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by Monica Brandies


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A Garden for Three Generations

Laurel and Jane Cecelski stand proudly in front of the Fire hibiscus with its rose colored foliage.

ane Cecelski started her garden near Gibsonton 26 years ago. Her daughter Laurel, no taller than the spade handle at the time, remembers helping with the first plantings. Over the years they have changed a bare acre of land into a lovely and fascinating collector's garden with rare plants, wildlfowers, several low maintenance/high interest groundcovers in place of lawn, hummingbirds, butterflies, and much more magic.

aurel now works at Kerby's Nursery. When you go there, introduce yourself to the young lady with the cowboy hat and the long pigtails. She already knows a great deal about plants and is learning even more on the job. She is passionate about gardening in general and the garden she and her mother now share in particular.

Her son Austin is also quite likely to catch garden fever. Already he has a special section for his own garden.

"I was very interested when I was little, and then not so much as a teenager," Laurel admits. Now she plans to get a degree in botany and do field research eventually.

She has been volunteering at the USF Botanical Gardens for seven years. "Bob Kohler (who runs the Plant Shop there) is my answer man. Whenever I have a plant I can't identify, I take it to him and he tells me what it is," she says.

Laurel will be giving a talk on "Groundcovers instead of Lawn" at the nursery on Saturday, September 9, at 10 am and again at 2 pm.

The Cecelski garden uses groundcovers to great advantage and has no grass to mow. The closest thing they have to a lawn is a wide expanse of wedelia that Jane loves. While it can spread and climb out of control, the Cecelskis find that mowing it once a month during the summer, as needed the rest of the year, gives them a low, dark green lawn substitute with yellow daisies as a bonus.

"It is important to edge wedelia just as you would a lawn so that it doesn't climb into adjacent plantings," Laurel warns.

Angel wing begonias: Jane keeps many of her angel wing begonias in pots. So far they have been cold resistant but she is ready if we should have a serious freeze.

Near the entrance a small planting of sensitive plant, Mimosa strigillosa, has spread right out to the road. This one has little puff like flowers of lavender and compound leaves that close at a touch. "I show this to children at the nursery," Laurel says, "and they all love to see the leaves fold."

This mimosa is a native plant with fernlike leaves that does well in woodlands and on damp sites. It has no thorns but looks similar to the sensitive briar, Schrankia microphylla, that grows statewide with thorny stems.

A pond in the front yard has waterlilies that bloom with their color varying with the sun or shade of the moment from lavender to white to pink.

Behind the house is a larger pond, an above ground pool, a bright sunny garden with a collection of perennial asters in maroon, lavender, and white among blooming coonties, a tall dark leaved copper leaf, crotons, and various other shrubs. A vegetable garden had corn and climbing beans planted together and already a foot tall in late August in spite of the heat. "I figure by the time the corn is ready to tassel it will be cool and it will grow taller," Jane says. "We got a few meals from the asparagus last spring. Next year in late winter I will cut it to the ground and give it a good mulching, then cut the spears as they come up." It is the best looking planting of asparagus I've seen in Florida, where asparagus isn't easy to grow and the spears turn into ferny fronds almost before one can cut them.

They have a hummingbird garden with various red flowers, jatropha, salvias, and a bottlebrush tree. They also have a pink jatropha and a cousin of the mandevilla that has lavender flowers, various hibiscus including the one with upside-down frilly blooms. The one they call Fire has foliage of rose in the sun, white mixed with rose in the shade. Snow Queen or Ice has variegated foliage of green and white.

Look for Laurel Cecelski when you go to Kerby's. Like the others there, she is very knowledgeable and happy to help you with choices or tips.

Above: The back deck gets plenty of sun and is bordered with a pink crape myrtle, a white butterfly ginger, yellow cannas, and purple four o'clocks and impatiens.

Left: They keep the best plants near the front entry where they can enjoy them the most, especially that rex begonia.

Now's the time to...

  • Tell you about the amazing mosquito machine the Cecelski's have that uses propane, is silent and unobtrusive, and keeps their entire garden as well as their neighbor's almost completely free of mosquitos. It is called "Mosquito Magnet" and they bought it at Home Depot.
  • They have planted yellow allamanda with yellow Carolina jasmine and the two support each other high into one of their pine trees for both summer and winter color and fragrance.
  • Their acre has a great collection of plants, but it is also well designed and amazingly neat. They feel it is low maintenance, but it definitely shows signs of frequent and careful pruning and much judicious care.