BY SARAH HOUGH PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH HOUGH & SAVANNAH JANE
In a quiet neighborhood, just a short stroll from the beautiful views of Historic St.
Andrews Bay, lush plants hide Mike and Cindi Cole’s Florida Cottage. A tall oak tree’s
branches hover over the roof and the greenery and flowering plants in the yard are well
tended and nurtured. The house is barely visible from the road in the summer. When the
Coles moved to Panama City from Dayton, Ohio in 2003, the approximately one-quarter-
acre site and mature trees appealed to them. Since then, hundreds of plants have
been carefully added and tended.
You know the saying that a successful gardener has a green thumb… well, Mike Cole has two green hands. A sign in the Cole’s yard announces “the SNOOTY GARDENER.” He received this designation a few years ago and he likes it. In addition to helping plan the design of the garden and choosing plants, Mike’s wife, Cindi, helps with the maintenance. At the time of inclement weather, they have a big job moving and covering plants. Their garden features only very few native plants. The most impressive among them is a native, eight foot tall azalea with gorgeous orange flowers. The colorful foliage and blooms of bromeliads predominate in the garden and their blooms can be seen throughout the year.
Mike wanted a garden he would be able to tend by himself. He craves knowledge and loves to research plants and gardens. And, even better, he likes to share his knowledge with others. Each plant has its own requirements and it is a challenge to fill those requirements, he says.
FAVORITES IN THE GARDEN
Bromeliads, with their colorful blooms and foliage are favorites. They are airplants that do not require their roots in the soil and they normally grow on rainforest trees and take nutrients from the surrounding atmosphere. Spanish moss and orchids are also airplants.
January is the time to begin to clean up the beds. Mike cuts the banana trees down to the ground and they grow back by the summer. Bananas are tropical but some will produce fruit in Northwest Florida with regular watering and the frequent use of fertilizer. “I have probably 100 banana trees,” he reports. In the February/March timeframe, he places orders for new plants. Throughout the summer there is plenty to do. After every storm, broken fronds need to be cut off the palm trees and broken limbs need to be cleaned up. A year-around activity for Mike is searching the internet and catalogs for plants to add to the collection.
The most important consideration when planting, is knowing which plants can take full sun and which require shade. Mike carefully watches the plants and moves them if it is necessary. Mulch is also important. “Do not throw away any plant material, turn it into mulch,” he advises. When the tree trimmers are in the neighborhood, they know to bring the trimmings to Mike, who turns them into mulch that is then used to enhance the soil in the garden beds.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Don’t let setbacks spoil your determination to grow an outstanding garden. Research any questions you have online where you will find abundant information. The internet is the best place in the world for gardeners say Mike and Cindi. And don’t forget to MULCH.
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