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    Garden mixes butterflies and blooms for Earth Day

    The Florida Botanical Gardens will plant a tree, sell plants and offer family activities duringthe event's four days.

    By JULIANNE WU

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2001


    LARGO -- Nature walks, kids' activities, a butterfly release and the planting of a rare tree will be part of a four-day Earth Day celebration at the Florida Botanical Gardens. Festivities begin April 19.

    It will be the first Earth Day observance at the gardens, which opened last December, said Vernon Bryant, horticulturalist for the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, which oversees the gardens.

    "This is a chance for us to celebrate nature in one of the most gorgeous spots in Pinellas County," Bryant said.

    The Botanical Gardens are part of the 182-acre Pinewood Cultural Park. Other components are the Extension Service, Heritage Village and the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. The complex is between Ulmerton and Walsingham roads and between 125th and 119th streets in Largo.

    Festivities on April 19 will begin with a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. for $3 and a walk through the gardens. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., various school groups, from kindergarten through second grade, will participate in workshops. A local food vendor will sell special kids' meals at $3 each.

    Continental breakfasts, at $3 each, also will be available April 20 through April 22. There will also be school workshops April 20 for kids in third through fifth grades. School groups must register by calling the 4-H department, 582-2528.

    On April 21, a Saturday, the Pinellas County Master Gardeners will have a plant sale from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to having a variety of plants for sale, the master gardeners will be there to answer questions about planting and problems. A portion of the plant sale proceeds will go back to the Botanical Gardens.

    Other activities that day are as follows:

    From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be family activities, tours and environmental displays. Also, birdhouses and bird feeders from kits costing $5 to $7 can be built on the premises.

    10 a.m. to noon -- The Pinellas County 4-H will conduct demonstrations in the Tropical Pavilion on the grounds. Then, there will be a butterfly release at noon on the main plaza.

    6-11 p.m. -- The Friends of the Florida Botanical Gardens will hold its first fundraising event, a jazz concert featuring the On Que Players. Pastino's will sell food and there will be a cash bar. Admittance is free to members of the Friends' group; others can purchase tickets at $5 in advance or $7 at the door. WSJT radio station is co-sponsoring the event.

    In addition to the 8 a.m. continental breakfast and nature walk April 22, an official Earth Day celebration will be from 2 to 4 p.m. It will include an Indian blessing ceremony, speeches, music from a local children's group and the planting of a cloned crape myrtle tree that has been identified as a Champion.

    The Michigan-based Champion Tree project tries to preserve the nation's biggest, tallest, strongest and oldest trees. Last November, a pair of 6-foot buttonwood trees were planted at the gardens as part of the project.

    "The trees are actually cloned," said Judy Yates, director of the Botanical Gardens and the Extension Service. "They are grown from tissue culture of the largest and best of their species. They will have the same genetics as the Champion Trees."

    Other Florida Champion trees in the Botanical Gardens include the shaving brush, live oak, bald cypress, wax myrtle, dahoon holly, Florida privet and magnolia.

    People with disabilities can park directly behind the Botanical Gardens. Others can park at Heritage Village, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service.

    Registration is recommended for the daily continental breakfasts and the April 21 jazz concert. To sign up, call the Extension Service, 582-2114. For general information about the Florida Botanical Gardens, call the main number, 582-2100, or look up its Web site: www.FLBG.org.

    - Julianne Wu can be reached at 445-4221 or by e-mail: wu@sptimes.com.

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