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UPCOMING EVENTS
Book Signings and Lectures
by Monica Brandies

 

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Dr. Brown and His Gorgeous Valkaria Gardens


Dr. B. Frank Brown with one of his favorites, Ribbon plant or Dracaena sanderana, in his front greenhouse.

Once at a USF Botanical Garden Plant Sale, I met Cleo Millare who works with Dr. B. Frank Brown, accompanying him on his plant collection trips all over the world and managing his nursery. I was impressed with the young man but missed the chance to meet Dr. Brown himself.

I had seen Dr. Brown's books and his ad in Florida Gardening Magazine: Dr. Brown has done it again! He wrote THE book on Crotons and the same for Cordylines and has now written the definitive book, The Amazing Aglaonemas, Houseplant to the World. Here we can raise all of these beautiful plants in our gardens as well as in our homes, and most do very well in shade.

"He just celebrated his 90th birthday and was honored by the naming of a new Science Building at Melbourne High School after him," said my friend Kathy Nelson. She and her husband Wae are editor and publisher of Florida Gardening Magazine, live near and are old friends of this man I held in awe.

When I was asked to give a talk at the Brevard Rare Fruit meeting in Melbourne, I decided this was my chance. The Nelsons made a date and took me to his home and 5 acre nursery/arboretum in Valkaria, Florida, just south of Melbourne.

Wow! This amazing place is open to the public periodically. Check in the magazine for dates and times and make it trip to remember. Even in March, his tropical plants were in fine shape. Some are in a large greenhouse, some under shade cloth in an area he calls The Rainforest, but most are under the dappled shade of pines and palms in the open.

The man himself is thin, straight, agile, and vigorous beyond belief. Even better, he is down to earth, full of wonderful stories as well as plant knowledge, and a kindred spirit to plant people, though he spent his younger years as an esteemed educator, was a Rhodes scholar, principal of Melbourne High for 15 years, and after that Superintendent of Schools.


He has 32 kinds of tropical clumping bamboo.

"He is a man who knows how to get things done," says Wae Nelson. When Dr. Brown asked for woodchips and wasn't getting them, he called the tree trimming company's main office in Pennsylvania. After that he was getting a load a day until he finally got them to cut back a bit. He is a firm believer in mulch, though, so he used all the woodchips.

He is also a recycler. When the hurricanes took down many of the pines that shaded his gardens, he cut them up and used them for edging. The palm trunks he hollowed out and used as planters for bromeliads.

"The Bromeliads are about the easiest plants to grow in Florida, and until 1940 we only had a few natives," he says. "A couple named Foster brought in many kinds." They gave me a start of one they called "Burt" after their son. Now I have dozens. And he pointed out a tree trunk covered with Burts.

Dr. Brown holds some 28 plant patents, mostly for Aglaonemas that he developed by cross breeding. "I never had a class in botany," he says, "but I was an (educational) consultant for the Department of Defense and had extra time when I was in the Phillippines. I kept visiting backyard nurseries and would ask where their plants came from." Since then, he has been all over the world, taking at least three trips a year, sloshing through jungles, roadsides, and local markets to find new and exciting tropical plants.

He was in the mountains of Hawaii when he spotted a variegated Mahoe tree that he had to have. He went back every day and knocked on the door, but no one came, so he went home without a start. The next year, when he got there, he went directly to that spot and knocked. "No one came, so I sat down in a rocker that was on the porch and waited. And while I was rocking, I looked across the road and spotted a whole bunch of prunings from that tree that had been dumped there. I got my cuttings." One of them is now a tree over the shed right behind the pavilion he uses for lectures not far inside the gardens gate.


The gate to his home and nursery is bright with Blanchetiana bromeliads.

The Fosters gave him a start of this bromeliad they called "Burt" after their son," Dr. Brown says. "Now I have dozens."


Check out Dr. Brown's Crotons of the World from the library.
It is the only one of his books in the Hillsborough system. If enough of us ask, perhaps they will get his other ones.

 

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