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Tom Schaefer's Fruit and Flowers

Tom Shaefer checks on a plum tree his neighbor gave him.

As a boy Tom Schaefer used to wander the hills beside the Ohio River near Steubenville looking at the plants and gathering leaves. He also had his own vegetable patch in the back yard.

"When Sharon and I built our house here in 1991, I planted one cactus that spread profusely, some citrus trees and small vegetable gardens," he says. He is a contractor and did the work himself on both the house and a large workshop in back.

"After a while my tastes changed. Now we have no more cacti. But we have about 18 citrus trees (all different kinds). It's great to bring in a bag or two of fruit and squeeze the juice." He also shares fruit with friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Tom and Sharon Schaefer live on an acre and a third with no grass to mow. Nor is it a jungle. (I was impressed.) Except where construction continues, the entire area is amazingly neat and uncrowded. The front yard is dominated by tall trees pruned high with openings both in the center and around the driveway, so he has a great deal of fruit, mostly still young, planted there along with azaleas, bromeliads, and a row of Bauhinia trees that are spectacular with yellow flowers every spring.

There is apparently enough sun to keep the fruit thriving. A three foot tall Macadamia nut tree already is bearing samples and all the plants look very healthy.

Schaefer used to burn brush in his yard, but years ago when fire danger was high, he started taking clippings and branches to the recycling facility on Falkenburg Road. Now he comes home with mulch and compost from there. He goes to Plant City to GroMor to get different fertilizers for different plants. Twelve blueberry bushes grow in containers to keep the growing medium acid enough for them and he feeds them with a blueberry formula that is good for any acid loving plant such as azaleas and camellias as well.

The property is back a lane planted with confederate jasmine, crape myrtles, and pittosporum plants. This adds to the country feeling once one leaves the busy street in north Brandon. "It is very enjoyable to come down the colorful lane and see the blue roof on our house and all the other colors when everything is in bloom," Schaefer says.

Planting around workshop: Bananas, blueberries in containers, and thryallis for continuous yellow flowers are part of the planting around his workshop.

Years ago, when they were still renting, he attended a fruit tree sale sponsored by the Rare Fruit Council International, RFCI, when sales were held at the armory in Tampa. For the last two years he has been a member of that group. "I used to be reluctant to ask questions, but not now. I go to the USF sales and talk to all sorts of people and learn much," he says. Many of his plants came from the sales or from the raffles held at every RFCI meeting.

"The other members are very friendly and interested in learning or helping new members. I get a lot of information from them," he says.

When they first married twenty-two years ago, Sharon wanted roses, and he promised her he would always grow them for her. He has kept his promise. The rose garden beside the pool is one of the most charming parts of this yard. Grapes grow on the arbor behind it. A young Ylang Ylang tree nearby now stands taller than the fence and should soon add the fragrance of its blossoms, the same that are used to make Chanel #5.

The Schaefers have three daughters and four grandchildren. The youngest daughter and her friend have helped Tom build a water garden complete with waterfall and pond. When they get the decking finished, he'll be able to sit on the deck and soak his feet in the pond, something he looks forward to almost as much as picking his own blackberries and raspberries, not to mention someday jackfruit, avocados, grumichamas, mangos, bananas, figs, lychees, longans, loquats, jaboticabas, Surinam cherries, and many more fruits.

"I'm somewhat of a dreamer," he says. "I wonder what the yard will look like in five years."

Now when the grandchildren come to visit he takes them out to pick fruit or vegetables. Before long they'll have a little gardens of their own, too, and hopefully a lifetime of enjoying Mother Nature at work as well.

House with blue tin roof: He built this house himself in 1991 and the blue roof is his favorite feature.

A rose garden for his wife: He promised to always have roses for Sharon and has for 22 years.