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Plant City Coumpound Gadens

Everyone old enough has heard of the Kennedy compound but we haven't seen many photos. I'm sure they have gardens, but I'd bet they don't come within a mile of matching those of this family compound in Plant City on Ferrell St, 1009 to 1013.

Alice and Wayne Lord live in the house in which she and her sisters grew up. She moved back 37 years ago to take care of her mother. "We always had flowers around the house," said Alice Lord, "but we just started the back gardens about 15 years ago."

Treasures on display

All the family agree that Alice orchestrates the gardens that grow as a unit so much that even they are unsure where one lets off and the other begins. Alice isn't so sure about that. "We've done it all together," she says. "Wayne built the trellises and we laid all the stones and brick edging ourselves." They were awarded the Plant City Garden Club's first Garden of the Year Award. I'd say it ranks in the top three of any gardens I've ever seen.

Her sister, Margie and husband Joe LeHeup moved nextdoor in 1992 and they started coordinating their efforts. Both houses front on the street but are rather long and narrow on fairly narrow lots. So they put a paved one lane of driveway from the street to the garden entrance in 1996 that looks more like a private street. Both sisters have side porches as well as garages that face this and the Lords also have a covered area or carport that is often used for family functions.

When the house beyond LeHeup's came up for sale in 2001, it was a natural for daughter Diane Metzger to buy it and join the clan.

The plants around the houses would be enough to qualify them as excellent gardens, but the fairly shaded area that stretches across the back of all three properties is a series of wonderful, whimsical gardens that included excellent design and amazing flair, especially in the use of garden furniture, features like fences and signs, and displays of antique treasures among the thriving plants.

When asked about those holding up in the weather, Alice said, "Sometimes I paint, use spar urethane, or do nothing. It's amazing how long they last, even when you do nothing. You call them antiques, I call them other peoples junk. 90% of all the items in the gardens come from yard sales, thrift stores, discarded items by the side of the road or gifts from family and friends. Our gardens are very cost effective. All of the stone paths, brick edging and patios were bought at a seconds yard. This is something anyone can do. I also root some of our plants. Some multiply and we separate. Friends and family give us plants."

How do they keep up with all this in such hot weather as we had right up until the Plant City Garden Tour in October?

"It's never too hot for me to work in the garden," said Alice. Between the buildings and the property line fence, among many lovely plants, is one of the neatest potting areas you'll ever see, including sinks, rain barrels, a mailbox painted with flowers and saying Garden Tools, and a large aluminum table that Wayne found for $25 and brought home and installed.

Margie's section of the back garden includes a pommelo tree that was loaded with large fruits. "We've just been waiting until after the tour to start picking and eating them," she said. "But our gardens are always open and anyone is welcome to visit."

They have an irrigation system that goes throughout the garden and a well. "We follow the rules and only water once a week except for hand watering. We don't fertilize much," says Alice.

When asked the secret of their success she pointed to the heavens and said, "He makes it grow like this, the great Master Gardener." "That really is the bottom line," adds Margie.

Alice and Wayne Lord's home has this walk to the street but is really part of a compound surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Her sister Margie and husband Joe Le Heup live next door and both have side porches that face a wide straight driveway that looks more like a private street.

It ends at this entrance to a series of adjoining gardens toward the back of the properties, and even they are not sure where one leaves off and the next one starts.

LeHeup's daughter Diana Metzger bought the third house.