The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 2

In the overnight hours before landscape designer Victor Lazzari opened his English-style garden to members of a local garden club, a cold front made its way down the entire length of the Florida peninsula. Wind and light rain arrived in the darkness, but by morning, a cool breeze had pushed away any lingering clouds, unveiling a brilliantly blue sky. The typical South Florida humidity was yesterday’s memory.

In other words, it was a perfectly proper English day in South Florida — and Lazzari’s garden seemed to know it. Zinnias shimmied on their stems, fern fronds bounced on breezes, roses displayed their finest ruffles, and visitors wore light jackets with their shorts. In the middle of it all, answering questions, pointing out specific varieties, and wearing his straw hat, was Lazzari. (Our conversation picks up where Part 1 ended.)

Nitty Gritty Dirt Man: What’s your earliest or fondest gardening memory?

Victor Lazzari: That’s easy. I was about five years old and accompanied my dad to a Hechinger, which was the Mid-Atlantic predecessor of Home Depot. We had to walk through the outdoor garden center, and I got to pick out my very first cell pack of annuals while we were there. I still remember them. . . they were magenta petunias, and I was so giddy that my manly, bearish “man’s-man” of an Italian father let his young son buy flowers, and never once said no or called me a sissy for wanting to do so. To this day, 30-some years later, literally every time I see the wavy-edged trumpet blossom of a petunia and breathe in the sweet scent — a mix of rose, dust, and sweat, the smell of high summertime in Maryland — I am suddenly five years old again, marveling at the simple quiet beauty of flowers and their power to lift up the human spirit in countless ways.

NGDM: I have to say something about your roses. Personally, I love them and hate them — great flowers and scent, but way too many things to worry about, from pests to fungus. Yours, though, are exquisite. What’s your secret?

VL: I can make this one relatively easy: experiment and share notes.  One of the things about roses is that they are incredibly complex from a genetic standpoint. The roses we grow in gardens today are descended from hundreds of species that range in habitat from frigid northern Europe to subtropical southern China and Japan. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of hybrid rose varieties now in commerce. With genetic background this diverse, the rose varieties themselves are also just as diverse in terms of where they will thrive.

David Austin “Heritage.” Photo by V. Lazzari.

For example, there are roses that, because they are largely descended from subtropical Chinese species, simply thrive in South Florida with minimal care — and, of course, these make up a big chunk of my own personal collection. Contrariwise, there are other varieties descended mostly from European species that need winter chill to grow and bloom well, so I have none of these in my garden.

I’m always experimenting, though. I always purchase 2-3 specimens of each variety so I can rate their performance in South Florida. If all three become quickly diseased, or fail to bloom well, I scratch the variety off my list entirely and throw them in the trash. If one performs poorly but the other two are thriving and full of flowers, it could just be that one of the plants was a bad nursery plant from the start.

Kordes “Poseidon.” Photo by V. Lazzari.

Again, though, experimentation is key. For example, “Poseidon” is a rose developed by Kordes, a German rose breeding company, and in theory shouldn’t grow or bloom well in a climate like South Florida, where it’s nothing like Germany. Well, “Poseidon” is a top performer in my yard, has little problem with disease, and blooms magnificently, especially in the cool season from December through early May.

Queen Anne’s Lace. Photo by V. Lazzari.

NGDM: You’re a very big guy. What’s more difficult to do: bench press 350 lbs. or gardening?

VL: [Laughing] Thanks! I wasn’t always a big boy.  Naturally my body wants to be tall and skinny, so just as with my garden, growing my body has taken years of work and proper planning and “fertilizing,” if you will. The analogy is accurate, actually — just like most plants won’t grow unless you feed them their proper plant nutrients, it’s virtually impossible to pack on muscle mass without proper human nutrients, too.

That said, gardening is way, way harder than bench pressing 350lbs! A set of heavy bench pressing is a grueling task, but it only lasts for maybe 30 or 40 seconds.  With gardening, sometimes I’m doing hard physical labor from dawn to dusk.  I love every moment of it, but it’s way harder than any gym workout I’ve ever put myself through. Sometimes, after hours of kneeling in the dirt, my lower back hurts so much that I want to scream. Why do I keep doing it? Because I love it — even if it hurts sometimes! When you’re surrounded by natural beauty, and you hear the twitter of birds overhead and see butterflies doing their dance right next to you, and feel the wind in your face and inhale deep breaths of flower fragrances, you figure out ways to not care about stiff knees and lower back pain.

There was once a meme I saw on the Internet, related to fitness and personal training. It’s a picture of a woman, clearly exhausted from a grueling workout and on the verge of tears, but she’s finally down to the dress size she wants to be at for her wedding. The caption reads: “I didn’t say it would be easy.  I said it would be worth it.” That’s pretty much how I feel about fine gardening.  I didn’t say it would be easy.  I said it would be worth it.

To keep up with Victor Lazzari in his garden, you can find him at
Jungle Gym FL, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

The South Floridian Who Planted A Rose And Grew An English Garden, Part 1

It’s interesting to watch Victor Lazzari in his South Florida garden. At 6’1” and 290 lbs. of muscle and tattoos, he’s certainly a looming presence. It’s also where he happens to be the most comfortable, walking along the garden’s hidden paths, gently cupping roses in hands that are just as capable of lifting 350 lbs. at the gym, and inhaling each bloom’s sweet or subtle scent.

Most strikingly, though, Lazzari’s garden is done in the English style. Yes, an English garden is growing in South Florida.

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My Means To My End

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. For me, they create too much pressure — and within a week, they’ll be in the trash heap and I’ll be spending the rest of the year beating myself up because I didn’t go to the gym or lose weight or learn a new craft.  Besides, in my world, each day gives us a chance to get a fresh start — hence, the sunrise photo at the top of this post.

This year, though, is different.

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The Great Hydrangea Experiment

I long for hydrangea days.

As much as I love living and gardening in South Florida, I can’t help but deeply miss the hydrangeas in my New York garden. I loved photographing them from their first green buds in spring to the fullness of color during their bloom time to the their faded glory in fall to winter’s dried-brown clusters.

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Love In The Time Of Plumeria

I’m not sure when my gardening mind turned to — for want of a better term — composted manure, but I’m pretty positive I know the exact moment I realized it. I was mowing the lawn, daydreaming while I worked, and an idea — one that was already well known to me, you, and everyone else, but seemed like a fresh discovery — popped into my head.

Trees can be grown from seeds.

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Gardening In The Cone Of Anxiety

This isn’t the post I had planned to write. That original post has to wait for another day because of Hurricane Dorian — and before I get into the meat of this post, please, understand that I am in no way making light of the situation in the Bahamas. That is tragic. That is devastating — and I’m not even sure those words are strong enough to fully capture what the people there have experienced and are continuing to face each day.

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Son Of Seed Mustache From Space

A long time ago— May, actually — in a galaxy far, far away— just outside of the front door — an alien-looking seed mustache from space appeared on the tip of a desert rose branch. That was the general gist of an earlier post — but after a couple of months, my sci-fi fantasy that is South Florida gardening has become, “Captain, the pod doors have opened.”

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