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Good Gardens Make Good Friends

Garden friends: Michelle Ferguson and her children, baby Grace, Liam, and Declan, find a visit Elisa Vazquez's garden a sunny spot of any day.

"I'm a stay at home mom of three kids under 5 and visits to Elisa's garden are a sunny spot of our day," wrote Michelle Ferguson of Seffner. "I first met Elisa when my oldest was just months old. Elisa and I began talking and she showed me some of her lovely orchids and then sent me home with a handful of cuttings from her shrimp plant. She told me to just put them in the ground and they'll grow. I did as she said and they did grow. I still have the plant today. There began my love of gardening."

"Elisa's garden is a specimen garden. If she knows a plant blooms in different colors she wants to acquire one in each color. She grows orchids, succulents and cactus equally as well. Plants are growing in the ground and in containers along her garden paths. Her collection of containers is usually salvaged or recycled and is beautified by what she grows in them. Trees and flowering shrubs create nice shady spots over the paths. Nooks and crannies are filled with new cuttings.

"Each plant has a story and as we walk along her paths, I'm always amazed how different the garden looks from visit to visit and how fast things grow under her care. And the stories! I hear about how she has wove the branch with new guavas into the thick of the leaves so the squirrels won't eat them before her. Or, how she got a cutting from a Don Juan to finally root and bloom. Or we admire her latest acquisition, usually found or given to her by family or friends. Then, I never leave empty handed, but always with some fruit or a tender new cutting for my garden.

"Elisa is both a teacher and a gardener through and through," says Michelle, whose own garden across the street from Elisa's, looks very inviting.

Elisa Vazquez is a short little lady with a Puerto Rican accent, a body of enthusiasm bigger than herself, and the wisdom of her almost 80 years. Her garden is truly amazing.

"This yard is like a used car lot," she says of all the cars parked in the driveway. Another car and two boats are parked in the backyard, but that doesn't stop Elisa from making a beautiful garden. She was born in the country and always loved natural beauty and ate natural foods. She has gardened all her life. When she lived at Chalet Village in Tampa before moving here, hers was chosen as Best Garden of the Month and she received a $50 award.

This ti plant stands above a thriving and cascading foxtail fern in a large container.

She brought some of her plants along when she moved to the little house in the backyard of her nephew. She takes care of her grand niece four days a week. The rest of the time she gardens, feeds the birds, watches the butterflies, and enjoys her garden both from inside and outside her house. She has ten bird feeders in the peach tree by her front door. "It is like an airport, so many kinds of birds coming and going," she says.

"When the golden dewdrop was in full bloom, there were millions of butterflies on it," she says as she greet by name the butterflies that fly by her. She has read many garden books and is tickled to know both common and botanical names for most of her plants.

Elisa is an expert on good combinations: a purple leaved ti plants stands tall in a pot of dark green cascading foxtail fern. Firebush or Hamelia blooms red above her favorite purple flowered Thunbergia battiscombei. A yesterday, today, and tomorrow with its purple blooms fading to lavender will bloom in the spring above a gardenia. Imagine the fragrance of those two together.

"Plants are living things," Elisa says. "I don't feed mine much because this soil is rich, but I take care of them, love them, and make sure they behave." For many of the plant such as the shrimp plants and the Red Cascade rose, she says, "The more you cut them back the better they do."

Left: She is proud of her little house in the garden. The peach tree to the left has ten bird feeders hanging from its branches and a birdbath at its base.


Right: Elisa Vasquez sits beside her succulent collection.


Elisa Vazquez Knows about Plants