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Change comes with each sheet of paper

Published March 23, 2007


They say the first step to recovery is admission, so I humbly confess: I am not what you could call green.

I print out two-line e-mails, only to throw the crisp white sheets of office paper into the trash moments later.

I've managed to kill every plant that has sprouted my way in life, except one given to me as a gift nine months ago. Triumphantly, it has survived near my kitchen window. Sadly, I've never bothered to learn its name. I call it simply "the plant."

I hadn't even considered watching Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth until, well, now.

That said, I took one step forward recently in changing my ways and making amends to nature: I called Mimi Graham.

We met on a sunny, breezy afternoon outside the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa. She, standing calmly in beige pants and a stylish peach jacket with matching lipstick. I, walking frantically along the school's cobbled pathway after running 10 minutes late and parking illegally in a student spot.

Mimi (it rhymes with shimmy) is president of the Friends of Plant Park, a nonprofit organization that wants to turn the plain grass-and-tree park across from the museum into a colorful botanical garden someday, like it used to be years ago. She's 65, a retired real estate agent, and spends about 15 hours a week working toward that goal.

GreenFest, her group's biggest annual fundraiser, is this weekend at the park with vendors, speakers and master gardeners giving advice about native Florida plants. Some will teach how to save rainwater in big barrels to avoid depleting the water supply. A luncheon today at A La Carte Event Pavilion features Paul James, known as "the Gardener Guy," on HGTV. He'll be at the park Saturday, too, so peruse our "Things to do" listings if you want to know more.

You shouldn't be surprised to learn that I had never heard of this Gardener Guy or that I actually run from rain - too tough on the hairdo.

Mimi told me about two cannons that Henry Plant brought to the area a long time ago. Now, her group wants to help repair and display them at the park, but doesn't have the $100,000 or more that would take. The proceeds from GreenFest will help.

With the artistic side of my brain, I listened intently as she envisaged a revamped park overlooking the Hillsborough River and complementing the Riverwalk project. One day, Mimi said, young students could stroll along, appreciating nature and studying tropical plants with educational plaques that tell their names and origins.

With the practical portion of my brain, I spotted an empty space in front of the museum and wondered if I should put our chat on pause and move my Mazda 626 (hey, at least it's not a gas-guzzling SUV).

I followed Mimi into the museum instead. Once a swank hotel, the museum goes hand-in-hand with the park since both are part of the grounds once developed by railroad and hotel tycoon Henry B. Plant.

"To me, this is Tampa," Mimi continued. "The three things of Tampa are Gasparilla, this building and the Bucs."

We peeked briefly into rooms with old newspapers and mannequins dressed in clothes from the Teddy Roosevelt era. Then we stepped back into the Florida sunshine.

I thanked Mimi and took in the fresh air. I walked to my car feeling good about Tampa's rich history, the environment - and the fact that I didn't get a ticket.

I put a recycle basket by my desk. It's a start.

[Last modified March 22, 2007, 08:01:02]

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