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Have you ever visited a community garden?  


I had the opportunity to help create a community garden with some very special friends in Miami, Florida.

Me (Noelle Johnson), Matt Mattus, Helen Yoest, Amy Andrychowicz, Steve Asbell and Dave Townsend – the ‘Saturday6’
 
So, who are these special friends? 
 
They are garden bloggers, like me and we’ve been brought together through our partnership with the folks at Troy-Bilt. We came from all over the United States and came together to work with the folks at a service project in Miami.
 
 
As part of our partnership, we share our gardening knowledge via Troybilt’s gardening newsletter – ‘The Dirt’, Facebook and Twitter.  We also create how-to videos and test Troybilt equipment and offer our honest opinions. 
This year, we were invited by Troybilt to help create a community garden as part of their continuing efforts to give back to the community.  



The day we all arrived in Miami, we had the opportunity to tour the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, which you can read about here.  


The next morning, we all gathered on a vacant lot in the Perrine Neighborhood in Miami.

 
 
The local dry cleaner allowed the property adjacent to their store to be used for this inner-city community garden.
 
 
We were excited to be creating an edible garden for the surrounding neighborhood.
 
Imagine six gardeners together, trying to plan out a community garden.  Believe it or not, it all went smoothly and we all agreed on a plan as to where to put the raised beds and what size they should be.
 
 
We measured out the placement for the beds with assistance from the folks at Troybilt and the Miami chapter of “Keep America Beautiful“.
 

 

 
The surrounding community was very excited about the garden.  We were happy to meet the Perrine neighborhood community activist, Ms. Townsend who would help to distribute the produce from the garden.
 
Steve Asbell (The Rainforest Gardener), took time to talk with her about the different vegetables and flowers that we would be planting in the garden.
 
 
Ms. Townsend, was very interested in learning about the plants and seeds we would be planting.  She listened carefully when Matt Mattus (Growing With Plantsexplained to her how the seeds would grow.
 
*This special lady takes care of those in her neighborhood, including picking up day-old bread from the local supermarket, putting it in her car trunk and then delivers it to those in need.
 
 
Once the outlines were painted, we used cement block to create the sides of the of the beds.
 
You may wonder why we put cardboard on the bottom of the garden beds.  Well, the cardboard will form a nice barrier to keep the grass from growing through and will also serve to ‘smother’ the grass.
 
Initially, we had discussed planting some fruit trees alongside the raised vegetable beds, but we ran into a little problem with that plan…
 
Limestone rock lay right underneath the grass, making digging all but impossible.
 
 
We filled the beds with topsoil and aged steer manure in alternating layers.
 
 
Troybilt supplied us with the necessary garden equipment including a cultivator, which we used to help mix the layers of topsoil and manure together.
 
 
I have a smaller cultivator that attaches to my Troybilt string trimmer that I like to use in my vegetable gardens.  
 
You can read more about my gardening adventures with my Troybilt cultivator, here.
 
 
Amy Andrychowicz (Get Busy Gardening) and Dave Townsend (Growing the Home Garden) raked the soil smooth while Helen Yoest (Gardening With Confidence) filled the holes of the cement block with soil for planting.
 
Community members posing for a picture with a Troybilt representative.
 
Members of the community came out to watch our progress, including the neighborhood police officer.
 
 
We took a quick break for lunch then took a picture with people from the neighborhood, Troybilt, Keep America Beautiful and officials from the Human Services Department who were on hand.
 
Local Master Gardener, Sheila Martinez, assists Dave Townsend with planting.
 
After lunch it was time for my favorite part – planting!
 
Sheila Martinez, a local Master Gardener, assisted us throughout the day and will be in charge of caring for the garden.
 
 
I had fun planting the first bed with tomatoes and herbs including flat-leaf parsley, purple basil and rosemary.
 
Other beds included strawberries, peppers, leaf lettuce, collard greens and onions.  Beans were planted from seed.
 
 
The holes in the cement block was filled with soil so that we could add companion plants, which help to attract pollinators as well as repel bad bugs from damaging the vegetables.
 
To that end, we planted sage, basil, green onions and marigolds in the holes, which will not only help to protect the edible plants but also add beauty to each garden.
 

 

After a productive day in the garden, we were tired but happy with all we had accomplished.
 
This is the second year that we have all been part of the Saturday6.  Imagine how much fun six garden bloggers have when they get together!
 
Last year we all met in Arizona and enjoyed a great time, which you can read about here.
 
