The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making


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A Trip to the Nursery

This is my third winter visiting Cedar Key. For each of those winters, driving up and down the one road into town, I have been taunted by a sign that reads:

NURSERY

FREE PLANT

Gardener, sign reading “free plant,” c’mon! Somewhat unexpectedly, a master gardener friend of mine decided to pay Cedar Key a visit. Two master gardeners and a sign reading “free plant,” c’mon! Guess what happens next? I finally, finally visit this nursery. The name of the nursery is Villa Nursery and it is owned by Harry & Magda Hopwood.

They bought the property when they moved to the area from Tampa, and carved out a home for themselves along with five hand built greenhouses. When I say carved out I mean a helluva lot of scrub (brush) clearing. The greenhouses aren’t heated but offer frost protection because this area does get a little bit of frost now and then. Harry also sells fruit trees such as apple, plum and peach taking advantage of that frost. Now that’s smart gardening.

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I so enjoyed walking around this nursery! They propagate the plants themselves which is increasingly rare of nurseries these days. I can see myself visiting Villa Nursery very often. Let’s walk around!

Here we are entering the first greenhouse. You are seeing asparagus fern, aloe, and what Harry called Bleeding Heart on the trellis – not dicentra but clerodendrum. Below you are seeing impatiens (in January).

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Here is a plant I see quite often around Cedar Key – it grows prolifically hence its common name (also learned from Harry) “Mother of Millions” or Bryophyllum delagoense. It blooms a tubular red flower stalk.

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It’s just so exciting to see all the plant life here in Florida. A second greenhouse we walked into housing Prickly Pear Cactus and Papaya. I learned that Papayas can be dioecious (requiring a male and female plant to produce fruit) as well as monoecious. Apparently a challenge for farmers because it is difficult to tell whether a papaya is male, female or hermaphroditic. Some may even change sexual expression depending on climatic conditions.

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A third greenhouse housing Bougainvillea, Poinsettias and Gardenias – heavenly!

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… And this beautiful Shrimp Plant which I believe is Justicia brandegeeana.

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The fourth greenhouse housed some beautiful variegated Hibiscus which you can catch a glimpse of behind the Angel’s Trumpet, and my favorite, favorite, favorite Flowering Maple! (I’m bummed the photo isn’t quite in focus but still too pretty not share with you.)

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A nice grouping of plants along the way. That’s Oregano in the upper left – the most lush, healthy Oregano I’ve ever seen.

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Well, I saved the “pretty greenhouse” (as Harry called it) for last. It houses several kinds of Crotons, Begonias – Wax, Angel Wing and more – and Orchids.

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Harry called these Night Blooming Orchids. I just call them cool! The leaves are trailing long and cactus-like.

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I loved the leaves of this plant … didn’t have a chance to catch its name!

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Here is a plant that Harry actually doesn’t know the name of! Can you help? It has a tubular flower and the leaf is below that. Anyone? I would sure love to help solve Harry’s mystery.

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Such a great afternoon visit – educational and beautiful, a visit with a fellow master gardener, and I walked away with my “free plant” – a little Miss Medusa (aloe)! I am so excited (blessed).

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What’s that? Moi? Leave a nursery without a purchase? No way! Here she is … a Staghorn Fern! Oh, I have always wanted one of these. Granted I will have to haul her between Florida and New York for awhile but I believe they grow quite slowly.

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This will not be my one and only last trip to Villa Nursery. I’m certain I will visit again – there’s more to learn and there will be more to see.


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Christmas in Gulfport

We spent Christmas a little further South of Cedar Key in the cute coastal town of Gulfport. Gulfport is a tiny jewel in the midst of sprawling St. Petersburg. It has a cozy, small downtown feel and views of the Gulf. The houses are kitschy and eclectic. They are smaller, older but snatched up by ambitious owners who rub the genie’s lamp of charm and bring them back into their glory days. Many are for rent and yes, we are staying in one. Take a small tour with me and jingle all the way.

The local hangout is O’Maddy’s and it’s where we spent our Christmas Day Eve with a jolly ol’ crowd singing Christmas carols with the band. It put the fun back into Christmas for me. No preparation, no presents, no fancy food, no glitzy decor … just hey, this place is open on Christmas and is rockin’! Let’s walk right into some cheerful holiday comrade and child-like fun. Even our dog Mojo got into the spirit of things down at O’Maddy’s with its bar side seating open to the Gulf.

