Category Archives for "Exploration"

January 23, 2017

Biosphere Nursery: A New Story

Biosphere Nursery

A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to a really cool little nursery in Winter Garden called Biosphere Nursery. My mom was looking for some plants for her backyard, and I was just hanging out. While I was strolling between the Florida natives and Florida-friendly non-invasives (the only two options at Biosphere), I spotted a gorgeous mound of something called Scorpion’s Tail.

Biosphere NurseryI had to have it. There’s a bare border beside the path to my backyard that has needed something that can tolerate shade, and that’s been hard to find. This was it.

In Florida, the majority of nurseries sell plants for full sun, because most homes get such intense, direct sunlight. This is the Sunshine State, after all. My yard is a little weird. There’s no place to plant in the front, the planting areas on the sides of the house are shaded by nearby houses, and my backyard is under the cover of a large oak tree. This is fantastic news for my power bill, but problematic when it comes to finding plants.

As I explored the rest of the nursery, I found many shade-tolerant plants–many of which have blooms–and I soon realized I was in a very special place. I’ve been to most of Central Florida’s nurseries, but rarely have I come across one that offers such unusual variety, and all native or non-invasive.

Biosphere Nursery

My next thought was that this magical place, which is out of the way and not very well-known, needs to be found by more people. I pitched a story to Orlando Magazine, and they said yes. This week, I will sit down with the staff at Biosphere and listen as they describe the makings of their cool little universe. I’m so excited! Judging from the limited experience I’ve had at Biosphere Nursery, I’m confident there will be many more revelations during my next visit. Soon, all of Central Florida will know about it.

July 9, 2015

A Path to the Garden

Rick Abraham

I don’t have much of a garden.

My lame excuse is that the shady slope in my back yard isn’t conducive to gardening, and I don’t have a front yard. Someday I’ll get serious and terrace the hill that leads down to the lake, and plant a ton of tropicals back there. For now, I have containers beside the garage, back door and on the patio. I water them sometimes.

Our two mighty palm trees frame the view of the sunset over the water. That’s something. (Actually it’s really something and you’re invited to come hang out, have a glass of wine and see it for yourself!)

If not for my job, though, I’d probably feel pretty distant from the garden world. When I worked in publishing I was saturated with pictures of gardens, conversations about gardens, pitches from garden writers, and trips to see gardens. It was awesome, but working with Anna at our content agency is awesome, too.


Anna & I

Some of the clients Anna and I do web marketing for are garden designers, and we get to see their amazing creations and write about them. (See a couple of examples by clicking here and here.) It’s nice to keep a toe dipped into that pond, even as I’m spending my other hours writing about massage therapy, baseball bats, lung cancer, dental equipment, mortgages, and car accidents (in no particular order).

Kerry Meyer wrote an article for the Proven Winners website called “Gardening for the Time Starved” that puts container gardening out there as a solution for people like me, and she’s spot-on.

As she points out, setting things up right on the front end (nurturing great soil and choosing low-maintenance plants that are a perfect for your environment and resistant to disease and pests) is fundamental to enjoying the fruits with very little labor.

The point is, even if your yard is basic, if you don’t have tons of money to pour into your garden (ah-hem), or if you don’t have time to do much digging in the dirt, and no matter what your job is, you can find a path to the garden.

Featured image photo credit: Rick Abraham

Fair Game for a Guerrilla Garden

a blog called plot

My sister, who lives in Tallinn, Estonia, emailed me a photo a couple weeks ago. I looked at it and thought, why did she email me a picture of a chain link fence? I knew there had to be a good reason, because she’s an intentional human being, a very thoughtful one, actually. A few more seconds of looking and I recognized her reasoning: hanging on that chain link fence was a flower box, the kind usually found hanging beneath a window.

She had been out for a walk when she passed a construction site surrounded by a chain link fence. On that fence, every few yards, a window box was hung and planted with red geraniums. She took some pictures.

a blog called plot

A lesson in how to pretty up a construction site, while also making a statement about new development (if you should want to make a statement).

Guerrilla gardening, as it’s called, is concerned with the scarcity of public places for planting. I don’t think this dispatch from Estonia represents a particularly aggressive gardening effort, but maybe I should be looking beyond the initial impact at what this could mean. There are groups around the world who plant as a political statement, a physical manifestation of their rejection of overdevelopment and the rise of cultures that devalue public green spaces.

Such groups are flourishing in Moscow, Los Angeles, London, Brisbane and Venice, to name a few places, with the British Richard Reynolds as their spirit guide.

I don’t know if this lot was a park that’s now lost to new development, if those flowers are a memorial or simply intended to make the scene a little warmer, more encouraging than your usual stark and gritty construction site.

Are you moved by the desire to plant things in extraordinary places? Is the flower box on a chain link fence just your style? I’d love to hear your stories and see your guerrilla garden photos. Please share in the comments below.