I am so grateful to be a part of this group of great people and the opportunity to work with Troybilt again.  I will be reviewing another piece of Troybilt equipment this year and giving one away, so stay tuned!
 
 
 

 

I have been enjoying sharing with you about my recent trip to the beautiful gardens of Vizcaya, located in Miami, Florida. The trip and garden visit came as a part of my partnership with the folks at Troy-Bilt.  These gardens are inspired by Italian gardens and use plants that thrive in tropical climates.


Last time, we explored the secret garden, climbed up the man-made hill and saw a most magnificent, covered patio.


Today, I invite you to journey with me as we explore the gardens further…

 
The second part of our garden journey begins at the top of the man-made hill, looking toward the house.
 

 

On top of the wall, are examples of the stonework present throughout the gardens.  Most of it was made from limestone, which had a real ‘aged’ appearance.
 
 
This is a photo that I shared on my Instagram account of the mangrove forest.
 
Mangroves are trees that grow along coastal areas in the tropics in areas where most other plants cannot grow because of the salty water.  They are an important of the ecosystem and help to prevent erosion.
 

 

*Imagine how spooky this area would look on a foggy day?
 
 

 

A large staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) was mounted from the side of a Royal Palm tree.  They are epiphytes, which mean that they get water and nutrients from the air and not from the host plant.
 
When wet, this large staghorn fern can weigh up to 200 pounds!
 
 
 If you look carefully, you can Spanish moss hanging from the Southern Live Oak, which also grow in the desert – they just don’t get as big here.
 
*Did you know that Spanish moss is NOT a moss?  It is another example of an epiphyte and gets its water and nutrients from the air.  I have some from my trip to Savannah, Georgia last year that I used to make a terrarium.
 
 
A brown anole, which is a lizard native to Cuba and the Bahamas.  They are considered an invasive species in Florida.
 
 
This is a green anole, which is NOT considered invasive.


**A special thanks to my friend and garden companion, Steve Asbell, who explained the difference between these two lizards.
 
 

More examples of the statuary throughout the garden with ferns in the background.



Orchids grew naturally outdoors, which made me slightly jealous, although I have been able to grow them indoors.





There were even orchids growing in trees, which is where they are often found growing in the wild.  Most cultivated orchids are epiphytes, which means that they get their water and nutrients from the air.



As we neared the end of our journey through the garden, we encountered a fence with vines growing all over it concealing another secret garden.  There was a small hole, so I peeked through.



Looking through the hole, I saw another area of the garden that was closed off from the public.  I’m not sure if there are any plans to open this section called the Marine Garden, but I definitely wanted to explore it further.

 
As our time in the garden ended, I was so grateful to have been given the chance to view such a beautiful place.
 
I hope you enjoyed this ‘virtual’ tour.  If you are ever in Miami, I encourage you to take time to explore the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
 
***********************
 
If you want to explore this garden further and learn more about its history, check out my friend Steve’s latest blog post.
 
Next time, I will share with you our next Floridian adventure, which was to create a community garden.  While vegetable gardening is much the same wherever you live (except for the plsnyinh calendar) we did encounter an unusual barrier, which I will share in my next post.
 
*I traveled to Miami as part of a group called the Saturday6, which is a group of six garden-bloggers from around the country brought together by the folks at Troybilt.

 

 

 

Last week, I visited Miami along with five of my garden-blogger friends, hosted by Troybilt.  We had two days together, packed with activities including building a community garden, which I’ll tell you about later.  


The first part of our trip took place at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.




I had flown on the red-eye from Phoenix to Miami and was running on 2 hours of sleep when we arrived at Vizcaya.  

Though I was running on empty by the time I arrived at Vizcaya, once I entered the Italian-inspired gardens, I felt like I had stepped onto an European estate and I was instantly re-energized and ready to explore.

We all enjoyed a personal tour of the house (no picture-taking allowed in the house).  While the mansion was beautiful – I am a gardener through and through – not an interior decorator, so I was anxious to get out and see the gardens.

My friend, Steve Asbell (who has a blog called The Rainforest Garden) accompanied me as we explored the gardens.  His knowledge of tropical plants would prove invaluable as he showed me many of his favorite plants in the gardens.



The gardens were created to mimic the look and feel of Italian gardens, using plants adapted to Miami’s warm, tropical climate.

I really felt as if I was in Europe as we strolled through the gardens.

I would love to share with you some of the beautiful plants and areas of the gardens in the photos below.

Enjoy!


As we stepped out of the house, we were greeted by the sight of Biscayne Bay and a stone barge that was built as a breakwater to help protect against the rising tide.



