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Norris Garden Perfected Over Time

Bill and Katherine Norris stop for a moment in front of a bed of red cannas and butterfly plants.

Bill and Katherine Norris have lived in their house for 42 years. "We have 2 ― acres with a bit of something planted here and there. There isn't much blooming right now," said Bill.

What an understatement!

Along east Bloomingdale Avenue in Valrico between 15 and 20 well pruned and fed pink crape myrtles are in abundant bloom, with a few taller white ones as accents.

True, the dozens of azaleas bushes were long past bloom but all trimmed back and already making next yearĒs flowers. The several Tabebuia trees, one with pink trumpet flowers, the rest trees of gold, were well past their bloom, too.

But every inch of the property was neat as could be with an excellent lawn, well marked paths, and color everywhere. The house itself was surrounded by blooming blue hydrangeas that just happened to match the color of the shutters and red salvias. A dooryard pond has a yellow water lily that blooms almost continuously and is surrounded by colorful annuals. The water pouring from a little angelĒs jug gives the sweet sound of bubbling.

Farther out in the front yard, tall oaks and pine trees shade a birdĒs haven where more of them were flying around the feeders than one would believe. "We have more feeders on the side of the house and I counted 15 birds around them the other morning, redbirds, downy woodpeckers, and titmouses," said Katherine.

About half of the garden is shaded except for right in front and around the pool in back. On the far side of the house is a vast expanse of sunny lawn with many fruit trees. "This was once an orange grove," Katherine said, "but these are new trees. We keep the neighborhood supplied with Meyer lemons." The tree is still blooming while hundreds of lemons hang to ripen. They have a kumquat, a grapefruit, a single peach tree ("either a Florida one or a Florida Sun") from which they got "a couple of bushels of peaches," said Bill.

Peaches usually need two or more trees for pollination, but their tree does not seem to know that! Nature is full of surprises. Guavas are still green, grapes almost ripe, and a humongous fig plant, 20 feet tall and wide is loaded with fruit in various stages. It is probably a Brown Turkey. It has excellent flavor.

A dwarf pomegranate is full of fruits in the middle of a very colorful butterfly garden that includes cannas, pentas, ruellias, and zinnias from some seeds she just threw out there. Butterflies abound all over the garden.

"That row is all that is left of my Jimmy Carter garden," said Bill. The peanuts mark the edge of what was and will be again a vegetable garden but is grass for mowing through the summer. Surrounding the small pool are huge begonias and colorful crotons.

Bill built the grape trellis and the gazebo-like bird house for their cockateels. He is retired and Katherine soon will be. Bill gets up at 4 am on his watering day when it is not the rainy season and waters as needed until 8 am. Both of them enjoy sharing their garden and are flattered when people park along the road and come asking to take pictures or when they hear their neighbor Ira McEachern taking her friends on a tour of their garden. The two families share plants and tips.

A large staghorn fern "used to be twice as large until a squirrel made a nest in the middle and the bottom half fell off," Katherine said. "But that is nature." She still feeds the squirrels and isn't too worried about their damage. They just made the part of the staghorn that fell off into another hanging basket.

Entrance garden includes a dooryard pool where one yellow water lily blooms almost continuously. A night-blooming cereus in the pool area is lovely even when not in bloom.

The front garden includes dozens of azaleas beneath the oaks and pines and this haven for birds.