Nestled quietly in our very own Oakland Park, sits a little haven for butterflies, bugs, birds, and even unwanted iguanas. Agnes Gallo and her boyfriend James Miller have transformed their back yard into a heavenly corner of paradise for themselves. Both retired, they can dedicate their time and love to house a myriad of plants, flowers, and trees. It must be the envy of the neighborhood. This lush garden is truly a sight to see, because Agnes and James have done such a tremendous job with it! The Broward County Board of County Commissioners agreed, and the couple was awarded the 2020 Emerald Award, which proudly sits snuggled amongst the display of plants in front of the home.
Agnes has resided in her home in Oakland Park for over 25 years. She has always had an affinity for gardening and so has worked on her garden throughout the years. It has slowly changed and evolved into the pride it is now. She used to have a vegetable garden, but with iguanas constantly eating at their produce, she decided to go in a different direction.
In 2011, she and James both joined the Fort Lauderdale Garden Club. Together, they learned about the different types of plants there are. They learned which will thrive in full sun, shade, and which plants native or which are invasive. In 2016 Agnes and James joined the Master Garden Club and have really been able to study their yard to see what plants will thrive the best. When Agnes first started gardening, she would visit nurseries and say to herself, “Oh, I really like that!”. She would buy the plants and bring them home.
Sometimes they did not make it because they were not in the right place. But since Agnes has studied plants and has educated herself, she now makes sure to consider that she has the proper space and anything she may need to make sure that plant survives. Agnes claims that her theory is making sure she has the right plant in the right place. Before buying anything new, Agnes will do her research and study it to make sure she can provide the specific necessities for that plant. She also follows the FLEPPC, or the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Every two years, they publish a list of invasive plants to avoid. Agnes and James are always trying to do the right thing for their garden.
Agnes’ garden is home to both native and non-native plants. She tried to incorporate as many native plants as she can, but she loves all plants. The key is to make sure that the non-native plants are not invasive or will harm any native plants that exist in the garden. All plants must be able to thrive in a Florida friendly yard, native or not. Agnes also loves exotic plants as well. One beautiful tree that adorns the property is the Bahama Strongbark. It is a native tree of the shrub family. It is a tree that can be pruned and shaped and tolerates mild cold. Agnes’ Bahama Strongbark is indeed well taken care of.
Agnes and James put endless hours into their own personal Eden. But their labor doesn’t feel like hard work. This is what they love to do. Their own compost bins which produce usable soil that they then put back into their garden. Agnes has a rain collection barrel that is used to irrigate some of the plant. They also have a woodchipper for occasional use.
Agnes herself, built a very impressive Shade House for some plants that are being worked on or need a little extra TLC. Agnes and James have the time to dedicate their love and attention to the plants. Agnes once again says, “We work on it a little every day, but when it’s the right plant in the right time, you take the work out of the equation”.
Instead of grass one could opt to have the Sunshine Mimosa. It is a ground cover, like the Ground Peanut. What stands out from the Sunshine Mimosa is that it looks straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. It’s a fuzzy pompom like, violet color flower that grows on a green stem.
The Beach Sunflower is also a ground cover and grows little bright yellow flowers. Two accompany the Emerald Award in the front of the property, but they almost blanket other areas of the garden. Another star in the garden is the Sweet Almond plant. It is a shrub like plant that can grow up to 12 feet tall and wide. The plant itself is leafy with the stem holding tiny white, scalloped, oval flowers. They have such a strong aroma, an undeniably sweet smell.
Under the cover and protection of their shade outdoor space, Agnes and James proudly display their stunning orchids. They also have a beautiful pond that they built. It has perfect Lilly Pads and brand-new little fish residents! A very rare plant that must live out of direct sunlight is the Rope Hoya. It looks like a rope with little green leaves that can burn if left in direct sun. The Rope Hoya has beautiful, rare pink flowers that almost look plastic. They also look like pink jade and they smell like chocolate!
Agnes and James are very proud of their little corner of paradise. They care for all the plants mentioned, but also countless others. Some examples of those are their Fire Bush and Beauty Berry shrubs. The beauty berries give either small white berries or purple berries – both edible! Unfortunately, but understandably, the garden is not open to the public, as it is in their home. However, if you’d like to see more information and learn more about gardening, Agnes recommends you visit https://www.broward.org/NatureScape/Pages/Default.aspx .
The garden boasts all the love, care, and dedication that has been put into it. It is a true work of heart. Agnes says, “All I need are a pair of gloves and kneepads. This is my purpose in life”.
Anamaria Moreno is an Elementary school teacher. Born in Costa Rica, but mostly raised in Venezuela, Ms. Moreno came to South Florida in 1996 where she has resided ever since. She graduated from Lynn University, with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She has taught in the classroom for 18 years, most recently teaching the first grade for the past seven years. Before becoming a teacher, Ms. Moreno was involved in volunteer work with the Child Life Specialists Department at Miami Children’s Hospital. She also served as member of the Board of Directors for “A Caring Pregnancy Center” in Miami. Most recently, Ms. Moreno has taught at an elementary school in Oakland Park. Ms. Moreno also teaches ESOL to Adults in Night School. When Ms. Moreno is not in the classroom, she enjoys baking custom specialty cakes, face painting, and enjoys creating Arts and Crafts.