Originally created 10/26/01

Couple brought the tropics to their property in Evans



It's a gardener's worst nightmare: After nurturing a garden and watching it blossom for years, he must leave it behind to start all over again somewhere else.

After 10 years, Chuck Weiksner and his wife, Shirley, left their lush tropical yard on Lake Oconee in Greene County, Ga., in the summer of 2000 to be closer to their son and grandchildren in Evans.

"We lived on the lake," Mr. Weiksner said. "I had a tropical paradise. It really was beautiful. My palms were getting very mature."

The Weiksners have been transferred a few times during Mr. Weiksner's career as corporate vice president of EquiFax. One of those moves got him interested in tropical gardening.

"We lived in Miami for 10 years in the '60s and '70s," Mr. Weiksner said. "I really thought I was a great gardener there because you could stick something in the ground, and it would grow because of the weather."

When they moved last year, the Weiksners bought a lakeside lot in Windmill Plantation subdivision. Mr. Weiksner knew he wanted to try tropical gardening again, so he told the landscaper to put in the grass and the sprinkler system only.

"This lot was the first lot I ever had that was just a lot," Mr. Weiksner said. "It had no trees, no pine islands, nothing to get me started. I knew what I wanted to do, and I allowed space for the plants I wanted to put in."

The landscape at his Evans home is a mix of small potted palms and other plants Mr. Weiksner brought from Lake Oconee and plants he bought after moving here.

The sunny side of the house, just below a veranda, is lush with plants, including flowering and variegated banana plants, tropicana and Bengal tiger canna lilies, an evergreen fern, windmill palm trees and a European fan palm.

There are about 15 palms in the yard, including saw palmettos, pindo palms, needle palms, sabal minors and sago palms. The sago palm, Mr. Weiksner said, is actually a member of the pine family, but the thin needles fan out and look like a bus-type palm.

Mr. Weiksner has added many plants that are not traditionally tropical but have green, lush foliage. Flowering garlic plants have lavender blooms on stalks springing up from a bed of foliage all summer along the back deck. Evergreen day lilies, variegated monkey grass and weeping yaupon hollies add a tropical look but are not as tender as many tropical plants.

Many tropical plants tend to die in the Georgia winter, but Mr. Weiksner does not take plants indoors.

"They make it on their own or that's it," Mr. Weiksner said. He does protect many of the palms against the cold with pine straw and cypress mulch because they are more tender than native plants and all have been in the ground less than a year and a half.

"I mulch with pine straw and pull it up under the plant kind of like a muff and get it up and under and around the base," Mr. Weiksner said. "That's what helps in extremely cold weather."

Mr. Weiksner also is trying to grow two orange trees. The fruit resembles a fat lemon and is very sour, he said, but makes great lemon meringue pie.

The basic landscape is finished, but Mr. Weiksner said he is always hearing about new species and varieties at palm society meetings and will make room for new plants. It will be about five years before the palms begin looking like mature trees instead of new bushes.

He fertilizes the palms with a basic 10-10-10 fertilizer on St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day and the Fourth of July, he said.

"That's an easy way to remember," Mr. Weiksner said. "You get them (palms) to start that early growth, and then you stop after the Fourth of July because then it's coming close to fall. You want them to slow up a little bit and get used to the colder weather."

Reach Valerie Rowell at (803) 279-6895 or valmac007@hotmail.com.