Costa Farms Social Summit 2012

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to the Costa Farms Social Summit put on by Costa Farms and the dynamic and lovely gals over at Garden Media Group. 

Over the last six years, people have become maxed out and root bound when it comes to buying plants. People tend to buy the same plants year after year, season after season: the same fern, the same pansies, the same begonias, herbs and veggies. We need to mix it up and diversify what we're putting in our gardens, y'all, and Costa Farms is here to help! Costa Farms is a company concerned with helping to grow gardeners. Plants are easy to maintain and they are life-enriching--learning how to grow and care for a plant you've never had in your garden before can be such a satisfying and rewarding experience and Costa is just the place to help you branch out of your gardening rut. A recent trip to their amazing farm down in sunny Miami has inspired this Farmer to get his hands in the dirt and get to planting!

One thing to consider in all of this is sustainability. Plants can be a major part of a sustainable, well lived life. Take the very air we breathe: we as consumers spend billions of dollars on figuring out how to make our air purer and cleaner, when all it really takes is a plant--one for every 100 sq feet to be exact. Wouldn't you rather spend our money and resources on a beautiful, living thing than another machine? I’d much rather have a gorgeous bromeliad, orchid or ZZ Plant than another buzzing, humming thing, et tu? We are too plugged in, y'all – it's time to dig in! On that note…

What better way to "dig in" than family gardening? I am a product of family gardening – Mama and I planted dozens of daylilies and daffodils (a great combo mind you, for the daylilies hide the daffodils when they’re through blooming – companion planting at its best!) and my Daddy is keen on organic gardening and knowing where his food is from. Granddaddy taught me so much about roses and tomatoes too, so a bit of family gardening can be a great endowment to the next generation. Gardening can be something that brings us together since everyone can be a part of this activity. That kid who has a knack for cooking? Get him in the garden working with herbs! I have a hard time disconnecting the table from the garden, the garden from the table. What we're eating and decorating with is first   grown somewhere–why not in our backyards? Like I always say: Whether you have a pot or a plot, whatever you GOT, you can grow a garden!

I was invited by the Garden Media Group to spend a few days in Miami to tour Costa Farms and learn about some great plants they have growing. I was like ol Brer’ Rabbit and the Brian Patch – please don’t make me go to Miami, be fed well, learn about plants, tour acres of greenhouses chock full of every plant you can imagine! Ha! Brer’ Rabbit wanted to be in that Briar Patch and I was itching to get to Miami! I cannot dream of a better way to start off the growing than touring THE SOURCE for so much of what we are growing. After traveling down to sunny south FLA and having an amazing meal at Whisk – Southern meets Latin  and truly delicious – our day on the farm could not have been any more amazing. The Costa family, literally, the Costas hosted us as did their farm family. Coming from a tight knit fam myself, I felt right at home with this group. After a brief meeting and touching film on the history of the family and farm, we were out and about!

We kicked off the morning with succulents. I’ve blogged about succulents and absolutely love them. Now, let me introduce you to Alfredo Bergolla. Born and raised in Cuba, he was given his passage to the States because Castro wanted his succulent collection. So he traded his plants for his freedom–talk about the American Dream! Here is another reason why talking to this man about succulents was such a delight.

Mimi has always told me about how her Grandmother. They had a close relationship as we do. Her Grandmother, Sarah Ann (as is Mimi’s “other” name since Mimi is more so the norm once you have grandchildren), always had huge jade plants in planters on her porch. They were the stalwarts on either side of the steps leading up to the porch and greeted everyone that passed by her home in Bainbridge. The jades relished the South Georgia climate and the deeper recesses of the porch allowed for spots to grow aloes too. Practical and pretty, these plants looked great on the porch but were a soothing salve to the scraped knees, bumps or burns that grand kids and grand folks alike endure. We too chatted about another Southern garden staple – Hens and Chicks. A succulent for the South if ever there were, these sedums grow in the nature a hen and her chicks do – Mama hen may squat and babies will pop out around! How many times have we seen such delightful combos in old Southern homesteads, clustering around corners or popping out of pots?! Connecting my stories of succulents with Alfredo was such a treat.