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There are a slew of salty, tiki bars and restaurants to pick from. All within walking distance from the charming bungalow houses and waterfront condos.

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I wanted to try some Mexican Cantina food here at Peg’s but they are on vacation! Maybe next time …

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One of my favorite little restaurants is Mangia’s offering the perfect mix of American standard and VEGAN food! It is fresh and delicious with many homemade items including all sorts of delicious hummus such as beet, wonderful soups and salads, and sweet treats for dessert. You can dine inside or al fresco upon this lovely nook of a patio.

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Post Christmas we dined al fresco here at Pia’s – magnificent Italian fare and large, waxy candle bras to put you in the mood. “Più vino per favore!”

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Walking is the best mode of transportation here because you can take in all the sites at your own pace. I love the variety in architecture, the secret gardens, artsy decor, and of course live Oaks with Spanish Moss.

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This fa la la la la stroll has me thinking about the New Year, my next steps, the years ahead … how I long to have my own little Southern getaway with its secret garden! … and how to get there from here. For now I am content to soak up the sun and inspiration. I sure hope your holidays were just as merry and bright and that the New Year brings promise of good things to come.


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Sights at Selby

A little GREEN for y’all today and a first for me … I am sitting in a cafe! Yes, my first cafe-side created post. Today, a wonderful cafe called Green Sage Cafe in Asheville NC with many fresh, healthy ingredients on the menu – including GREEN Vegan/plant-based meals. I could get used to this.

We have been traveling for a week so please forgive my absence. I’m a little road weary but today and tomorrow we rest and plan to stretch our legs on a hike or two somewhere among this beautiful country side (Smoky Mountains) in search for the end of the rainbow and a pot o’ gold – Mojo will be oh, so grateful. He’s a good dog, but even a good dog has his limits! Thursday it is back on the road and finally home as we plan to arrive the first day of Spring. Spring is here (in Asheville)! Daffodils, forsythia, azaleas are in bloom. I know I will have awhile to wait once we arrive home so I’m soaking it up.

Not too long ago this lucky girl visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota FL, and I wanted to share some of the sights with you. Selby is known for its collection of epiphytes which includes many types of orchids. We began our venture right in the hot house! A beautiful collection of epiphytes contained within glass in ideal conditions. I’ll let the sights speak for themselves … (wish I could also share the scents and sounds of gently trickling water).

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You might believe those orchids would steal the entire show, but no, I was won over by the pitcher plants. I have never seen some of these types and I was fascinated.

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My favorite!

I was also entranced by some of the beautiful patterns of foliage – so much to see and absorb in just one trip. I’m not sure I’m giving these plants and gardens a fair show. There were so many names, plaques, plants that are/were new to me. So begins my education by simply, exposure. I dream of a tropical garden someday that never dies under a blanket of white – only shifts and transitions between blooms, exotic seed pods, large lush leaves.

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Did I mention “exotic?” Wow. (CAUTION: some of this content may not be suitable for young children!)

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There are so many layers to a garden. I find that I am now drawn to the forms of plants mainly because I have some scenes in my head that I want to paint on paper – all lush and large. Looking through my photos, one can tell; it’s not only in the flowers that I find interest. Believe it or not I used to own this very same plant as a houseplant – look at this root!

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Look at these seed pods!

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Then, of course there were trees to ogle over. You know me, I’m all about trees.

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This tree was in full bloom – large, fist-sized red flowers.

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The bark of a Gumbo Limbo tree.

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Just one of a superb collection of Bonsai.

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Not sure if this is a tree per say, but its form is certainly tree-like.

The magnificent roots of a Fig tree.

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More roots – look at this network!

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One of my favorites – Banyan tree.

Banyan tree.

Well, I hope you enjoyed these sights. I assure you Spring is on its way. The Robins are singing here. Soon, it will all creep further North. I hope to hurry it along and bring some home with me. I certainly picked up many great things this tour to reflect upon – best Winter I have ever had!

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If you ever find yourself in Sarasota be sure to visit Selby but WARNING: they sell orchids! Imagine the restraint I had to use not to bring one of these beauties home (simply had to remind myself that I’m a plant murderer).

Orchids for sale at the Selby gift store …

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