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Gardens to envy

As the family dogs, Max and Heidi, loll in lush grass sloping to a man-made lake, Gisela Wendt is like a sentry. She strides the backyard perimeter of her Twelve Oaks home on the lookout for any errant branch, leaf or twig that might mar the perfection of her handiwork.

Published April 20, 2007



As the family dogs, Max and Heidi, loll in lush grass sloping to a man-made lake, Gisela Wendt is like a sentry. She strides the backyard perimeter of her Twelve Oaks home on the lookout for any errant branch, leaf or twig that might mar the perfection of her handiwork. Armin Wendt watches from inside a wide expanse of window overlooking the prize-winning garden. "She lets me cut the grass, but anything else I need permission for," Wendt says as he watches his wife hard at work on her garden. "I cook and I fix lunch, but I balk at doing the laundry." After decades together, Gisela Wendt is used to her husband's teasing when it comes to her passion for gardening. Truth be told, he helps out more than he lets on. "Armin does the heavy work, the lifting and the digging," she says as she trims a fuchsia bougainvillea hugging the shoreline. "He helps more than he admits." And there's a lot to do.

A thick hedge of greenery with everything from bamboo to hibiscus protects one side of the yard, while an oak tree and palm provide shade on the other side. Pots of petunias and bougainvillea provide bright spots of color on a palette of thick green grass.

But it's the orchids that Gisela Wendt is most proud of.

"They're not really that much trouble," she said, admiring the deep lavender of a Blue Bangkok orchid. "They like the humidity of Florida."

The Wendts' back yard, one of seven gardens featured during the Town 'N Country Garden Circle's Tour of Gardens on Sunday, caught the eye of fellow gardeners early on.

"We always look for something outstanding," said Fran Gamester, president of the Town 'N Country Garden Circle. "It takes six to eight months to get a garden ready. It's really a year-round thing."

This year's tour features gardens in Twelve Oaks. Previous tours have spotlighted yards in the Town 'N Country and Pat Acres neighborhoods.

"When we came here in 1976, there was very little," said Gisela, surveying a yard that slopes gently toward the lake where a wooden duck house that Armin built sits close to shore. Two turtles had climbed onto it to sun themselves.

The Wendts came to the United States from Germany in the early 1960s to learn English. They planned to stay a few years and return home to Hamburg.

"We went back to Germany but it was no longer home," Armin Wendt said. "We realized this is now our home."

Once established, he saw his career in the export business take him from Costa Rica to Mexico and finally to Tampa, where the couple opened an office supply business. During those years they had four children.

Now retired, Armin, who also is president of the Twelve Oaks Taxing District, spends his days enjoying his back yard.

And Gisela, when not busy in the yard, works part time in the library at the International Academy of Design in Town 'N Country.

She relies more on trial and error than books to perfect her garden. She said she chooses her plants by color and blooming cycles, and her nurseries by the cost of their plants.

"Don't overdo it when it comes to fertilizer," advises Gisela, who this week was putting the finishing touches on her garden for Sunday's tour. "I'll cut the grass one more time and rake the leaves; that's never ending."

What does it take to have the kind of yard that would be featured in a garden tour?

"You have to love to garden," said Gisela, who spends at least one or two hours a day working in her garden. "There's snipping, pruning, weeding. I'm trying to get it maintenance free, but I don't think that's possible."

These days Armin is compiling a family history for the couple's children and grandchildren. You'll find him in a waterfront gazebo, surrounded by lush greenery and a banana plant, reminiscing about the past while enjoying the present.

Or, as he put it: "This is where I sit most days with my big fat cigar and scotch, writing."

Jackie Ripley can be reached at or at (813) 269-5308.


The Town 'N Country Garden Circle's fourth annual Tour of Gardens will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Register at the Town 'N Country Recreation Center, at 6039 Hanley Road. Cost of the tour, which concludes with a buffet at the recreation center, is $10. The Garden Circle asks that children not attend the tour.


The Garden Circle fourth annual Plant Sale also is Sunday, from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Town 'N Country Recreation Center. Proceeds will help beautify the future Town 'N Country Commons. Any plants that are left over will be donated to the county park in Timberlane to help children there learn more about gardening.

. if you go

Gaze at gardens, beef up landscaping Sunday


[Last modified April 19, 2007, 07:20:22]

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