Gardening by the Book(s)

Now is a good time to take a break from the heat and get inspired with these great reads.

When you’ve done some of your big and small gardening projects this summer, take a load off and put your feet up for a bit with a gardening book in hand. You’ll get inspired and energized with The Zen of Florida Gardening by Lucy Tobias and Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Markham. All three are Florida-based authors, and the advice they offer is specific to the peninsula, which has an array of gardening zones.

If you’re looking for mellow, quiet and zen in your garden, former Ocalan Lucy Tobias, now based in Sarasota, has written a book filled with stories of people, places and projects for the garden. First, she showcases cool plant people including Marc C. Minno, who wrote one of the bibles of butterfly gardening, Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying and Enjoying Butterflies. Minno started his fascination with butterflies in childhood. Another local plant person she profiles is former Florida Gov. Buddy MacKay. When he retired and the family moved from “town” here in Ocala down to their lake house in Ocklawaha in 1989, MacKay carefully dug up all the azaleas and camellias in his garden and took them along. (The Ocala Camellia Society, of which I am a member, was allowed to tour that property in February of 2021. The 2+ acres were abloom with dozens of camellias planted and tended under the oak trees that lined the driveway. It was gorgeous!)

Tobias also highlights gardening places, with more than 30 listings, and her reviews of Florida botanical gardens, butterfly gardens, specialty nurseries and more. One of my own hidden gem favorites is included in the book—the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens and Nursery in Spring Hill. Few folks know about this little jewel just off U.S. 19. It’s set on 3.5 acres and boasts a variety of gardens, like the Asian garden, a butterfly garden, a secret garden and a charming pond and waterfall with a running train track around it. 

The projects section of the book offers inspiring ideas as well, including a profile of a renowned homeowner in The Villages who planted his entire yard with Florida-friendly plants and inspired neighbors to do the same. Tobias is also enthused about rain barrels, helping birds and bees with housing, and loves labyrinths. The book ends with a great resource list of apps, websites and online sites about gardening. 

Another inspiring read is the recently released, Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida. Authors Stibolt and Markham have really granular advice for Florida gardeners. They point out that the state has seven hardiness zones, and that “Most vegetable gardening books (organic or not) are of little use in Florida because the rules are different here, and furthermore, the rules in Pensacola are different from those in Miami.” Amen!

A 110+ page chapter is devoted to Florida’s vegetables and they offer alphabetical listings with great details about regions where the plant does best and ratings of easy, moderate, difficult or not recommended. For example, garlic is rated as easy in north Florida, but moderately difficult in central and south Florida. Celery is rated as difficult throughout the state because of the shortness of our winters. 

The book has terrific full-color photos. The authors also emphasize having a holistic attitude about your ecosystem and the role all types of gardening play in supporting insects, butterflies, crawlies and birds. They advise, “It’s best to work with the natural checks and balances of predatory and prey organisms, especially if you’re using organic methods.” They loathe the idea of monoculture lawns filled with pesticides and bug zappers that kill necessary insects. 

A helpful appendix offers a month-by-month calendar to help you plan your tasks, plantings and harvests for the year. 

Consider taking a break this month and hit the pages instead of the dirt. The Zen of Florida Gardening is available from Sea Aster Press, seaasterpress.gumroad.com, $19.95. Her website is lucytobias.com. Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida is available from University Press of Florida, bookstores and online sources, $29.95. The website is upf.com. OS

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

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