While the following may be an overly dramatic description of my intial experiences in attempting to garden while I lived in Florida - there is a good deal of truth to it:
Sometimes I think I'm the Ancient Mariner of gardeners, condemned to spend my remaining years fruitlessly turning over the soil. Before I moved to Florida I was confident in my gardening skills. Several times a year I could fill a vase to overflowing with spectacular flowers. Then somehow, in the process of moving to Florida, I must have offended some Albatross, because my skills suddenly evaporated. What made matters worse was that when I resorted to the old tools that always seemed to guide me out of my gardening dilemma, nothing worked. I visited the local nurseries and gardening shops looking for sage advice, but no one seemed to know the one trick that would help me solve my problems. I tried reading every book on Florida Gardening, but the authors seemed to be talking about some altered state, not my backyard. I experimented with dozens of different plants and techniques, but with little success. It took me five years of failures to figure out how to reliably grow impatiens under my Oak trees! I searched in vain for someone who could tell me how to get the Albatross from off my neck, the Hermit who would ask me "What manner of gardener art thou?"
So I took matters into my own hands and started to build this site, to see if I could consolidate the various data sources on the Web into a helpful resource for my research and learning. What I found was startling. I discovered that there was a tremendous amount of information on gardening in Florida, but most of it was disorganized. I also found some real gems, but most of them were well hidden. To be more specific:
- The University of Florida is the best place to start. The most comprehensive resources for gardening in Florida can be found on the Web sites maintained by the University of Florida.
- After UF, try Dave's Garden. If you can't find the plant you are interested in on http://davesgarden.com/, it probably does not exist. The site is member supported much like WikiPedia (there over 200,000 members). It has extensive plant fact sheets, images, forums and facilities to share seeds.
- Then there are several excellent local sites run by gardening enthusiasts. Our Florida Garden is Mimi Christien's Web site that traces the evolution of her garden in Tampa and provides a fascinating incite into one person's passion for gardening. Regretfully Mimi has not had time to keep the site current, but it is still worth visiting. Gardening in Central Florida is an interesting, well written blog. The other intriguing site is DonitaWorld. While the site consists primarily of links (excellent ones at that), the author has done a great job trying to create an "experience". And while you are at it, check out Monica Brady's Web site: Gardens Florida, for advice on gardening in Florida.
- And Now for Something Completely Different. Since there is no single clear winner for best resource for Florida gardening, you have to be creative. One surprise is that Hawaii and South Africa have some excellent Web sites on plants and both locales have weather that is similar to Florida. Plantzafrica.com and The African Garden have vast information on plants along with images. While the site is a bit of a challenge to navigate, the National Tropical Botanical Gardens site based primarily in Hawaii is another great resource.
- A Ray of Hope. Then, when I had about given up I stumbled across floridayards.org or the Florida-Friendly Landscaping site - a joint project sponsored by the
Florida Department of Environmental Protection along with the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program (part of the University of Florida IFAS Extension) and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Graphically pleasing and well thought out, it contains extensive links and resources along with an excellent search tool to find plants that are adapted to your particular growing conditions. This site is probably the best single source for information on gardening in Florida. If you combine this site with the extensive information on Florida gardening and plants contained in A Guide to Florida-Friendly Landscaping you have all the building blocks you need as a beginning gardener.
- In the end - search them all. My solution to this dilemma - you need to search all the sites to obtain the best view. So I've created a Search page that incorporates several other search sites. I even have a link to rollyo.com that allows you to input one search string and search all of my favorite links at once or, if you click on the links on the left of the results page in rollyo, you can search each site one at a time. I love Google, but the amount of junk you have to wade through to find what you want can some times be frustrating . For example, type in "Magnolia" as the search string in Google and the first hit you receive is a page on the movie "Magnolia". Try "Magnolia" on the rollyo.com site and you receive only local information on trees.