In the Garden:
Tropical South
March, 2004
Regional Report

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This blooming Tabebuia tree is in Eureka Springs park in Tampa -- 31 acres of cultivated grounds and wetlands.

Public Gardens Teach and Inspire

Can you imagine growing up without knowing about public gardens? I did. That changed when my husband and I were courting and David took me to a rose garden in Columbus, Ohio.

After we were married, we once took four small children and a 5-week-old newborn on a guided walk through the Cox Arboretum in Dayton, Ohio, when it was brand new, too. When we lived in Iowa, visits to the conservatory in Vander Veer Park in Davenport helped ease the winter.

Later when I studied horticulture near Philadelphia, my favorite field trips were to the Morris Arboretum and to Longwood Gardens. It always amazed me that these places were not crowded while the malls, not nearly as pleasant and much more expensive, always were packed.

Florida has many public gardens, not counting the plantings around almost every county Extension Service office. Check with that office or your library for the public gardens nearest you, and visit them often. This is one of the best ways -- especially for newcomers to the state, but even for long-time gardeners -- to learn new plants, combinations, varieties, and gardening methods.

Before I ever got there, I asked someone about the public garden nearest me, Eureka Springs in Tampa. "It isn't much," I was told. Not true. It isn't large, but it is always beautiful, and because it is close I can go often enough to see things change and develop. My sister goes there whenever she visits, just to take a walk. She travels in an RV, visits gardens all over, and enjoys them so much that she says, "Why should I plant a garden when I can visit places like this?"

For us diehard gardeners who have to have our own at the doorstep as well, public gardens are sure to give us a new shot of inspiration and enthusiasm. If you have extra time or energy or are between gardens of your own, you can volunteer at most public gardens and learn from experts as you work with them. If energy is short but time is not, you can volunteer for a sit-down job and enjoy frequent walk-throughs.

Plants and More
Most public gardens have classes, workshops, libraries, guided tours, and special events scheduled. Every time I go to one -- and I go often throughout the state to give talks -- I find some new plant that I have to have or some great combination of plants that I want to try. Thank goodness some have a plant shop.

Even your non-gardening visitors may enjoy an hour to a day in a public garden, where there often is a museum or another attraction as well. When you are visiting other states, see if there's a public garden nearby. On a trip to California, our hosts took us to the arboretum of Los Angeles County, probably in hopes that I'd quit asking them, "And what is that tree?" Even my husband enjoyed it, and he's not a gardener. But he likes to visit gardens where he doesn't feel like he ought to be helping.


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