- By B.C. Manion
Maryhelen Zopfi is such an avid gardener that she’s filled up nearly every nook and cranny in her front yard with diverse plants, a koi pond and eclectic yard art.
But she doesn’t stop there.
Her passion spills into the backyard, where there are roses, orchids, crotons, fruit trees and grapevines. There’s even a stand of stately canna lilies in an old claw-foot tub. And, there’s a large koi pond out back, too. It’s much larger than the one in front. The backyard pond used to be the family’s swimming pool.
Her property, on North Mobile Villa Drive in Lutz, is also a showcase for Florida-Friendly landscaping practices.
Zopfi catches rainfall in a rain barrel to water a portion of a garden. She diverts runoff from her rooftop and pipes it into areas of her garden. She uses landscape beds to keep storm water from spilling out of her yard. And, she uses micro-irrigation to apply water where needed without wasteful spraying.
She groups plants with similar water and maintenance needs, uses mulches that are environmentally friendly and welcomes birds and butterflies to her garden with her well-stocked birdfeeder and butterfly plants.
Zopfi’s yard is considered to be such a fine example of Florida-Friendly landscaping that she was named the recipient of Hillsborough County’s 2012 Florida-Friendly Landscape Water-Wise Award. She collected her award from the Hillsborough Commission at its Sept. 19 board meeting.
Visitors to Zopfi’s garden will find a place that awakens the senses.
Walk along the garden path out front and you’ll smell the fragrance of white ginger, wafting into the air. You’ll see a cluster of orchids displaying gorgeous blooms.
“It’s just like in the rainforest,” Zopfi said. “They hang out under trees and nature takes care of them.”
Look in one direction to see colorful crotons. Peer another way to see massive staghorn ferns.
Her front yard has plants everywhere. There’s shell ginger, pinecone ginger, spider plants, powder puffs, impatiens, bromeliads, coleus and roses.
She picks up some stock at plant sales. Other vegetation comes from swap meets. She gets cuttings from fellow gardeners and freebies at seminars.
Some crotons are unique to her garden. Her husband of 43 years, Simon, grafted them. Others plants have found a new home in her garden after being transplanted from other yards. The bird’s nest fern, for instance, was once in her grandmother’s yard.
Zopfi also gets a kick out of yard décor.
She’s no minimalist when it comes to adorning her yard, and her definition of “yard art” is broad.
Some decorations include a dangling pair of blue crocs, which her granddaughter outgrew; a lady bug created from half of a bowling ball; a bucket she turned on its side with rocks spilling out; and a dinner plate garden border.
“I just set things around my yard,” Zopfi said. “When people don’t want something, they give it to Maryhelen.”
Besides gifts from friends, she gets stuff at yard sales, from flea markets and by “ground shopping,” a term that describes her outings to find gems in other people’s discards.
“I found these steps on the side of the road,” she bragged. They’re now her potting bench.
She enjoys finding new uses for old things. An old mailbox in her front yard is now a storage place for garden tools.
Her planters are creative, too. They include a pair of old wash tubs, a child’s red wagon, a hanging infant’s swing, an old race car tire and a collection of colanders.
“I will plant in anything,” Zopfi said. “You give me something and I will plant in it.”
When she adds or moves a plant in her garden, she pays attention to how it fares.
“Plants will tell you where they want to be. You can hang that plant and if it looks wilty, it doesn’t want to be in the shade. If they’re comfortable, they do good,” Zopfi said.
She credits her father, the late Sid Carter, for introducing her to the wonders of gardening.
“My dad used to just throw sweet potatoes out in the backyard and let it grow,” she said.
He also taught her to be resourceful.
“He always told me,” Zopfi said, “I’ll give you all of your needs, but if you want something you’re going to have to build it or make it.”
Zopfi said much of what she’s learned about gardening has come through “trowel and error.”
She also belongs to several garden clubs and frequently attends plant talks at public libraries.
Zopfi enjoys leaning and is happy to share what she knows. She said one of her favorite sayings is, “Those who know, teach. Those who don’t know, learn.”
Ron and Marian Riopelle, who live on Ninth Street in Zephyrhills, are Pasco County’s recipients of the Community Water-Wise Award for 2012. They will be honored at a future Pasco Commission meeting.
Florida-Friendly landscaping principles*
Florida-Friendly landscaping principles include:
—Planting the right plant in the right spot (visit floridayards.org for a database of Florida-Friendly plants)
—Using water efficiently by designing a landscape that relies predominantly on rainfall
—Fertilizing as necessary
—Maximizing mulch to conserve moisture by applying a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch over the roots of plants and shrubs and in plant beds
—Offering a place for wildlife by providing adequate food, water and shelter (visit hillsborough_fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/BWH.html to find out more)
—Controlling pests responsibly by using fewer pesticides and allowing beneficial insects to help keep unwanted pests under control
—Recycling grass clippings, leaves and yard debris to provide natural sources of mulch
—Preventing storm water runoff by using rain barrels, gravel or mulch for driveways and paths and directing drainpipes onto gardens and lawns
—Protecting the waterfront by planting native plants or noninvasive exotics near the shoreline and creating a buffer zone near the shoreline where no chemicals are applied
*Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
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