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A Doggone Good Garden

B.J. Vosburgh and her dogs enjoy this garden every day.

BJ and Steve Vosburgh have lived on their present 2 acres for the last 8 years with a garden that is planned and planted as much for the retired greyhound and whippet dogs they have adopted as for themselves.

The front yard of their Spanish style house is a wonderful mix of vegetables, flowers, and herbs in beds surrounded by some lawn and some spots where the dogs have dug or like to rest. There are currently four family dogs and two foster ones in residence and they are remarkably well behaved. The dogs do their thing and the people do theirs, and when the dogs have had enough sun, BJ opens the front door and lets them back into the house.

Amazingly, they don't bother the planting either. It was late May the day I was shown this last of these three very different neighborhood gardens in Lutz. This one, with the hodge-podge of thriving plants, the animals, and the farm feeling was much like I wish my own could be.

The sunflowers were the first things we noted, some outside the front fence and some even taller ones, 8 to 10 feet with flowers a foot wide bloomed in beautiful dark browns nearer the house and above a wonderful bunch of tall zinnias.

The Spanish style Vosburgh home hides behind a delightful mix of vegetables, zinnias, cypress on the left, silver dollar eucalyptus on the right.

The dooryard patio includes a bubbling rock and seashell water feature and butterfly plants and butterflies abound throughout the garden. So do touches of garden art from the Farm Fresh sign on the shed to the pottery chicken on the edging of the herb garden. All of it contributes to the down home and welcome ambience of this garden.

"Soil is everything," says BJ. "I usually buy eight 40 pound bags of the composted cow manure at a time. I pull them into my wagon right from the car. Sometimes I'll split them down the middle and go around the yard shoveling it right onto the plants. I also mix my own potting soil with this plus Canadian sphagnum peat and perlite and vermiculite."

Tomatoes in Earth Boxes had come through two winters and last summer for her and were loaded with fruit in the spring of their second year. She favors the heritage seeds like Brandywine. A member of the Tampa Bay Chapter of the Rare Fruit Council Int. for the last three years, she and Chris Storch drive to the meetings together. BJ's fruit includes a variegated lemon, Meyer lemon, Kaffir lime, Persian lime, Valencia orange, red orange, temple orange, catleya guava, and black berries, Her herb garden includes fennel, Mexican tarragon, basil, hot peppers, parsley, oregano, lavender, sage, arugula, celeriac, and various thymes.

Much of this garden is edible and BJ says, "If a plant goes to the trouble to produce something we can eat, I feel the least I can do is to eat and enjoy it."

A rainbarrel and water collection helped during the spring drought. The pot below the moose is the one in which a Carolina wren had made a nest.

The property is surrounded by chainlink fence that does both of the things chainlink does so well: keeps in the animals and supports a wonderful assortment of vines. The rangoon creeper or Quisqualis had about a million blooms (while mine at home had none). I learned the name, at last, of another vine I also have; St. Vincent's lilac is in the potato genus and has clusters of lavender flowers followed by small bright red berries.

We stopped to admire a banana bush, Mitchella, of which BJ says, "When it is in bloom you can smell it when you walk out the door, even though it's 30 feet away."

They have a mist system that sends a continuous mist from the top of a pergola whenever they turn it on, which they do several times a day when they or the dogs are outdoors. It adds a wonderful cooling break from the heat. Fragrant white stephanotis flowers, so often used in wedding bouquets, were blooming on a vine climbing toward the mist.

As we approached the corner of the house where the rainbarrel sits, 7 year old Kyle Storch-Docelli couldn't wait to check the Carolina wren's nest he knew was all but hidden in the hanging pot. "Don't get too close. If you scare the mother bird she'll fly out in your face," his parents told him, but he couldn't resist and he did and she did. So I got a picture of the eggs that BJ says were creamed colored at first but darkened to speckled with time.

If you've ever considered the benefits of a dog's life, this garden will convince you how good it can be. Anyone interested in learning more about GREAT which is Greyhound Rescue and Adoptions of Florida serving Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco, and Pinellas Counties can check the web at www.great-greyhound.org or call at 913 971-4732.

The sign on the shed says Farm Fresh, and the whole garden has a farm feeling. The mist coming from the top of the trellis gives dogs, plants, gardeners, and visitors a refreshing break from the heat.

This intensely blue plumbago blooms against ironwork decoration at the front corner of the house.