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Small Garden, Big Rewards

This collection of plants in containers decorates the porch against a background of fiddleleaf fig and red flowering bougainvillea.

One of the best things about gardening is that it is optional. If something more pressing comes up and you have to neglect it, most of it keeps right on growing. When life settles down, you give it the care you can and enjoy what it gives in return.

The Homs garden is a lovely example of this. Norma and her mother Isabel Homs moved from New Jersey eight years ago and bought their present home on a corner lot in Brandon, Florida.

"There was an above ground pool that we would have had to repair and that we didn't want. When we asked the previous owners to get rid of it, they lowered the price instead. So it stood in that back corner and would have been a complete eyesore except that the jasmine grew over and almost covered it," says Norma.

Norma and Isabel have always loved plants and have a fine collection in containers on their screened-in porch, including a gorgeous Christmas cactus still full of red blooms.

This dwarf schefflera now full of buds and soon to be colorful with bloom and fruit is the only one Iíve ever seen in bloom.

For several years these two ladies have been homebound because of Isabel's health, so my husband David and I have taken them Communion from St. Francis Church. They are the last on our route, so I dared to remark--and take a cutting--when I saw their dwarf Schefflera blooming by the mailbox. It is the only one I've ever seen in bloom.

"It doesn't bloom until after the frost and then the flowers start off yellow, then turn orange, then cranberry," Norma says. Part of that may be fruit color. Most books say the flower is insignificant, but this was quite striking. It is presently loaded with buds again. That one is in full sun. They will grow in low, medium, and high light, but they seem to need full sun and some maturity to bloom. Norma says three years as one of her cuttings is now blooming also.

When we stopped there recently, I was amazed at the blooms on the Tagetes limonium, sometimes called Copper Canyon Daisy by the front door, also amazed that Norma had that plant that I've been afraid to write about because it is so hard to find.

"My niece gave me three plants a few years ago and she got them from Wal-Mart," Norma says. "I prune them back after they stop blooming in the spring and keep pruning them off the walk until about August. I don't want to cut off any of the buds and bloom starts again about November. Now people come to the door and ask us what they are."

Christmas cactus blooms on the back porch with a rich red color.

Like most marigolds, the foliage is the fragrant part. This one has a different, tarragon-like fragrance, and lacey leaves. The plants will get partly woody in time, can get 30 inches tall, but tend more to sprawl. Through the winter they produce a blanket of small, golden yellow daisies unless they get nipped by frost. Norma's are fairly protected in the L of the entranceway. Hers looked much better than mine. I am now inspired to prune and replace mine where they will have plenty of room and a protected winter spotlight, too. They start easily from cuttings.

Also by the front door are some unusual, oak-leaf crotons. "I just put them up against the wall to protect them from the cold," Norma says. They are growing slowly, but the colors are spectacular.

The entranceway is now colorful with yellow Copper Canyon daisy, a form of perennial marigold, crotons, and a red poinsettia plant, and pink cordyline shows clear from the backyard fence through the door.

A year ago last November Isabel has a bad fall in the yard. She says, "Be very careful about tripping over edging material and also when pulling weeds that offer such great resistance that you might fall when they finally come loose." She had an even worse fall in the house in December or 2003, spent weeks in the hospital where she almost died of pneumonia, and then spent eight more months in recovery. During this time she stayed in the nearby home of her son Charles and his wife Carrie and Norma spent every day there, while they were at work, taking care of her mother.

In spite of that, or perhaps as a form of therapy, she hired her nephew Jim Musella of Brandon to take out the old swimming pool and replace it with a small pond and fountain and landscaping plants with low maintenance requirements and high color and interest. The result is a view from front door through the sliding glass windows in the living room to both a porch and a yard with lovely color. Right now it is rich with red bougainvillea, the red foliage a plant that Norma calls coral bells--see plant of the week--pentas, cordyline, white jasmine, ornamental grasses and cacti.

Since our interview, Isabel has fallen again, so Norma has little time for gardening. But what she has already done continues to offer beauty and remind her that God is with them even in trying times.