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A diversity of botanical delights

Despite the unfriendly weather this weekend, waves of visitors flooded the annual Spring Plant Festival, hosted by the USF Botanical Gardens.

Roses were red, violets were blue, enthusiasts enjoyed the Spring Plant Festival, and bought a plant or two.

The event enthralled guests with a variety superseded only by the hues of the flowers for sale: miniature ferns, mango trees, fragrant roses, floating water lilies, wind chimes, garden fountains, exotic fruit jellies, fresh fruit salad, handmade scented soaps and organic cotton apparel.

“We had approximately 5,000 people show up this year. This was close to record-setting. It was a great show,” said Laurie Walker, director of the gardens.

Some visitors could be found buying multicolored orchids and others, blueberry shrubs. Some smelled a selection of herbs before deciding which to buy, and some watched the Venus flytraps in awe. Some listened to oldies music while others attended various gardening workshops. The usually quiet southeast corner of campus came alive with this year’s Spring Plant Festival, connecting students, faculty, staff, community members and more than 100 vendors from all over Florida.

“Even though the weather was not so good, we’ve had tons of people walking in with their rain boots and umbrellas,” said Angel Miller, freshman biomedical science major and assistant gardener, while sitting at the check-in desk and handing out maps to visitors. “It was very hot on Saturday, and cold and rainy on Sunday. But looking at the enthusiastic turnout of visitors, I have nothing to complain about.”

Vendor Don Chafin had a unique “Going Bananas” display, showcasing the nearly 90 varieties of bananas he grows and sells. The entrance to this banana cove was flanked by a poster titled “The Banana in Florida,” filled with interesting details, colorful pictures and a great deal of information about the variety of banana species grown in Florida.

“I’m from Homestead, Florida, which is about five hours away from here, but I’ve been participating in this fair for about five years,” Chafin said. “I come here because it’s a very well-managed botanical garden. The turnout has been real nice – I am very much impressed. The ladies that put on the show do a great job.”

Facing the Hukyu Bonsai Society’s display of miniature trees was the tent for the Tampa Rose Society. Sitting amid a thicket of potted pink and red roses was Gretchen Warren, member of the Tampa Rose Society and professor of dance at USF, who offered advice on gardening techniques and answered questions from rose aficionados.

“The knockout roses have been very popular,” Warren said. “This is mainly because they are highly resistant to fungus growth and very easy to care for. Some roses do well in the hot Florida weather, some don’t. But I’m an addict; I love all kinds of roses. The Tampa Rose Society is really a great group. We come to your garden, do testing for pH and soil, and advise you on your rose garden – and that, too, for free.”

Waiting for a cart to transport her wheelbarrow of assorted plants to the parking lot, first-time visitor Judy Riggins shared some thoughts on her maiden botanical endeavor.

“This festival has been great,” she said. “There is just such a great, great variety of plants, trees and garden decorations here. I bought a lot of plants, including gardenia bushes, begonias and pots of colored perennials.”

Nilda Bartlett, a returning visitor, was also impressed by the show’s organization and layout. In spite of the unfavorably cold weather of the festival’s morning hours, she seemed to have had a pleasant time.

“The gardens themselves seem greatly cleaned up for the event,” Bartlett said. “The staff and volunteers are highly knowledgeable, which is a great help. I bought lemon and key lime trees and flowering plants. I’m still looking for that guy who sells hot peppers. I really had to be choosy today or else I would have gone broke,” she said, laughing, before making her way over to “Mild To Wild Pepper Plants,” where vendor Don Swanson was selling more than 50 varieties of his backyard-grown peppers.

“The festival has a number of plant clubs and societies,” said Kim Hutton, event coordinator for the gardens. “For example, the Begonia Society and the Native Plant Society, and many more. They are very passionate about the plants they specialize in and they want you to be passionate as well.”

The next event scheduled for the USF Botanical Gardens is the “Beginners Bonsai Workshop” on April 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by the “Orchid and Rose Fantasy” on May 10.