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Great New Garden Ready for Visitors

The Sensory Garden is the brightest spot because it is in full sun. The plants here have special fragrances and textures and are in raised beds for easy touching and sniffing. The edges provide sitting room even for a large group.

There is a new and very unique garden that is open to the public, but you won't see it a sign of it from the road. It is completely enclosed within the four wings of the Hillsborough County Extension Service offices, 5339 County Road S. in Seffner. If you are out that way, just park in the parking area, go in the front door and through to the garden any day that the office is open from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. It will also be open otherwise through special arrangement (Call 813-744-5519).

On December 1, the Hillsborough County Master Gardeners had their annual graduation and holiday party as the first big event in this garden they helped to build.

"It has been exciting to help develop a teaching garden," says Lynn Barber, Program Assistant, "when I am the one learning the most."

The offices were built some thirty-five years ago in four corridors with a large open square in the center.

"This area was well landscaped at the time," says Sidney Park Brown, "but it had become overgrown and somewhat neglected. Also, when a new roof was put on the building with all these 16 inch downspouts, the area became almost a lake in wet weather."

Of the many times I've been to that office, it was the plantings in front and in back that I studied. I hardly noticed the courtyard. But anyone who comes into the building from any door or angle will notice it now that it is the Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden.

Designed as a collection of gardens to show many landscape and maintenance ideas, it is a showcase for all of the common sense, watersaving, work saving ways people can use in their own yards.

Sidney Park Brown and Lynn Barber pause for a moment in the Asian shade section of the new garden.

"We also tried to feature new and underused plants that are outstanding performers in this area," says Brown. Of the 106 plants on list, 34 were new to me. All are well labeled. I could hardly drag myself away and plan to return often.

One of the most interesting things about this garden is its name. Betty Walker was the first Executive Director of the Tampa Bay wholesale Growers. She envisioned a teaching garden to show people what the industry provides and to educate the public. When she retired, the group gave her seed money and a promise of plant material for such a garden.

Because she was also very much involved with Lowry Park Zoo, that seemed the natural place. But when plans did not develop there, the blessing fell much closer to Brandon. Walker herself has been part of many of the weekly work parties.

The planning there started close to 3 years ago and the first problem was a drainage system. Then the plan was drawn up and the mature plants that could fit in were pruned accordingly. The non plant/construction elements were put in place, mostly by contractors.

The Master Gardeners built the deck that will be both stage and seating area for talks and classes. They used Trex decking, a material that looks like boards but is made of recycled plastic and sawdust and does not break down or need coating and does let water sink through.

"Every nursery in the county provided plant material for two reasons," says Roy Davis of Tampa Wholesale Nursery. "First, Bette Walker was one of our beloved people who did so much for many years to further the industry. And second, we all love the Extension Service."

Then he asked Brown about a pest that has attacked his Phoenix dactylifera or date palms and showed her a leaf. After some discussion, they decided that it was more than a nuisance, was harmful to the plants, and would require a fungicide. It is comforting to know that professional growers also come to ask questions and solve problems that are much more threatening to their livelihood than the loss of a plant is to the homeowner.

There was a one case of vandalism in the garden with damage even to the bridge. It will not be repeated since these two ladies fashioned a gate of barbwire and did such a good job that until you get right up to it, it looks quite ornamental.

Left: The Master Gardeners built this deck that will be used as both stage and sitting room for classes and talks.

Right: The gazebo is the focal point you will notice when you first enter the building and look out through the windows behind the desk. Unless you look at the plan, you don't realize that it is not quite the center of the garden.

Other highlights:

  • Pineapple sage is one of the many herbs donated by Maryon and Mel Marsh of the Misting Shed in Dover.
  • Backyard Bar B Que Patio area with a tropical setting could welcome friends and family gatherings in any yard.
  • Two raised herbs beds flank the sensory garden with magnolias behind that will be hedged to fit in the recesses of the building. They are often trimmed this way in Europe.