One thing Costa Farms offers (beyond gorgeous varieties of succulents you won't find anywhere else) is individually packaged succulents and cacti. And what a beautiful and original idea for a host's gift! I love for folks to leave my home or garden with something tactile that grows into a memory. And, with friends who are often clamoring that they have “black thumbs,” I think succulents are a perfect gift. Since succulents thrive on neglect, they are thus a great gift idea for that friend who thinks s/he can't garden! I guarantee you that you will kill a succulent by over-watering than under-watering! Try some this summer on your porch and in your garden – you too will become a sucker for succulents!

Another fun part of this trip was Project Houseplants. Now, my group had a cluster of common plants to pot up and make a centerpiece. Since I DO that for a living pretty much, I thought this would be too easy and a breeze. Well, there were other designers and plant peeps there too so we had great competitive fun! Give me some little plants, moss and a tablescape any day! On another note, I was completely enthralled that the little bitty plants I was potting were huge in the Miami climate! Miami – where houseplants are hedges!
Lunch in the TRIAL GARDENS … a little slice of heaven!

Ever been to the Garden of Eden? Well I got a glimpse here! After a yummy lunch, more fun started here. You like petunias? Okay. You like purple petunias? Well, which of the 15 purple varieties of petunias do we like best? This bodes true for just about any bedding plant you can think of! In the Trial Gardens, these kinds of questions are answered by professionals in the industry from all over the country. The Trial Gardens are just what their name says –TRIAL (by fire, or in this case, by greenhouse, sun, and garden exposure!)--what grows? Before you even plant that flower in your garden, that variety has been tested and tried for years of seasons to get it to be the hot new flower for your garden this year – these gardens not only help to inform what's happening in the market, but they also help us know more about how to best care for our plants. Read the tag, y'all!

Y'all, we need a whole epistle on the Tropic Escape Hibiscus! How do I even begin… Not everyone can go on a true tropical escape. When we think "tropics," we think hibiscus. The hibiscus is the quintessential tropical flower. So here's an easy, gorgeous way to bring that tropical escape to your porch or patio. Besides being beautiful elements in the garden and the staples of Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI shirt motifs, hibiscus are edible! Great elements for salads, garnishes galore for summertime meals, and of course, this Farmer is going to find a use for them with tea!  Hibiscus is a fabulous accouterment to tea or as a part to my favorite beverage. (In fact, I am fueled by Zoe’s Hibiscus Green Tea – my suburban just automatically stops for a refill! The floral notes are carried on the tamer tones of green tea – as a hot tea or on ice – I simply relish a hibiscus tea!

As for growing your very own Tropic Escape hibiscus, remember where they grow in the tropics… they love FULL SUN, they like water, but they don't want to be over-watered -- well watered, but well drained. Give them some fertilization love as well. Remove any spent blossoms to encourage new ones. A happy hibiscus will make a happy gardener. Some presidents want a chicken in every pot, Costa Farms wants a hibiscus on every patio. And now, there's no reason we shouldn't all have hibiscus outside our front doors.

And here is something so “right on” that Costa is doing – they are making plants like these luscious colored hibiscus readily available on the market. It's incredible the variety of plants that Costa Farms is making available to EVERYONE, not just this hibiscus. If you grab an orchid at the grocery store, I bet Costa Farms grew it. If your porch is bedecked in ferns, they probably had a hand there too. If your trip to the garden center is always capped with the question, “Do you need some plastic for your car?” then yes, you have probably bought a cart full of Costa Farms gems.

Jump into the garden this spring. Get your hands dirty and your brow sweaty – this Farmer surely is and is quite thankful that a big deal like Costa Farms is thinking about home gardeners like me and gardeners like you too! Happy planting!

And a big, warm, Farmer Style hug to the Garden Media Group for bringing together amazing professionals in the garden community to get our plant on in sunny Miami, FL!