Fawning over flora

Spring is in full bloom, and this weekend is the time to celebrate.

The USF Botanical Gardens will host the 17th Annual Spring Plant Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

The festival is the gardens’ primary fund-raiser to support and help upgrade its many programs and activities.

According to the botanical gardens’ home Web site, cas.usf.edu/garden, the Spring Plant Festival remains “the largest festival in the Tampa Bay area.”

According to Laurie Walker, director of the USF Botanical Gardens, about 70 plant vendors and organizations such as the African Violet Society and the Tampa Bay Orchid Club will attend the festival.

“If you have any questions about any type of plant, how to grow it, how to maintain it, how to care for it, those people can answer those questions for you,” she said.

Volunteer USF, the University’s central volunteer center, will also be at the festival to help out, Walker said.

“They’re really important to us, (the members of Volunteer USF) who come out and work in the garden on a regular basis,” she said.

Some plants that will be on sale include orchids, begonias, carnivorous plants, fruit trees and many more.

“You can find any kind of plant imaginable,” Walker said.

The master gardeners from the Hillsborough County Extension Service will also be there to provide information and advice to attendees with any questions. A federal agency, the Hillsborough County Extension Service is well known for providing free educational programs and courses for the Floridian community, many dealing with horticulture, the study of gardening.

“It’s a wonderful way for people who are just new to Florida or want to learn about gardening in Florida to get plants and to get excellent information from the experts,” she said.

The festival will also hold a free children’s activity area with arts and crafts. Children under 12 are admitted for free.

Walker will give a tour of the garden at 1 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, marathon workshops will be offered that “will focus on things like bananas, or orchids, or specialty type things,” Walker said.

Walker expects about 5,000 attendees and said there are vendors coming from as far away as Miami.

“If you’re living on campus or in an apartment, you usually have plants on your windowsill, on your bookcase, on your computer desk,” Walker said. “It’s a great way to get some nature inside your dorm room or your apartment.”

She also described the festival as an opportune event.

“Students can visit the garden, of course, anytime, but this is a good opportunity if they want to pick up some plants either as gifts or for their apartments,” she said.

Walker stresses that any support is appreciated.

“You’re helping the garden by attending even if you don’t buy a plant,” she said.

She hopes it will spark interest for some.

“It hopefully will get people interested in coming back to the garden to see it,” Walker said. “We have memberships available, which also help to support the garden, and there are student memberships for $15 a year.”

The festival will run on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. General admission is $3 per person. Members of the USF Botanical Gardens are admitted for free.