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Gardening for the Soul

Five years ago, after an Eco Gardening Conference given by the Hillsborough Extension Service, four ladies who had grown up together in this area decided to form their own garden club. After much discussion of what they wanted their group to do and how they felt, they came up with the name Gardening for the Soul.

Bromeliads give color in shade all year long and are drought resistant and easy to grow.

Roselind Scriven, a Master Gardener, Charlene Robinson, Alta Cox, and Verna Jordan held meetings every fourth Saturday of the month from 9 to 11 am. They meet at The Roseland in Seffner, a historic house that Roselind Scriven bought and restored for the weddings for which she is a coordinator.

Although gardening as a spectator sport is a well approved and encouraged, all of these young women are both active and avid gardeners. In addition, they have a garden tea every year and they enjoy touring other gardens. So one Saturday in 2005 they read about the gardens of Bill Streit (rhymes with right) and Donna O'Toole in this newspaper and called to see if they could come.

"Sure," said Streit. "Come right now if you wish." So they did and stayed two hours.

With a much expanded group of friends and new members Ophelia Ball, Laura Swain, and Sandra Glover, they met again on a recent Saturday at Streit home for a tour of both the house and the garden. I was also invited and followed half of the group through the house. Their interest and their knowledge about decorating indoors far exceeds my own.

So I slipped out to join the garden group. Streit had come inside once to get gallon size plastic bags for each one to collect cuttings. By the time I got out there, they had all graduated to garbage bags.

"This is a kind of clerodendrum," Streit would say, and then tell when and how long it blooms, how fast it grows, sometimes where he got the plant. "Would anyone like a cutting?" he'd ask.

"Yes, please," answered a chorus, of which I was a definite part. These ladies were not shy with their enthusiasm and it made the tour twice as much fun.

Tiger grass in full bloom gives privacy along the property line.

This garden is one of the most amazing in the area. Since Streit retired he has put even more of his interest and energy into his excellent collections of many plants and all were in tip top shape as usual, thanks partly to the work of full time gardener Lupe Perez, Streit and O'Toole had just returned the day before from a tour of the gardens of Holland and everyone enjoyed a DVD of the flower markets. But much as all longed for tulips, the plants that thrive in our Florida climate were ample consolation.

The tiger grass border along one side of the Streit property was in full bloom. "When the afternoon sun hits it, it looks like mist," says Streit. This garden has over 500 species of plants including more than 100 orchids and hundreds of bromeliads. They have added seven van loads of new plants so far this year.

The club members stood out with their yellow T-shirts with Gardening for the Soul on the front and yellow visor caps with flowers all over them.

As far as we know, we are the only garden club made up of a minority group, in this case "ladies of color", though that is not a requirement. Visitors are welcome at our meetings, and every January we accept new members, anyone who loves nature and gardens and how they can sustain us," says Verna Jordan. She can be reached for more details at 653-4193.

Any other groups that would like to tour the Streit garden can call for an appointment: 813-643-6361. E-mail: ckclearwater@tampabay.rr.com.

Members and friends pose with Bill Streit and Donna O'Toole. Halfway through the garden tour they have bags of cuttings. Climbing the hill, they watch their step but listen to every word.