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Bob Masse Finds Gardening Easy

Not half a mile from one of south Brandon's busiest corners, Bob Masse and his family have a gracious home, surrounded by majestic trees and colorful gardens that make a private, peaceful little world of their own.

You can feel the outside world disappear as you ride down their long, narrow drive where a single fountain at the end promises wonderful surprises ahead.

All of this is largely because Masse is a man who thinks big and loves to work hard. When faced with a job that most of us would find overwhelming, he simply and sincerely says, "That's easy. That will be fun." And then he enjoys doing it.

For the last six years he has had the help of Cal Turpin for both the building and the yard work.

When someone mentions that there is much grass to mow, Masse says, "That's nothing. We do that in two hours, the mowing and trimming and all. We do it twice a week. We have three big compost piles where we put the clippings."

He bought this property nine years ago with a small house on it. A builder himself, he built onto the house extensively and so skillfully that it is impossible to tell, without asking, which was the original section. A wide veranda wraps around all but the back, where the pool enclosure and patio make another outdoor room.

When last year's storms blew down eleven trees in the front yard, Masse was only glad they did no damage to the house and that the least choice trees fell. There are still several large live oaks spreading their dappled shade over the front yard. But now there is room beyond for an enclosed garden area with a gazebo-like shelter for container plants, a row of young but already producing citrus trees of several kinds, raised beds for vegetables, and a small house that he uses for storing his garden supplies. The family often sits on the porch of this house and enjoys the garden. Night blooming cereus plants in containers have give them 35 or more blooms already this years and more buds were about to open.

Along the back of this garden, actually the border closest to the street, is a long narrow, slightly raised bed in front of a decorative fence with lattice across the top. It is colorful now with Tropicana cannas with their bold foliage, other cannas, the largest dahlias I've seen in Florida, and vines of various kinds, including some white mandevilla.

"I cut these dahlias for my wife," Masse says. The plants stand as tall as himself.

This bed, filled with compost they made themselves, has only been in a few months, and already he is planning to move the fence since he is buying the land beyond it to expand.

"That won't be hard," he says. "That will be easy. The yard will then be between two and three acres and we can widen the drive.

"I go with the flow. What works, I use." He is a master of mass plantings. He bought 600 impatiens plants that now surround the house with a sea of bloom. "When we have to cut them back, ornamental grass plants ( both variegated and green-leaved liriope) are in place beneath them and they look good until the impatiens come back. "

Two koi ponds with lotus, water lilies, and pickerel weed add charm to the entry.

He bought 60 or more of the Philodendron selloums that circle the base of the trees and a great many pyracanthas that he is growing as small trees around the side and back of the house. They will be loaded in the fall with orange berries and a feast for the birds. "My whole garden is also a butterfly garden," Masse says.

They picked cases of tomatoes through the spring. For the summer the vegetable beds were worked up, watered well, and then covered with plastic so the hot sun is now cooking out most of the weed seeds, insect eggs, disease spores, and harmful nematodes. This solarization works very well. In the fall they will be planting cucumbers, radishes, eggplants, peas, carrots, and more tomatoes. Careful watering and slow release fertilizer, as well as plenty of compost, make the beds very productive.

"Where else would I want to be?" says Masse, who is semi-retired, or will be when his building is finished.

(Left) Vegetable beds are having their soil solarized over the summer.
(Below) Hanging baskets of begonias catch just enough sun.