March/April 2000 Issue

Garden Therapy

Landscaping services abound on these lush islands, of course. But what about do-it-yourself gardeners, or people with a lawn-service contract who still want hands-on involvement? Fortunately, island nurseries and garden supply centers will help keep your thumb green.
   Sue Ritchie is the garden center specialist at Forever Green Ace Hardware, which features a nursery and large array of garden supplies. Ritchie, who has gained an admirable reputation for stocking plants that thrive in island conditions, says her top-selling plant is the bougainvillea, by far: “People love any of its colors, but the one color they really go for is the red. It’s called the Barbara Karst, after its developer. The Barbara Karst is hardier, and people can take it up north.” Ritchie notes that her next best-selling plant is the Nora Grant ixora, a favorite “because it is different from the hibiscus. The Nora has that big ball bloom that is pinky-peach in color.”
   Many of the garden center’s customers are islanders “on assignment” by their landscapers and lawn-care services to choose their plants in person. Ritchie also says she has lots of dedicated gardeners who live on the islands, either as snowbirds or year-rounders. “The snowbirds always plant a little color when they come here in October or so, and also plant their foundation plants. That way, they are well established when they leave and won’t be a problem over the summer. After all, 98 percent of a plant’s success is its establishment, which is different here than up north. You just can’t apply the same principles.” 2025 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-5354.
   The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is probably best known for its native plant nursery, in addition to its trail tours, bookshop, and educational outreach programs. Dee Serage, of the native plant nursery, explains, “People often come to us for answers to extreme situations, such as growing plants in saltwater or in drought conditions.” When those questions come up, Serage “might suggest the green buttonwood tree, which will take saltwater flooding. And the Bahama cassia is a shrub that is very drought tolerant. It’s a shrub that blooms yellow and is the host plant for yellow sulphur butterflies.”
   She adds, “We are primarily a nursery that focuses on the needs of island residents. Thus, we try to help people plant native plants that support our native wildlife, whether that be birds, butterflies, or gopher tortoises.” Serage mentions that the SCCF offers alternatives to fertilizers and pesticides, such as diatomaceous earth or the use of boric acid for insect problems. “We have people who bring their insect issues to us and we help them figure out if they should do anything about them, or maybe nothing at all. Our main focus is as an educational nursery, so our educational program is landscaping for wildlife.” 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, 941/472-2329.
   Elizabeth and Steve Scott offer 20 years of horticultural experience at Green Earth Landscape, their nursery and garden center. They are members of the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association, and their company specializes in designing, installation, and maintenance. During the past year, Elizabeth has had some health problems, so she and her husband have closed the nursery except for appointments. “We are open by appointment for larger plants,” she reports, “such as palm trees, larger trees like black olives, and bottlebrush trees. We don’t have the smaller plantings as we’d be spread too thin right now.” When her health permits, the couple will resume selling such plants as orchids and bromeliads. 3889 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, 941/472-1370.
   Island Condo Maintenance Inc. is a full sales and service center for yard equipment, according to owner Steve Walters. It carries the complete line of Toro hand mowers, sometimes known as walk-behind mowers, and riding mowers, as well as Lawnboy hand mowers. The store’s wide selection of equipment such as chain saws, trimmers, pruners, and blowers are manufactured by Stihl. Lawn mower repair service is offered, too. 1205 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-4505.
   Bailey’s True Value Hardware does a brisk business selling manual sprinklers and garden hoses. It’s not surprising to learn, however, that another popular-selling item includes replacement connections for hoses. That’s because a large number of people always seem to be running over their hoses while mowing the lawn! Bailey’s Shopping Center, corner of Periwinkle Way and Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel, 941/472-1516.
   Off island, just one mile north of Summerlin Road on San Carlos Boulevard in Ft. Myers, is Gavins Ace Hardware. The store carries lawn and garden supplies including seasonal plants such as geraniums, flower pots, clear trays, indoor fertilizers, and some grass plugs, says owner Ron Gavin. It carries lawn mowers from Snapper, MTD, Toro, and Lawnboy. Mower and engine repair services are offered, too, as are lawn mower parts. 16025 San Carlos Blvd., Ft. Myers, 941/466-7777.
   If you’re looking for a little advice on how to plan your lawn and garden before you actually get down and dig in the dirt, the area has plenty of landscape designers to help. Landscaping and gardening preferences have changed in Southwest Florida during the past decade or so, according to Stephen J. Trudnak, whose Bonita Springs-based firm offers landscape architecture and land planning services. “Most people are more interested in outdoor spaces than they used to be,” he says. “People want to take more of a part in things and get more bang for their buck. There are more active gardeners, for instance. And people want outdoor dining spaces or they want to expand the inside by designing the outside. For example, having the family room extended to the outside with the same tiles that were used inside.”
   Trudnak’s design-oriented firm has been open in Bonita Springs since 1991, and he has been in the business since 1970. He notices that more and more people are staying in the area all year round and are interested in keeping up their own yards: “Well, maybe not with the mowing, but with pruning or cutting gardens. It’s a lot of fun.” 3461 Bonita Bay Boulevard, Bonita Springs, 941/495-6464.
   Burner & Company, in business for 15 years, provides full-service site planning, land planning, and landscape architecture throughout Southwest Florida. President Theresa Artuso says the use of native plants such as cabbage palms, saw palmettos, oaks, and pines are “becoming more popular and should be further encouraged. Aside from the obvious ecological reasons, they are part of the traditional Old Florida landscape and lend historic character to present-day development.” Artuso is also a proponent of following xeriscape principles, to conserve water usage. She suggests selecting drought-tolerant species, limiting the use of turf areas, and grouping plants with similar water requirements into “hydrozones.” Water features such as fountains, waterfalls, fish ponds, or Oriental water gardens are ever-increasing aspects of current landscape design, Artuso adds. She notes that more creativity is being used in the design and construction of driveways and walkways. In addition, “Landscape lighting has become more affordable and more available to homeowners. More than just for safety, lighting can accent dramatic touches in the garden that otherwise would be visible only during the day.” 4955 Higginbotham Road, Ft. Myers, 941/693-8090. —Libby Grimm