Sunday, September 14, 2008


Claire Tomlin is a strong supporter of our Plants Without Borders project. As a Master Gardener and the Founding Executive Director of Miami Beach Garden Conservancy, Claire has long been actively involved with plants, gardens, and garden clubs.
(Note from Carol: When Claire first started gardening, she didn't really think about using native plants. She just loved plants! See if you can guess which plants below are native to the southeast U.S. or Florida!)

Claire’s motivation for gardening? “Plants have always been a part of my life,” she says, ever since she was a little girl growing up on Chestnut Street in Hapeville, Georgia. There is where Claire developed her relationship with the earth, with “Gawgie” (her grandmother) and Grandaddy. Gawgie helped her make hollyhock dolls, and Grandaddy had a vegetable garden with many plants, including Jerusalem artichokes.

Her other grandmother, Mammie, had a special shell garden with an oval fish pond, and a lily pond with lilies shipped all the way from Winter Haven. Mammie had Mimosa trees and a pansy bed, and the wisteria grew up the wall of her house.

And what is it about Garden Clubs . . . ? Claire replies: “ALL MY CLOSEST FRIENDS ARE CONNECTED TO THE GARDEN CLUB. We enjoy the company of one another. Everyone has their own story, our own personalities. We tolerate differences. These are people whom I love and adore.”

Flowers are part of the culture in Georgia. Claire’s family always had cut flowers on the dining room table. With two huge camellia bushes growing like wildfire, the women in the family wore them every day as corsages. Fig bushes and banana plants grew in the backyard, and unless there was an occasional freeze, the family ate fresh figs (the banana plants were never in the ground long enough to produce). They had a mint bed that prospered right under the water spigot. Claire slept in the bedroom next to the weeping willow -- so close to the house that the roots sometimes clogged up the pipes.

Sometimes Claire's father sent her up the pecan tree so she could shake it until the nuts would fall. Similarly, Claire would put an umbrella under the blueberry bushes and shake the bushes until the berries fell into it. Come November, her father dug up the plants and put them in their cellar, including those poor banana plants.

Coming to Miami was a big surprise to Claire. No freezes, and finally she could grow bananas, and coconuts. And the great variety of palm trees. “Before coming to Miami, a palm tree was a palm tree was a palm tree.” In Florida, things grew so readily. The ficus plant that languished indoors in Georgia became a pest in South Florida.

But one of best part of plants in Miami, says Claire, are the garden clubs, “Garden clubs have people with a common interest; they serve, and they build friendships.”

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