Although there are quite a few differences between gardening in the tropics and the desert – there are quite a few plants that grow well in both places.


The first plant that I recognized was Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Firesticks’, which is a huge favorite of many desert dwellers.  I have two growing from cuttings in my own garden.


A tea house stood amidst a backdrop of mangroves that was accessed by crossing a Venetian- style bridge.


This beautiful, flowering perennial is Mexican Bush Sage (Salvia leucantha).  I have seen it grown as an annual during a visit to the White House and as a perennial here in AZ.  In Florida, it also grows as a perennial.

I really love the red backdrop, which really makes the fuzzy, purple flowers ‘pop’ visually.



Every garden should have a ‘secret garden’ don’t you think?

A decorative stairway leads down to the secret garden of Vizcaya where colorful plants include yellow Peruvian Candle (Sanchezia speciosa) while the fuchsia plants are a variety of Ti Plant (Cordyline ‘Red Sister’).


Wall pots held a variety of succulents.


I fell in love with the colorful Kalanchoe luciae ‘Fantastic’ growing alongside a ‘Blue Elf’ Aloe (which is often seen in desert gardens).

*I have a Kalanchoe growing in a container, but it is not this colorful variety. 


Formally-pruned shrubs form a maze in the center of the gardens.


A row of statues flanked the walkway, which is a design element that I really love to see in large gardens.


Barefoot in the garden.


You could easily think you are in Spain as you view this formal fountain and the palm trees in the background.

Notice the Australian Pine trees in the pots?  They are old!  These trees were last repotted in 1922.


Water is a vital element in many large gardens. 






A hill was installed across the garden from the house to block the sun’s rays.  The narrow tracks in the middle were created so that the gardeners could get their wheelbarrows up the steps of the hill.


At the top of the hill stood this stone planter with some very pretty plants – I have no idea what they are, but that didn’t stop me from admiring them just the same.


At the top of the hill stood the ultimate patio, or as it is called in Vizcaya – ‘the Casino’ where guests could sit outdoors in the shade.  


Here in the desert, we would add misters, which would make it a great place to hang out in the summer.

I hope you have enjoyed the first part of our garden tour.  Next time, we will explore a ‘spooky’ forest, view another secret garden and see an orchid garden.


* My trip to Miami and the gardens of Vizcaya was a result of my being one of the Saturday6 – a group of six garden bloggers brought together by Troybilt.

Wouldn’t it be great to have one basic tool that you could attach a different gardening power tools too?  I am so excited to show you this new product from the folks at Troy-Bilt who I have partnered with on this new campaign.

This may look like an ordinary string trimmer, but it is so much more…

 
 
Leave it to folks at TroyBilt to create a line of string trimmers that can be interchanged with a variety of gardening tools such as a cultivator and a pole chain saw (pictured above with the string trimmer attachment).
 
But TroyBilt didn’t stop there – they also created turbo leaf blower, lawn edger, hedge trimmer, broom and brush cutter attachments as well.

 
 
Earlier this year, I was asked to be a part of the ‘Saturday 6’, which is a group six of garden bloggers from around the country.  As part of TroyBilt’s Saturday 6, we have been asked to evaluate a number of their products and give our honest opinion about their performance.
 


I must admit that my favorite attachment has been my new cultivator.

Of course, my husband would differ and say that our new TroyBilt string trimmer is his favorite.

 
 
I have been waiting patiently (not really) to use the cultivator in my vegetable gardens since my TroyBilt equipment arrived in March.
 
But, I have had to wait until my lettuce was done for the season and then harvest my garlic before I could cultivate the soil.
 
Finally, the day arrived for my TrimmerPlus Add-On Cultivator to make its debut in my garden.
 
 
Before using the cultivator, I had to start it first.
 
 One complaint that I have with using power equipment is the pull-start.  It can be very hard for women to use a pull-start (me included).  In the past, I would call a crew member over to start equipment for me.  Since I don’t have a crew anymore, I often ask my husband to help me if I can’t start it myself.

 

Well, I don’t have to worry about pull-starts anymore, thanks to TroyBilt.

 

 

 

 

 

They have created the JumpStart, which is an electrical starter that easily starts most of their power equipment without using the pull-start.

 

 

 

 

 

All you need to do is to fit the JumpStart into a special portal…
 
 
And it starts up easily!  The JumpStart is battery powered and can be plugged in to re-charge.
 
