Field Trip: Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens

In 1903, George Turner, Sr., had an idea.

The plumber and garden enthusiast had recently purchased a plot of land with a shallow lake in St. Petersburg, FL. He decided to drain the lake and turn it into his very own sunken garden.  By 1935, he started to charge admission, making his Sunken Gardens one of the oldest roadside attractions in the country.

So, let’s jump in the car and take a Sunday drive.

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Field Trip: Bok Tower Gardens

Bok Tower Gardens

When I garden, I find myself gardening for the enjoyment of others as well as for myself. I think it’s something we all do — no matter if your garden is a collection of pots on a terrace or a sidewalk-hugging border or acres of formal beds, our gardens are an opportunity for someone walking by or stopped at a red light to take a moment to breathe.

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Field Trip: Key West Garden Club


A toast to all gardeners.

A toast to all gardeners.

Someone once said, “Good things come in small packages.” I may not be positive about who should get credit for the phrase, but I’m pretty sure he or she must have been referring to Key West.

Measuring just 7.4 square miles, there’s a lot crammed onto this legendary Florida paradise — from Ernest Hemingway’s house to Fantasy Fest to the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens to the daily sunsets, often met with a liquid toast.

Tucked away among the touristy attractions is one of the last free admissions on the island: the Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower. Since 1955, the garden club, through strokes of luck and vision, dedication and hardwork in the tropical sun, transformed a Civil War-era fort into a walled garden filled with native and exotic trees and plants.

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Field Trip: Audubon House & Tropical Gardens

Key West

Something strange happens to Florida as you drive toward the Keys. It begins to break apart.

At some point along US 1, the southern tip of the peninsula becomes a mosaic of land and water until it eventually becomes the Keys, a stretch of islands that geologists say are the visible portions of an ancient coral reef. A handful of these islands are linked together by a single highway — and the road leads to Key West.

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Daytime In The Garden Of Mom & Dad

Me and my sister by the vegetable garden -- a long time ago.

Me and my sister by the vegetable garden — a long time ago.

I have to give credit where credit is due.

My parents were the first ones who introduced me to gardening. There were Mom’s rules about deadheading and weeding and Dad’s lessons on mowing and crop rotation — even if the farm was a tucked away corner of the yard.

Recently, I spent several days in my childhood home and lazed away summer afternoons in the backyard, where the slower pace was marked by the filling of bird feeders and the waiting and watching for feathered arrivals.

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Light In August


Sycamores are the first to surrender their leaves to the subtle changes in daylight.

“Some days in late August are like this, the air thin and eager like this,

with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar . . .”

— William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner almost had it right.

While August is the saddest month in the calendar, it’s also, I think, the most perplexing.

It seems as if August just doesn’t know which season it wants to be part of: summer or autumn.  The weather is still warm and humid, but each day grows shorter, second by second.  Leaves that were once fresh and green are now dull and drab.

Added into my August angst equation is my non-blogging life.  I work in a school, and in a little more than a week, classes will resume.  It’s as if August is the gate for my flight into September, and I’m too afraid to leave the area for fear that I might miss the boarding call.

And so I find myself plotting the demise of August while squeezing — choking — all I can out of the last bits of summer.  Surely, August must have some redeeming quality.

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The Real Dirt On The Presidents — Part 2

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Some conversations are too big to fit into a single post.  That’s how it was when I communicated with Linda Holden Hoyt, author of the very fascinating Presidents’ Gardens.  Just like the book, the interview was filled with anecdotes and historical tidbits, as well as Ms. Hoyt’s warm recollections of her experience in the White House gardens.  

The author during the Reagan Administration.  Photo courtesy of Linda Holden Hoyt.

The author during the Reagan years.
Photo courtesy of Linda Holden Hoyt.

NGDM:  What was your role in the Reagan administration?

LHH:  I worked on President Reagan’s staff and had an office in the West Wing, so I enjoyed a beautiful view of the ever-changing White House grounds and I pinched myself in the morning when I walked through the gates on the way to work and again in the evening when I left for home.

NGDM:  When you were a young girl visiting Presidential gardens, did you ever dream that someday you would be working in the White House?

LHH:  No, but as a child I spent a lot of time cutting and pasting pictures of the White House and the presidents into a scrapbook.  I’d flip through magazines like Life and Calling All Girls, collected from my grandmother and piano teacher.  When visiting the White House, I remember wanting to run up the stairs to see what was up there!  In my teen years, I read Backstairs at the White House, Upstairs at the White House and anything like it I could get my hands on.   History is really important to me — especially the “story” part — I love the stories of the people who impacted history.

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The Real Dirt On The Presidents — Part 1

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The next presidential election is still years away — and wannabe candidates, strategists, pundits, and newscasters are already weighing in on who will run, what the issues are, and how Americans will vote.

Lately, though, I find myself less concerned with taxes, Obamacare, and the economy and more curious about how the future POTUS will put his — or her — stamp on the White House gardens — and that’s all because of an amazing book, Presidents’ Gardens, by Linda Holden Hoyt.

Utilizing her passion for gardening and history, as well as her experience in the Reagan White House, Ms. Hoyt has delivered a book that is educational, fascinating, and entertaining.  Well researched and filled with photos, illustrations, and anecdotes, her work opens the garden gate on a world most of us will otherwise never have had the chance to enter.

Recently, Ms. Hoyt kindly agreed to answer the questions of a very excited gardener and history buff.  It seemed that with each response, I had more questions — resulting in a post so long that it needed two parts.  Part 2 will appear on Monday — and that’s also when the rules of the giveaway will be revealed.

And so, without further delay, I’d like to introduce you to Linda Holden Hoyt.

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Q & A: Down And Dirty With Dante

Dante 1With a name like Dante the Comic, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a funny guy.  The name, though, barely scratches the surface of all that he does on screen, behind the scenes, and in his yard.

Dante first came to national attention on season five of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” where he received each audience favorite award and a standing ovation in the semi-finals.  Ever since, awards and honors have continued to roll in, including the grand prize on ABC’s “America’s Funniest People,” the most comedy awards ever presented by BET, and performing for more US troops than anyone since Bob Hope.  And if this isn’t enough, he also writes for E Network’s “Fashion Police,” with Joan Rivers, and hosts a podcast, “Stimulus Package,” which is available through iTunes.

Dante’s newest project is co-starring in the film The InAPPropriate Comedy, slated for a March 22 nationwide release.  Directed by Vince Offer, the Sham Wow guy, this sketch-comedy movie follows the mayhem of a tablet computer fully loaded with offensively funny apps.  Taking part in the irreverent and raunchy humor is Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez, Rob Schneider, and Dante’s girlfriend, Rebekah Kochan, an actress/comedian with her own loyal following.

For gardeners, though, the most impressive piece of Dante’s resume is the work he does in his yard. Dante the Comic, you see, is also Dante the Gardener.

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