The Hidden Gardens of Villa Aquina

Acapulco gardens

My husband and I just returned from Acapulco where he competed in a waterski tournament. The event was hosted by Gordon and Gabriela Rathbun, and we had the chance to spend quite a bit of time at their beautiful home Villa Aquina in the La Cima subdivision, which is high on a hill overlooking Acapulco Bay.

Acapulco gardens
Like many of the grand residences in La Cima, gardens are designed around and into the homes. You can tell upon arrival that plants figure significantly into the overall design, but until you’re inside, you have no idea just how much.
Acapulco gardens
Built-in planters full of crotons line an open-air front hallway, but this simple, discreet entry in no way reveals the stunning hidden gardens that will be discovered inside. Many varieties that we use as houseplants in the U.S. grow happily outdoors in Mexico. Crotons abound in home landscapes and public spaces.

Acapulco gardens
The first “wow” moment at Villa Aquina happens when you want through the entry and see the gorgeous, shady garden, full of water features, foliage plants, and two kinds of pineapples that are served upstairs for breakfast when they ripen to sweetness.
Acapulco gardens

A stairwell leads to a second story.
Acapulco gardens
And at the top, a built-in planter of bougainvillea welcomes your arrival.

Acapulco gardens
And then, the second “wow”: an incredible outdoor living room with views of the bay, an infinity-edge pool with a built-in bar, sofas, chaise lounges and lots of plants.

Acapulco gardens
Agaves, Areca palms and other tropicals are nestled into every crevice.

Acapulco gardens

From the upper level, you also have a view to the shady garden.

Acapulco gardens

The bay view is a show stealer until nighttime, when it fades to black and dim lighting illuminates the deck. It’s then you experience how much of a garden the rooftop is. It’s so full of plants that you forget you aren’t at ground level. Sadly, I don’t have a good photo of that scenario, but here’s Todd and I one evening on the roof. 🙂

Acapulco gardens

April 12, 2015

It’s Flower Time at Epcot

A Blog Called Plot

Living in Orlando, I’ve felt a little weird when people from other states think of my town as synonymous with Disney. Twenty-one years into my tenure, I’ve only been to Disney three or four times, and I’m deeply immersed in the food, public parks, creative professional community and lake life that make Orlando such a great place for locals. I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been avoiding Disney, but my lifestyle hasn’t been aligned with the Mouse, either.

A couple years ago, garden writer and slow flower advocate Debra Prinzing was in town because she was teaching a workshop at the International Flower & Garden Festival, and we got together for dinner. Epcot is one of the most-visited Disney parks (DIsney’s Central Florida parks include Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Disney Springs), and hearing Debra’s perspective on Epcot as a flower mecca shifted my thinking.

“The plant displays are over-the-top creative and fun. It is so inspiring to see real plants used in innovative ways at Epcot. Yes, there’s a lot of technology in use, with animated scenes and mechanical activity happening everywhere you look. But then, you walk by the larger-than-life Mickey and Minnie topiaries showcasing a gorgeous plant palette or enter the interactive butterfly display house . . .  and all of a sudden, you’re in a magical arboretum,” Debra said.

Had I been overlooking the masterpiece in my backyard?

A Blog Called Plot

Guests love the floating gardens, two-hundred and ten of which fill East and West Lake in the park’s center during the festival. Two lakeside berms sport over 75,000 bedding plants at that time, bursting with Viola culivars, New Guinea Impatiens, Dusty Miller, Geraniums and Wax Begonias.

Debra was also impressed by the lengths to which the staff went to support the authenticity of her program.

“My talks about the Slow Flowers Movement and sourcing flowers locally required the Epcot team to source all Florida-grown flowers and greenery. The team went to great efforts to buy from small, area flower farms, which I know helped those farms tremendously. And as a huge bonus, I was able to use plant cuttings from Epcot‘s own greenhouses for my design demonstrations,” she said.

Gardens. Authenticity. Disney. Really?


I spent a day at Epcot this past November and toured the park with Heather Will-Browne, an area manager for Epcot’s horticulture department. Heather was the first woman to join the horticulture staff (in 1974), and knows the park inside out. She’s responsible for ordering the 3 million seedlings that flourish in Epcot’s gardens year-round, including that extra flowery time, the International Flower & Garden Festival, which runs seventy-five days from March 4 to May 17, 2015.

A Blog Called Plot

Pluto, Goofy and Daisy Duck welcome guests in the “Goofy About Spring” entrance garden during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. – See more at:

“Everything has to be ordered six months in advance so the plants are ready to go in the ground when we need them. We have seasonal color schemes that inform the ordering choices for bedding plants,” she explains.

The January and March change-outs emphasize pink flowers; in June the color scheme gets hotter with the weather, and red dominates the color palette; in fall there’s an appealing mix of lime green, purple, orange and black; and the December holidays will call for more red.

“Color is important, but I’m always looking for varieties of plants that are new or interesting, and we also have certain themes we’re ordering for. For example, for the Flower & Garden Festival, we’re doing more veggies now, so some of the beds have vegetables and herbs instead of blooming annuals,” says Will-Browne. “The edibles have to reflect the ingredients of the seasonal menus that will be current during the festival, so we coordinate with the culinary staff. Everyone is coordinating all the time—we can’t make isolated decisions and then expect it to all come together.”

