, Venice. Duyn Construction built this house, near a deeded private beach access, in 1994 on a double lot. It has 3,200 square feet and shady oaks in the backyard with staghorn ferns and a playhouse. Julie Whittaker attended Venice High and grew up on the water in Southbay. She moved back to Venice to give her children the island experience.

• Shirley and Danny Brooks, 900 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. In this 1957 house, the carports were enclosed to create a large living space at the entrance to the house. It is convenient that the carports were served by the east side of a two-sided fireplace; it’s still there. The owners climb the circular staircase to the new master suite “10 times a day,” which may explain their apparent good health. One room is decorated in a circus theme, which is appropriate given Venice’s long affiliation with the Ringling circus, and the owners’ Wisconsin roots. The Ringling brothers were from Baraboo, which is where a Brooks child was married in recent years.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: March 6, 2015
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