Gardening is a game of trial and error, according to those who love it.
"We keep trying things because you never know what will work," said Janice Lawn, a member of the Punta Gorda Garden Club. "That's what's so fun about gardening. You put it in and try it. If it doesn't work, then take it out or move it."
Lawn coordinates volunteers at the club's community garden at the History Park, 501 Shreve St. The club's 90-plus members also maintain gardens at the historic Punta Gorda Woman's Club building and the Punta Gorda Library.
This banana tree in master gardener Donna Worthley’s PGI yard has a bloom with tiny bananas growing behind it.
"We maintain those three for the community throughout the year," said publicity chairman Bonnie Verminski. "Sometimes members bring things from their own gardens."
Florida offers a unique growing environment, said Donna Worthley, master gardener with Charlotte County Extension Service for 20 years. Master gardeners are volunteers with 50 hours training initially and 12 hours follow-up instruction per year in order to educate residents on gardening, landscaping and plant issues. They also offer workshops.
"When you're living in Florida, so much of what you did up north - you do exactly the opposite," said Worthley, former director of student academic counseling at Purdue University in Indiana. "It's an entirely different growing zone. Everyone wants that beautiful lawn but it's kind of hard to do that in Florida."
What: Monthly meeting of the Punta Gorda Garden Club
When: 1 p.m. every third Wednesday September through May. Next meeting April 20
Where: United Methodist Church, Lenox Hall, 507 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda
Activities: Refreshments, short business meeting and 1:30 p.m. gardening program
Contact: Go to http://flgc.esiteasp.com/puntagordagardenclub/contact.nxg
What: Master gardeners consult about gardening, landscaping and plant issues
Who: Trained University of Florida volunteers
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Where: Call Plant Lifeline at 764-4340 or go to Charlotte County Extension Service, 25550 Harborview Road, Suite 3, Port Charlotte
Charlotte County is even more unusual, Worthley said, with two separate growing zones, including one near water and one farther inland.
"Plants near water stay warmer but you come a little farther inland and frost does occur," she said.
In winter, issues include lack of water and cold temperatures. In summer, concerns include weeds, fungus and insects.
The problem-solving part of gardening appeals to Worthley's counseling instincts.
"I love it. I'm still counseling, just about plant issues," she said. "It's very rewarding. I can help others learn the right way to do things."
Worthley also works her own yard in Punta Gorda Isles, where she has reduced the amount of lawn through a variety of bushes, creeping ground-cover plants and taller growths such as bamboo and palm trees.
She has two desert rose bushes in front of her home, one shaded by the house and one fully exposed. She points to the shaded one to show how just a few feet can make a difference.
"It holds its leaves better," she said.
She also has citrus trees, tomato plants (with ripe tomatoes in February), banana trees and a butterfly garden with flowering plants for nectar and plants such as fennel for laying eggs. On a recent day, several brightly colored black swallowtail caterpillars munched on the herb as Worthley watched.
"You have to have two things, nectar flowers and something they'll be able to eat," she said. "If you only have the flowers, they'll come in and feed and go off."
Verminski also spoke to the unique considerations of gardening in Florida.
"Planting is different here. Everything grows faster. You can have flowering things most of the year," she said. "And it's fun to tell your friends up north that you just went and picked some bananas off the tree."