As I pull up into the shadowy circle drive of this charming cottage home in Valparaiso, there is John Harrison taking Thomas the cat out for a morning walk.

The bright red leash gives Thomas just enough leeway to amble around the yard looking in the trees for squirrels and under bushes for lizards or other quick moving critters.

Thomas wants to go where Thomas wants to go.  John and Marie Harrison are quick to tell me Thomas came to their back door several years ago, came inside, had a look around, and never left.

Thomas loves his house but also his walks in the garden. This is such a pleasure for me to see such a complete garden from all angles.  Heavy flower plantings along the curbside give the promise of more wonderful things to come. John made the beautiful white arbor gracing the front entrance to house and garden for a niece’s wedding.  The left side of the arbor and top are covered with a beautiful pink, rambling Mandevilla vine, considered a tropical perennial in our area. The right side has a rose making its way up toward the sun.

As we walk through the garden, I ask Marie what part is her favorite.  She encapsulates the essence of this beautiful garden by saying, “I like the way it flows from part to part. I like the gentle curves that are inherent in all parts of the landscape — it is restful and peaceful to the eye.”

There are many different sections of the garden, but you glide effortlessly from one part to the other.

All of a sudden I look up and realize I have left one part of the garden and have entered the area of gingers.  This part of Marie’s garden contains many kinds of gingers: Dancing Girl, Hidden, Butterfly, Spiral, Pine Cone and Peacock Gingers.

Moving through the garden, I am faced with some of the largest, most colorful caladiums I have every seen. The colorful glow is pleasing and gives a sense of tranquility.  Marie said if she had to pick a favorite plant from her garden it would be the Red Flash Caladium.  The Pink Illusion Caladiums are probably my favorite, with their mottled leaves splotched with colors of muted green and pink spread across the huge leaves.  Caladiums are such a favorite with this gardening guru that she buys 100 new bulbs each and every year.

John and Marie have quite a collection of fruit trees including loquat, figs, Satsuma’s and grapefruit.  Their grapefruit tree stands 30 to 40 feet high.  John got the start from his father-in-law and started this fabulous old tree by planting the seed in a Dixie cup. Marie says they enjoy the fruit nearly 9 months out of the year. There is also a scuppernong vine that stretched across the back of the house, and I am hoping for an invite to return when the scups (my father’s term) get ripe.

I ask Marie for a couple of tips that she would pass on to other gardeners. The first one was, “Put the right plant in the right place.”  I will second that by saying not to put the plant where you want it to go but where IT wants to go. It’s like trying to walk Thomas in the direction he does NOT want to go. Trust me; it is not going to work.

Second tip, “Garden with environmental consciousness” and third, “Try for a multi-season garden, with things that grow or bloom throughout the year.”

I ask Marie for some of the highlights of her long and illustrious career — which is still going strong I might add.

She said, “I am proud to be a Master Gardner, serve on the Board of Directors for the National Garden Club as well as the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs.”

She was also a longtime gardening columnist in area newspapers including The Log. Marie now has four gardening books to her credit. They are a must have as they contain so much local information for enthusiastic gardeners and take the guesswork out of what plants do best in our area.  You can probably find her books in any of our local bookstores and if all else fails, look to

It’s probably not in her book, but I love the old silver plated teapot I find sitting firmly in the garden. It has a hole cut in the middle and a spoon attached under the hole for a perch. A titmouse found this most appealing and has raised at least one family here.  There is also a sign attached to a tree in some part of this garden that reads, “When heaven falls to earth it becomes a garden.”

That just about says it all.

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.