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Twenty five years ago, Nolen and Daisy Freeman’s yard was named the Cedar Key Garden of the Month, but their yard has evolved quite a bit since then. The first award came after they artfully arranged 91 beautifully planted pots. However, the plants were not native or tolerant of Cedar Key’s weather. During cold snaps, all 91 plants had to be brought inside their home to wait out the unforgiving frosts - even if it spoiled their vacation plans. Something just had to change.
Since then, the Freeman’s have done their homework to learn about a more easy to care for, sustainable way of gardening. This Garden of the Month award is due, in large part, to their choice of easy-to-care-for native and drought tolerant plants, including their lawn of centipede grass.
According to centipedegrass.com, it "is probably the lowest maintenance of the warm season grasses." The site goes on to say, "This creeping perennial is well adapted to the sandy, acidic soils of low fertility and requires low maintenance." The installation of sidewalks inspired Nolen to take better care of his lawn - making sure the grass is trimmed to the sidewalk in order to accentuate both.
A blanket of spreading dwarf jasmine highlights the slope directly in front of their home and is often used in the South. Periodic maintenance is needed to keep the fast growing plant in bounds and an annual mowing is beneficial. However, it takes only a "fraction of the upkeep required by lawns," according to Southern Gardening: An Environmentally Sensitive Approach by Marie Harrison.
There are three "xeriscaped" or "xeroscaped" beds in the front yard, with cypress mulch surrounding plants like short-needled pines, Texas sage, a date palm, sable palms, a dogwood tree, a gardenia bush, rosemary (two varieties), a crown of thorns plant, several century plants and a native coffee plant. "Xeriscaping" is a method of gardening that reduces water usage - hence the drought tolerant plant choices. The mulch was chosen due to its resistance to bugs, its ability to hold up longer against our harsh weather and because it has a nice color. Large, white clam shells outline the xeriscaped beds - all from clams the Freeman’s gathered and ate themselves.
Of course, Nolen and Daisy have had help with their landscaping and gardening over the years. Police Chief Virgil Sandlin put in the sprinkler system that waters the lawn thirty minutes in the early morning, three days a week. The late Mack McCain brought over the pindo palm that now stands in the middle of their yard - from across the road before it was slated for destruction. It was also Mr. Mack who brought some of the railroad ties that outline the Freeman's crushed rock driveway.
Of course, their property has had its share of hurricanes. One of their short-needle pines is a testament to Tropical Storm Juan. When it was blown over by the winds, the roots came up but never broke. Now it lays on its side with the limbs growing vertically. Sadly, in 1985, Hurricane Elena broke a beautiful native Cedar - notorious for their soft wood.
Nolen is no stranger to the garden club scene. Years ago, he was part of a small group that also included Herman Allen (a deputy sheriff and husband of Jan Allen). They called themselves the "Cedar Key Garden Club”, met nearly every morning at 6:30 at the old John's Restaurant and would drink three cups of coffee each. Not much has changed. Nolen still loves his coffee every morning and gardening with Miss Daisy.
This piece was a cooperative effort by Michelle Pearson and Ada Lang.