The equipment does have a pull-start, so the JumpStart is optional.  I have had no problem using the pull-start of my favorite TroyBilt cultivator/string trimmer, but the JumpStart is easier to use.
 
Before cultivating my soil, I added compost, manure, blood and bone meal to my vegetable garden.  Now, I was ready to mix my amendments in.
 
 
The cultivator was lightweight, easy to use and tilled my soil perfectly without going too deep.
 

 
One of my vegetable gardens is rather narrow, which makes my new cultivator easy to use because it can work in narrow spaces.  Unlike larger tillers, this cultivator is perfect for smaller spaces and is easier to handle.
 
 
After I was finished tilling my vegetable gardens, there were some left over bits and pieces of plants that got caught up in the tines.  It was easy to remove them afterward by taking the tines off and cleaning them. 
 
In the past, tilling soil using a rake or shovel always took me a lot longer and I was a tired, hot, sweaty mess afterward with a sore back to boot.
With my new cultivator, I can till my soil quickly, without the negative side effects 😉
 
 
As a Certified Arborist, I am often instructing my clients how to prune and care for their trees.  While I don’t prune their trees for them, I do like to prune my own trees whenever possible.
 
 
I had a little pruning to perform for my Desert Willow, so the cultivator attachment came off and the TrimmerPlus Add-On Pole Chain Saw was attached (no tools are needed to add the different attachments).
 
 
This branch had suffered damage in a wind storm when part of it peeled off.  It left the branch weak, so it needed to be removed.  I started by pruning away the top part of the branch first.
 
The pole chain saw worked very well for me.  It comes with an additional extension pole for when you need to reach higher up (up to 11 feet), but I didn’t need it for this limb.  It is self-oiling, which keeps the bar and chain lubricated.
 
Using a pole chain saw saves you from having to climb a ladder to prune branches that are high up and it is lighter then using a regular chain saw.
 
 
My husband has been using our TroyBilt 4-Cycle Gas Straight Shaft String Trimmer for weeks now.  His initial impression was that it was more powerful then our old trimmer.  It also has a larger cutting width (18″) and as a result, edging our lawn goes more quickly.
 
 
There is no need to mix oil and gas – it runs on regular gasoline.  One of the most frustrating tasks when using a string trimmer is to having to refill the string – not a problem with TroyBilt’s string trimmer, which has the ‘Click N Trim’ Pro cutting head. You can simply thread the line through the eyelets and twist to wind up the line.  No more taking apart the cutting head.
 
The string trimmer can be started with the JumpStart, which I mentioned earlier.  But, the pull start is surprisingly easy to use due to the ‘Spring Assist Starting Technology’.
(I must admit that I like to use the pull-start, because I am thrilled with how easy it is to do with all my TroyBilt equipment, compared to the pull-starts of other equipment that I have used in the past).
 
Do you have a garage or shed full of garden equipment, with room for little else?  Wouldn’t it be great to have a string trimmer that can be used with a variety of attachments? 
 
Think of how much room you would save!
 
Okay, here is the part you have been waiting for…
 
**TROYBILT GIVEAWAY** 
for readers of my blog.
 
Would you like to have a TroyBilt string trimmer with your choice of attachment for your garden?
 
The wonderful folks at TroyBilt are giving away a their top-of-the-line TB6044 XP Straight Shaft String Trimmer.
 
 
Plus, your choice of one of the following attachments:
 
 
Now, if that isn’t enough, TroyBilt will also giveaway their JumpStart cordless engine starter to the winner along with the string trimmer, and choice of attachment.
 
1. To enter, simply leave me a comment with your choice of attachment.  (Be sure to leave your email address if it’s not on your profile, or I won’t have any way to contact you.)
 
2. For a bonus entry, become a new follower of my blog,  ‘Like’ me on Facebook or ‘follow’ me on Twitter – (be sure to let me know in your comment).
 
Let your friends know about this great giveaway and I will select a random winner in one week!
**I am paid for my involvement with the Saturday 6 and the equipment, described above, was provided to me at no cost by TroyBilt, who wanted my honest opinion – good or bad.  I can honestly state that I am very impressed by the quality and design of their power equipment.
Have you ever embarked upon an unexpected adventure? 
 
I recently did.
 
It all started with an email from the folks at Troy-Bilt who asked me to partner with them and review their outdoor power products in return for my honest opinion. 


I had heard of Troy-Bilt company before and knew that they made high-quality gardening equipment.  But, I was curious about why they were contacting me.
 
It turns out that I was asked to be one of their six garden bloggers known as the ‘Saturday6’.




