Marie Harrison is author of four books about gardening in the Deep South. She is an Okaloosa County Master Gardener, Flower Show School instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and Floral Design Studies instructor for the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs. Visit her website,

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Digging In
by Marie Harrison       #Advice   #Misc

Many people move to Florida every year from all sorts of places. Before long, these newcomers realize that gardening in Florida is different than it was “back home.” I was once one of these “newbies,” so I can vouch for the reality check that occurs when people attempt to garden in our sunshine state using the plants and practices that were successful in other parts of the country. Even people who have lived in Florida for years, upon reaching retirement age and finding time to garden, have little notion how to go about it. If you are searching for ways to learn more about gardening and become more involved in it, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Bill Hagan, president of the Tri-county Beekeepers Association in northwest Florida, explains the process of caring for beehives to a group of Okaloosa County Master Gardeners as part of their required education hours.

Master Gardener Program
The Florida Master Gardener program offers many opportunities for people to learn about gardening. Sponsored by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, master gardeners are tasked with assisting their county’s horticulture extension agent in providing research-based gardening information to the public. Prospective master gardeners go through an extensive training period by attending a series of classes taught by extension agents and other experts. In return for this training, a certain number of volunteer hours per year are required.

Florida’s master gardener program is overseen by Wendy Wilber, the state coordinator ( While she can certainly answer most questions related to gardening, the master gardener programs and activities are organized first by region and then by county. If you cannot find the information you need online (, or if you cannot determine who your horticulture extension agent is, consult the regional director for your area.

If you are not interested in becoming a master gardener yourself, you can still depend on your horticulture extension agent and the master gardeners in your area for answers to gardening questions. Many of them offer programs, demonstrations, plant clinics, and other activities to assist residents.

Valparaiso Garden Club installed and maintains a pollinator garden at the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida. This garden is used extensively to teach the students and the public about pollinators and their importance.

Garden Clubs
Garden clubs offer a great way to meet other gardeners. Many of these groups are for gardeners with special interests or in specific areas. My garden club gives members access to a floral design study group and to a horticulture study group. Both of these groups meet regularly and are open to the public as part of the educational outreach of the clubs involved. In addition, a pollinator garden, plant potting parties and plant sales, field trips, youth groups, standard flower shows, and other activities offer something for almost everyone. Learning and teaching about gardening and floral design are both at the heart of garden club activities.

While many garden clubs in Florida do not belong to the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, they are worthwhile entities and offer much to members. However, they are not organized into a larger unit, and information about them is hard to find. The Florida Federation of Garden Clubs is divided into 12 districts, each with a director. These directors can help you determine which garden clubs are in your area and put you in contact with them.

Members of the Tri-County Horticulture Studies Group visit Dragon’s Meade Daylily Farm in Panama City. This group is an outreach program of federated garden clubs in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton Counties. The study group is open to the public and anyone interested in learning more about gardening is welcome.

Plant Societies and Specialty Garden Clubs
For people with very specific interests, a plant society might be a better choice. Many plant societies or other specialty gardening groups can be found in Florida. For instance, the Deep South District of the American Rose Society has 25 active rose societies, 13 of which are in Florida. Most of these groups meet monthly and have programs given by knowledgeable rosarians in addition to activities such as garden tours and rose shows. Their website ( has a wealth of information, including an impressive photo gallery, lists of consulting rosarians and their contacts, upcoming events, and a comprehensive library with articles with information about growing roses in the Deep South. There are several specialty clubs that have an emphasis on specific plants.

The Mary Esther Community Garden offers 4-foot by 10-foot raised beds where residents can grow crops. Many community gardens offer similar opportunities for people who do not have space to garden.

Community Gardens
If you do not have room to garden in your own backyard, community gardens may offer just the solution. The website will help you find a community garden near you. By searching this site, I found three within 10 miles of my home. If you are interested in starting a community garden, help can be found online at

Growing for Food Banks
The Garden Writers Association encourages their readers to Plant a Row for the Hungry. Many gardeners grow more food than they can eat. Estimations indicate that well over 100 billion pounds of food are thrown away each year in the United States. At the same time, over 49 million people do not have the food they need. Through a process called gleaning, much of this waste could feed the hungry. The gleaners collect excess food from farms, gardens, fairs, grocers, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and other sources and distribute it to the people who need it. If this interests you, a toolkit to help you get started can be found at (

There are many opportunities to learn more about gardening. Visits to your local garden center will teach you much about plants that thrive in your area. Attending programs offered by garden clubs, master gardeners, plant nurseries, and specialty groups will help you get started. Trips to botanical gardens, state and national parks, as well as books and magazines are all sources of information. You need only to take advantage of the many available resources to become more involved in gardening.

Standard flower shows, given by garden clubs that are affiliated with The National Federation of Garden Clubs, take place throughout Florida. Garden club members get a chance to show off their best horticulture and floral designs, and visitors can learn much about plants that grow well in their area.

Florida Extension Administrative Districts

Northwest – Dr. Pete Vergot, 850-875-7137,

Counties: Bay, Calhoon, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla, Walton, Washington

Northeast – Dr. Eric Simonne, 352-392-1781,

Counties: Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Gilchrist, Hamilton, LaFayette, Levy, Madison, Nassau, Suwannee, Taylor, Union

Central – Dr. Tim Momol, 352-392-1781,

Counties: Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Oceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Volusia

South Central – Brenda Rogers, 813-757-2195,

Counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas, Sarasota

South – Dr. Joe Schaefer, 561-993-1280,

Counties: Brevard, Broward, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, The Seminole Tribe

District Directors for the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs

District I, Sharon Johnson, 850-293-4902,
Counties: Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton

District II, Louise Michaels, 850-326-1257,
Counties: Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Liberty, Gadsden

District III, Lucilla Heinrich, 386-362-5995,
Counties: Franklin, Wakulla, Leon, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette

District IV, Carolyn H. Stevens, 904-247-8269,
Counties: Baker, Union, Nassau, Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Putnam

District V, Louise Allen, 352-799-3160,
Counties: Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Bradford, Alachua, Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Marion

District VI, Kathleen Terlizzo, 386-864-7460,
Counties: Flagler, Volusia, Brevard

District VII, Owaissa Vanderberg, 352-241-9506,
Counties: Sumter, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole

District VIII, Barbara Jacobson, 941-475-9359,
Counties: Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota

District IX, Kathleen Hawryluk, 239-455-5113,
Counties: Polk, Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, Charlotte, Lee, Collier

District X, Donna Berger, 772-286-4718,
Counties: Okeechobee, Indian River, St. Lucie, Glades, Martin, Hendry, Palm Beach

District XI, Barbara Horan, 954-698-0109,
Counties: Broward

District XII, Deborah Ann Smith, 305-964-5186,
Counties: Dade, Monroe

Camellia japonica ‘Pleasant Memories’ in the Greater Fort Walton Beach Camellia Society’s show is one among hundreds of beautiful exhibits. Many plant societies exist in Florida where people can learn about gardening with specific plants.

Specialty Garden Organizations in Florida

• American Hibiscus Society, Venice (
• Florida Palm and Cycad Society, Maitland (
• Florida Native Plant Society, Ft. Myers (
• Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies (
• American Bamboo Society, Florida Caribbean Chapter (

Fairchild Garden in Miami houses at least three societies:
• Tropical Fern and Exotic Plant Society (
• Tropical Flowering Tree Society (
• American Orchid Society headquartered at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Fairchild Campus, Coral Gables (

• American Camellia Society (at least 8 chapters in Florida) (
• Florida Forestry Association (


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Marie Harrison.


Posted: 05/09/17   RSS | Print


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