Flowers and plants greet you in every area of Susan Collar’s home, and that’s just the way she likes it. An ardent gardener, Susan has her African violets and a variety of other plants inside her home.
Outdoors, there’s her “secret garden” that begins at the side of her home and goes around throughout her fenced backyard.
A fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, The Secret Garden, as a child, Susan must have taken to heart the quote, “Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”
A resident of Leesburg for more than 50 years, Susan moved to the south side of town following her husband’s death. She smiles as she says she made sure it was on the way home for her son, who teaches in Sumter County, so he and his wife could drop in easily.
You enter Susan’s garden by passing under a wisteria-filled trellis that leads to the gate. Once inside, you’ll be surprised to find a beautifully designed garden she’s only had for a year or so.
It’s a place where she has been daring and innovative, filling her once-empty backyard with an array of plants that is a feast for the senses. Colors catch the eye from every nook and cranny in the yard. The delicate scent of jasmine mingles with the sweet blooms of the honeysuckle to create an exotic perfume. And nearby, birds celebrate the lush haven with a cacophony of song.
“I waited awhile after I moved because I was leaving behind a pool and a big yard for less space. I really didn’t realize until I got to working out here how big this yard is, too.”
Susan freely gives credit to local landscaper, Jonathan Spires, for his help with planning and the layout of the plants. The two gardeners have concentrated on style and variety with the layout of the gardens, with plans to eventually cover the bright white fence that surrounds the yard. Jon also encouraged Susan to be more daring with her plants, like inserting houseplants amid the lush foliage outside.
“I’ve been surprised because they’ve done so well,” Susan says with a smile. “The cold snap we had didn’t even bother them.”
Though she’s a long way from New York City, where she once had a career in advertising, Susan goes after her garden with the same youthful enthusiasm and zest that made her successful there.
She and Jonathan collaborated on every step in the garden’s process.
“He helped design the trellis and the placing of the plants,” she says with a laugh. “Every time I went to a nursery, I’d get four or five plants to add to it.”
Susan admits that many of her friends thought it was unwise for an 86-year-old woman to undertake such a big project.
“I had to really work on it. There was nothing out here but some railroad ties,” she says. “I always wanted a garden like this, and it was never the right time. Well, I think it is the right time now.”
She makes no apologies when telling friends she’s unavailable and readily admits she’s so busy she doesn’t have time to waste. “I’m doing a lot of propagation. I’m taking cuttings from the bigger plants in the backyard and putting them in front. I’ve planned so there will be something blooming year round when it’s all in place.”
Care of the plants includes letting them sit in pots for a while to see what area of the garden suits them best. The garden also includes an arbor and some smaller structures for vines to grow on.
Carlton and Betty Collar are very pleased his mother has such a challenging hobby. They are even searching the Internet for unusual plants she can add to the mix.
“It’s been the best thing going for her,” Carlton says proudly.
The entire family occasionally gathers in Susan’s backyard paradise for a barbeque when her three grandsons join them for a meal.
The work continues daily on Susan’s Secret Garden, and she thrives on the activity.
“It’ll never be finished because there’s always something to do in the garden.”
7 Plants To Start Your Secret Garden
- Bougainvillea: Can be planted in pots or as an annual. Needs lots of sun and is freeze sensitive. Can be trained to climb, and restricting the roots and keeping it dry will promote flowering. Plant has thorns.
- Wisteria: Better to use Wisteria frutescens because it is native to Florida. It climbs a
trellis making its own intricate design and
- Euphorbia: A delightful shrub with slender upright branches, Euphorbia blooms almost continuously with clustered small flowers in red, orange, yellow or pink.
- Hibiscus: These flowers love full sun and are usually hardy plants. There are a variety of Hibiscus flowers, including Redleaf, Rose Mallow and Swamp Mallow, and they’re easy to root from cuttings.
- Trumpet Trees: Can grow to 25 feet tall and enjoy a warm, sunny site. The flowers are two to three inches long and grow in clusters in early spring. It tolerates temperatures into the teens.
- Creeping Fig: This makes great groundcover plants. Slow growing, with small, heart-shaped leaves, and will actually grow
on any surface, like a wall
- Spathiphyllum: The Peace Lily has dark green leaves and white flowers. It likes shade and is often used as an indoor plant. It wilts to signal needing water.