The enclosed back porch at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens functions as a locker room and a lunch-break area.
Volunteer gardeners and Selby staffers wearing big-brimmed hats trickle in and out of the space to retrieve lunch boxes and bottled water.
The voices of horticulturists can be heard crackling from the speakers of walkie-talkies.
Bumper stickers emblazoned with various eco-friendly proclamations — “Love It and Leaf It” — remind you that you’re in the company of tree-huggers.
It’s hard to believe that within walking distance from the gardens, traffic clogs the intersection of U.S. 41 and Palm Avenue.
How a pocket of botanical bliss can still exist after 90 years of major development is a story in itself, but today the focus is on horticulturist Addie Worth.
The 33-year-old Riverview High School graduate fell in love with plants when she worked part-time in the Selby greenhouses as a teenager.
“Even though I was taking out the trash and washing pots, it was still the best job I ever had,” Worth says.
“You could never learn everything there was to know. I knew every day would be interesting. All the people I worked with were so happy. They actually liked their jobs.”
Worth enrolled in the University of Florida shortly thereafter, graduating in 2003 with a degree in environmental horticulture with a specialization in public-gardens management.
She knew one day she’d like to work fulltime as horticulturist at a botanical garden.
Ten years later, after working retail at a Sarasota garden-supply store, Worth was back at Selby, where she says she’s always felt at home.
“I know it’s going to sound cliché,” Worth says. “But it’s like one big family here.”
One of six horticulturists on the Selby property, Worth tends to the nursery and the gardens surrounding the mansion, including the butterfly garden, the bromeliad garden, the tropical fruit garden, the rooftop garden and the fragrance garden.
The fragrance garden — a tiny square plot that looks like it belongs in an English courtyard and smells like sweet almond bush and lemon verbena — is her favorite.
“It’s quaint,” Worth says. “It’s one of the smallest gardens in the whole place, but it makes a big impact.”
Worth grew up near Proctor and Beneva roads. Her parents were hobby gardeners with a backyard that bordered what is now called Red Bug Slough Preserve.
As a kid she considered yard work a chore. Her parents would nag her to rake leaves, weed flowerbeds and trim hedges. It wasn’t until she studied horticulture in college that she realized the wild vegetation surrounding her childhood home were pine flatwoods.
“I deadheaded so many geraniums in that yard,” Worth says sarcastically. “Luckily, I loved being outdoors.”
The experience instilled a sense of meticulousness, which Worth says has served her well at Selby.
“There are so many layers to horticulture,” Worth says, “especially here.”
Almost every plant on the 14-acre property is catalogued in a database and mapped into a GPS system.
Whenever a horticulturist wants to redesign something, he must submit a plan, budget and detailed description of each material — living and non-living — involved in the project.
During last month’s Plant and Garden Festival, Worth helped design a new addition to the gardens with the help of festival-goers: a living wall of tillandsia plants leading into the Welcome Center.
“It’s not like we can just willy-nilly stick this or that wherever we want,” Worth says. “We’re maintaining a living collection … like books in a library. The goal is to obviously keep things beautiful, but we’ve got to keep records, too. Some plants might only exist here.”
Tools of the trade
Atlas Nitrile Tough gloves
SPF 50 sunblock
IF YOU GO
Addie Worth is teaching Planting With Color from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. For more information, call 366-5731 or visit www.selby.org.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]