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A Wonderful Addiction

Jay Sespico with his Streptocarpus 'Heaven Scent'.

Jay Sespico of Valrico has a large, unique garden-- indoors-- that is always full of spectacular blooms. He has no problem with mosquitoes or fire ants.

Besides orchids and African violets, his collection includes several varieties each of at least half a dozen different Gesneriad genera that most of us have never seen or heard of. Some of them will be for sale this weekend at the USF Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale at the booth of the African Violet Society.

He often works at sales and goes to several shows a year. But most of his growing is pure enjoyment. "I come home from work ( He works for the Sheriff's Office as a master control operator of security electronics at the Orient Road Jail) and there are plants in bloom all around me," he says. "It is a wonderful addition, not too expensive, and a great return of fun and satisfaction."

At the moment he is getting ready for the Florida Council Show in Fort Lauderdale, disbudding and feeding his best plants so they will be in full bloom the first weekend in November. "I haven't quite mastered the timing but I'm working on it," he says.

These orange flowers are one of 25 clusters on one plant of Aeschynanthus splendidus and the bloom on the left is A. 'Tiger Stripe'

"African violets produce one stem of flowers in each leaf axil," he says. "Streptocarpus can have 10 or 12 or more stems in each leaf axil, so they have lots of flowers." His most amazing one has velvety dark green leaves almost two feet long and flowers with a touch of fragrance, rare in this genus. "I'll take that one to the show if I can get it in the car," he says. Packing treasured plants for travel is a delicate endeavor at best. This one is a special challenge.

He has won many ribbons, including Best of Shows, but he doesn't have them on display. "They'd take up room where I'd rather put plants," he says.

Sespico started collecting plants at age 10 in Buffalo, New York. His mother was careful not to encourage him too much or he would have overrun her house. His father always had a very productive vegetable garden but would never consider growing any plant that was only ornamental. When they moved to Florida just before his senior year in high school, he could have stayed with his married sister, but even then he sensed that Florida was his home.

He studied horticulture for two years after high school at the Pinnellas County Vocational Institute. Now he has two large towers of violets and lights on shelves that he can wheel around in his living room. On these are the plants he is grooming for the next show. In the kitchen are the ones he just enjoys. Another whole room is full of plants for coming sales. All of these are on automatic wick watering with the pots sitting on top of plastic containers of water and liquid fertilizer with a wick of acrylic yarn that keeps them supplied with exactly the amount they need. He fills these about once a month and changes them out when they turn green with algae.

Kitchen violets: The shelves in the kitchen are just for his own enjoyment.

Beyond the sliding glass doors in the kitchen is a porch full of plants, a great many of which are in bloom. One Aeschynanthus (the genus of the lipstick plant) has at least 25 clusters as large as a hand of orange and yellow flowers.

His violets grow in his own special mixture of equal parts of rock wool, coarse vermiculite and coarse perlite that he buys at J R Johnsons Horticulture Suppliers (see address below). He goes all the way to Orlando to get Dyno Rok II as a medium for his orchids. "It is lightweight for rock, but heavy enough to keep the pots from blowing over in the wind. I am up on a ridge here and there is often quite a breeze on the porch," he says.

His porch has a solid ceiling but gets a good bit of sun from the sides, especially in the afternoon, just the right amount for Dendrobium, Encyclia, and Cattleya orchids and many of the gesneriads in hanging pots. He is planning to expand it another 15 feet or more eventually and then he will put in some clear panels in the ceiling. In cold weather he uses space heaters and plastic over the screen to protect his investment.

Sespico gives talks to garden clubs and plants societies in the area, a recent one on how to mount orchids. One wall of his porch is covered with mounted Phalaenopis or moth orchids and it is quite a sight when in full bloom in the spring. If you see him at a plant sale, Jay Sespico is a great person to talk to about orchids or Gesneriads. But beware. This wonderful addiction is contagious.

This pink leaved violet is Wrangler's Pink Patches
So lovely in leaf it doesn't even need to bloom

Columnea 'Yellow Dragon'

Now's the time to...

  • Jay Sespico feed his violets with a granular mixture of Dynamite Plant Food that is available at Home Depot and a soluble mixture of Urea Free Orchid Food 20-10-20 that he gets at Wormway in Tampa. "It says Orchid Food and has a picture of orchids on the clear container and it is light green, but it is too good for orchids," he says.
  • Join a plant society. It's the best way to learn and to get special plants. Sespico belongs to both the Tampa Bay Orchid Society and the Tampa Orchid Society and Tampa African Violet Society. Several times a year he goes to a meeting of Gesneriad Society, but he does not belong. For dates, places, and times, check the internet through the County Extension Office.
  • Miniature violets grow in 2 inch pots but have dozens of flowers. They are ideal for people with limited space such as retirement condos or hospital or nursng home rooms.
  • J R Johnson Supply is located at 3030 Cockroach Bay Road, Sun City Fl, phone 813-645-4666. Pro One in Plant City might also have these supplies, but Sespico combines his trip with a lunch of delicious fish at Grannies' Country Cooking restaurant near Johnsons.
  • Sespico finds neem oil very good for controlling mealybugs and mites on his indoor plants.