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Willow LaMonte Grows a Herbal Delight Garden

Willow LaMonte makes a pitcher of herbal tea, from her own herbs, every day and enjoys it herself or shares it with visitors. She is growing over 100 different herbs in home gardens in Valrico, including kava kava, rice paper plant, lemon verbena, Dittany of Crete, agaves and nettles. She has a lemon grass species that grows 8 feet tall, blooms abundantly and self seeds. Most of them are medicinal, some culinary as well, and she can tell you uses for all of them.

True roselle bearing this gorgeous fruit

Having been disabled for the past 25? years after a car wreck, she walks with a cane, manages to carry an amazing work load and takes health very seriously.

She has been an organic gardener for 35 years. "I feel most myself when I garden," she says.

She also has a greenhouse where she starts many of her plants from seeds. Trying to get away from plastic, she is the first Florida grower to use the new Coir, coconut fiber pots that she feels sure are the pots of the future. "I was using peat pots, but the Coir I can reuse. They seem to cut down on viruses and plants just do better in them," she says. Until they become available to home growers, we can buy Willow Delight Herbs, plant them in our yards and reuse the pots.

Willow takes seeds, plants and books to market in Dunedin most Fridays, to the new Saturday market at the Extension Office in Largo on Saturday (8 am - 1 pm), and is at Sweetwater Organic community Farm on Sundays (Noon - 4 pm) 6942 S. Comanche Ave. in Tampa). She will be at the Ybor City Market the third Saturday in January and people can also come to her home by appointment (643-7285). She will be teaching a 6-week class there on Organic Gardening starting Tuesday, January 8, 08 from 10 am until noon.

She also writes a column called Gardening Patterns in the Circle of Life in the monthly Living Organic News.

"The ancient wisdom our ancestors learned from plants is being eroded today alone with the soil clean waterways, air and once healthy relationship with the land," she says. "I believe a healing balm for an ever-increasing toxic violent world can be found through nurturing local sustainable communities."

Willow LaMonte is the first grower in Florida to use these new Coir pots made from coconut fiber.

Her gardens are not showy, but they are interesting beyond measure. The property seems much larger than the 1.1 acres it is. A few old oaks surround the edges for shady loving herbs and native plants, but there is a wealth of sunny space for her many beds. Most are raised but without walls. One is shaped like a leaf with the paths like veins. She has mixed herbs, vegetables, fruits, flower and love in all of them, along with plenty of mulch and organic matter.

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Mulch is very important for less weeding, watering, and fertilizing and more nutritious organic herbs and foods.

She waters it all by hose and does some watering almost every day except rainy ones. Her greenhouse and potting shed are new and hundreds of seedlings are sprouting there and growing there.

Her parents had an organic farm in Massachusetts in the 70s where she worked and learned and she has been learning ever since. She calls herself a folk herbalist since she is mostly self taught. She sells and recommends my book Herbs and spices for Florida Gardens, but she goes far beyond that. In two hours she taught me that you can use the green part of the lemon grass leaves as well as the white part at the base for tea, that nasturtiums are more anti-viral, anti- bacterial and anti-fungal that Echinacea, that Agave nectar is a natural sweetener and that comfrey compost helps other plants grow better.

Her gardens really are a delight and so is she. And so is her tea.