The ‘Saturday6’  is a group of six garden bloggers brought together by Troy-Bilt to share their gardening knowledge via their gardening newsletter, how-to videos and by reviewing Troy-Bilt equipment.


Troy-Bilt brought all of us together for an event-filled weekend in Scottsdale, AZ.


Five members of the ‘Saturday6’ flew in from destinations like Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Tennessee and North Carolina.  I, however, just hopped into my truck and drove the 30 minutes to the hotel.
Our adventure started with a tour of the Desert Botanic Gardens in Phoenix.
 
Although, I have visited the gardens numerous  times, it was quite nice to have a guided tour and see the gardens through the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with desert plants.
 
 
It was so nice to experience the gardens with fellow plant lovers (dare I say ‘plant fanatics?). We bonded over our shared love of plants and stopped constantly to take photos.  

 

The evening hours were spent enjoying a delicious dinner where we soon found ourselves immersed in our own ‘special’ language that all gardeners share.  

I loved hearing about Dave’s Tennessee vegetable garden and how we enjoyed growing many of the same things.   Dave Townsend from Growing the Home Garden shared about his Tennessee vegetable garden and I found that we enjoyed growing many of the same things.  


Steve Asbell of The Rainforest Garden had written for many of the same publications that I had.  What I didn’t know was that he is an incredibly talented illustrator and is currently writing a book.

Foreign concepts such as ‘winter sowing’ were explained to me by Amy of Get Busy Gardening who gardens in Minnesota.  Because she lives in very different climate from mine, it was fun to hear about some of the different ways we do things in the garden.  


I was very blessed to spend time with Helen Yoest from Gardening With Confidence who is a ‘wiz’ at social media and has a new book.  She was very helpful in helping me to improve my mediocre social media skills.


 Matt Mattus of Growing With Plants told me about the  30-year old Troy-Bilt rototiller that he uses on his 100-year old family farm in central Massachusetts.  He has a huge greenhouse where he grows tropical plants including South African bulbs.
 
Our first morning together was spent at a golf course, where we tested the many Troy-Bilt products and learned more about the company. 

 

The equipment laid out for us to try out, including both push and riding lawn mowers.

 Troy-Bilt had their regional trainers on hand to show us how everything worked.
 
Helen learns the finer points of driving this small-sized riding lawn mower, which fits through a standard garden gate, making it a great option for the smaller landscape.
The riding lawnmowers were the most popular piece of equipment we tested. 
Steve tries out the push mowers.
The push mowers were fun to try as well.


Next, it was time to try out the leaf blower, which is a very popular tool here in the desert southwest.
 
You might wonder why I’m wearing a rain coat on a sunny day?  You’ll see why later…
 
I am tough on gardening equipment and if it is confusing to use or does not work well – I don’t endorse it.  The hand-held leaf blower was easy to hold and a breeze to pull-start.
 
Dave learns about the features of Troy-Bilt string trimmers and how you can switch attachments like a cultivator, pole chainsaw, blower, etc.
 
I like digging dirt…especially with this small-sized rototiller.  I could use this to make another vegetable garden.
 
Matt liked the larger rototiller.
Amy feeds branches into the chipper.

In addition to testing the equipment, we also had some fun…

Lawnmower races, anyone?

Our testing was finished and we paused to take a  group photo.

As we went indoors to learn more about the equipment and the company, the skies began to darken…



Then the skies opened up and it began to hail, a lot…


It looks like snow, doesn’t it?


Watching ‘crazy’ golfers trying to finish their game through the hail and thunder.

I don’t think my fellow bloggers expected a cold, wintery day in the desert.


After our training, we spent another evening together, enjoying dinner with the Troy-Bilt team.  It was fun to swap stories about our gardens with their challenges and successes.

Spring training is ‘big’ in Arizona.  So, I was excited that the next day’s events included a spring training game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.


 

We enjoyed bratwurst, hamburgers, peanuts and Cracker Jacks in the Budweiser tent.
 
You would think that we would be focused on the baseball game, but you’d be wrong.
 
The camaraderie we built was evident as we spent the entire time just talking.  Occasionally, we were distracted by a home run, but didn’t keep track of who was winning.
 
At the end of our event-filled weekend, I was even more excited to be a part of the ‘Saturday6’ and share what I know about gardening as well as having the opportunity to test Troy-Bilt products.
 
 
I must admit that I’m in love with this small Neighborhood Rider.  
 
I wonder if I can convince my husband to give up our push lawn mower?