After all my hair pulling and whining about the garden being dead from the first frost, I went to Florida. There is life after all, and gardens, too. The occasion was to speak at the Boca Grande Garden Club. The Sara Blakely-Jesse Itzler wedding had just happened a couple of weeks back, I was told, which included a street fair and lots of celebrities including Ophra, which introduced Sara Blakley's Spanx line of panty hose to the world. Boca Grande Island's a great place, about 5 miles long, probably 1/4 mile wide, populated by people who live "up north" in summer and enjoy the sunshine of the Gulf Coast in winter. We had a wonderful host, Sharon Rankin, who made our stay a great treat and who showed us the light houses and other highlights of the island.
The Garden Club hosted a reception for us on Election night at the home of Ed and Nora Lea Reefe, where we met the officers and board of the Garden Club and had a tour of the Reefe's fabulous home (Ed's an architect and collector of antique nautical paraphernalia, fitting for beach living).
There were about 200 members of the Garden Club and my program was on the Ten Most Popular Herbs, based on my last year's survey of wholesale and retail nurseries and seed companies across the U.S. (which resulted in my little book by that title). The program was well received and book sales were brisk, with food furnished by the group. I made a bowl of my banana salsa for everyone to taste.
We flew in to Tampa a few days before the Garden Club event, specifically to go to the Sunday morning Mustang Flea Market. And what a market it was. Half the vendors don't speak much English. We found Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Hispanic and others, selling produce and plants. I bought longons, rambutan, dragon fruit, passionfruit, passing up starfruit, oranges, pomelos, and a few others. I bought a pandanas plant, which I'd been looking for ever since I was in Thailand for cooking classes a few years back. The leaves are an ingredient in Thai pudding, which I like.
We stayed in Bradenton for a couple of days, in the apartment of Tom and Roxanna Collins, friends from our Friday Night Dinner Group here at home. We explored the area around Bradenton, including St. Almons, De Soto National Landmark (where Hernando de Soto landed and enslaved the Indians, or at least the ones his soldiers didn't kill). We found the Anne Marie Oyster Bar on Anne Marie Island, and Kay's Kitchen near Sarasota. Some trips are "bad food" trips, which means no matter where you stop, the food leaves much to be desired. Then there are "good food" trips, in which every place you stop, the food's great. This was definitely a good food trip, every day and was topped off by festive food at the Garden Club and a very pleasant dinner at the Boca Country Club the night before we left for home.
We visited the Florida Native Plant Nursery outside Sarasota, and they suggested we stop at 4 Bees Herb Farm. We did, and had the pleasure of meeting Deborah Blount, the owner. We talked herbs and plants and had a great visit. While there, a huge turtle came walking through the yard, evidently a daily occurrence. On down the road at Crowley Nursery & Gardens I found the cinnamon tree I've been yearning for these past several years. By the third day of travel, I had to ship several of my plants home, the rest, including the tropical fruit, I carried home on the plane.
We made several new friends who we hope to visit again, and warmed our bones for the coming winter ahead. I think I could like Florida a lot, considering you can walk out the door and pick oranges, plant tomatoes NOW instead of next May, and even garden a little all winter long. Now, if I could just find a little cabin somewhere in that nice, warm state, I'd probably go there for the winter!