We walked through every part of the park and Heather educated me on the inspirations for each designed garden area (it turns out that Epcot’s Canada, France, Japan, Italy and the rest were created with garden references originating in each of those real countries).

The result of my day with Heather was trifold: I wrote a piece for GROW magazine, one for Playground, and another for Orlando Home + Garden, each with a different take on what Epcot has to offer to visitors during the festival, focused on the interests of the audiences that read each publication. I also came away with a completely fresh perspective on Disney.

That may sound like hyperbole, and it does demand some explanation, but the bottom line is that the magic of Disney finds its source in the trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials that thrive here. These plants contribute in no small way to themed features and create a lush backdrop throughout Disney’s forty square miles of parks and resorts.

I liken Walt Disney’s original concept for his Florida theme park to the way a visionary landscape architect like Olmsted would have thought about Central Park.

“It’s something that will never be finished, something I can keep developing, keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. It’s alive. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need changes … Not only can I add things, but even the trees will keep growing.  The thing will get more beautiful year after year. And it will get better as I find out what the public likes,” Disney said as Walt Disney World was being developed.

Disney understood that success was dependent on enduring public support for his projects, in the form of cultural influence, accumulated memories, and money spent. This applies to parks of all kinds in the private and pubic sectors. The challenge of maintaining interest and support has been either the glory or the downfall of parks the world over.

Why? As pioneer landscape architect Lawrence Halprin said in a discussion about his Skyline Park in Denver, “…places which are either park-like or ephemeral, that is to say some plantings [sic], are very vulnerable to people’s ability to get rid of them, knock them down…they’re terribly vulnerable, much more vulnerable than buildings or structures or pieces of engineering.”

Vulnerability is a double-edged sword, and a challenge can be an invitation to work tirelessly to achieve greatness rather than a path to ruin. While Skyline Park was demolished after years of neglect, in Disney World’s case, Disney effectively conveyed to his successors (he passed away before the project was completed) that this living, breathing thing would need to be maintained and reimagined constantly. He bred his infectious position on stewardship in every cast member, which is why the Disney brand is such a force of nature today.

February 27, 2015

Garden Writing in the Car

garden writing in the car

Working on this book has been a pleasant reminder that one thing leads to another. Each small action produces new tunnels and pathways that transport us to our next thing. Talking to one designer or influencer usually turns me on to another designer or influencer that has relevant ideas (not just for my book, but for life).

To provide some context for my talks with designers, I should say that about once a week I conduct interviews over the phone while I’m in the car line waiting to pick up one of my children from school. I like to be in the front of the car line, so when the bell rings, my kid walks out of the school and into my car. The thought of them standing at the curb looking furtively for my car wedged somewhere in the serpentine trail of vehicles compels me to show up thirty minutes early. And how do I spend those quiet, normally uninterrupted thirty minutes? Phone interviews. When I spoke with Charles Birnbaum (see previous post), I was situated exactly where I am at this moment: first in the car line at my son’s middle school.

For the talk with Charles, I had my Mac open in my lap, my seat drawn as far back as possible, my youngest daughter in the back seat playing with her stuffed animals, and me with a crinkled forehead hanging on Charles’ every word as I typed furiously. This is an absurd working-mom cliché, and I almost hate to bring it up, but my daughter had an honest-to-God bathroom emergency during the call. She had to go, like now. Not sure if this opportunity to talk to Charles would repeat itself, I left my car running, walked my girl to the school bathroom, and continued the interview, listening intently sans laptop, committing every spoken word to memory. When we returned to the car, I said goodbye to Charles and typed out everything I could remember while simultaneously murmuring love talk to my daughter behind me.

That call–25 minutes of gold–led to a conversation with landscape architect Lisa Gimmy, who Charles is understandably a huge fan of. After speaking with her myself and seeing her work, so am I. More about her later.

Today, my thirty minutes in the car line was a joyful exchange with Raymond Jungles, who speaks without self-consciousness or reservation about all aspects of gardens.

I wrote about Raymond’s design for the Jones garden in Key West many years ago for a column called Anatomy Lesson in Garden Design magazine. I pitched the column concept to my editor Bill Marken (the column’s name was his idea, which appealed to the side of me that sometimes wishes I were more particular and academic than I actually am), and it appeared in every issue for a while. The idea was to break down the fundamentals of a successful garden with arrows and call-outs that explained what the designer was up to. The Jones garden was and is all about finding the remnant spaces left over when a house takes up most of the lot, and transforming those areas in to the property’s most significant and attractive features.

Now that I’m giving it some thought, I wonder if we bumped up the Jones story to a four-page feature. Not sure.

In my next post, I’ll share some more of Raymond’s insights on small space gardens, but for now I’ve got to go. The bell is ringing and here comes my son.