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Tropical Dream

Compost Turns Florida Sandlot into a Lush Jungle

Nancy McLeod
Nancy McLeod's entire two-acre garden is organic, powered by slow-release fertilizer and tons of compost.
For 20 years, Nancy McLeod's yard was a sandlot, torn up by kids, bicycles, even horses. But with her children grown, Nancy decided that the time had come to make her dream garden a reality. "I wanted a tropical garden with lots of nooks and crannies and places to hide," she says. "Like a real jungle."

She was missing one crucial ingredient: soil. "The property is pure, white Florida sand," Nancy says. "I have to amend every inch. I have two big composters, and I use your Super Hot all the time." She also had no design in mind, but that didn't worry her. "My father was an artist and a gardener, and I used to follow him around with my little red wagon, helping him place rocks and things. So when the time came, I just took my shovel and started digging."

Before
Nancy's garden before the transformation.
The centerpiece of her garden is a breathtaking "creek" that is 8 feet wide and 50 feet long. It winds through the front yard. Ferns, palm trees, artfully placed rocks and brilliant flowers line its banks, and a footbridge spans one end. The creek empties into a bog garden where lilies and aquatic grasses grow wild.

Heliconia
Heliconia
Nancy raises exotic birds and monkeys, and wanted them to feel at home. So the garden behind the house is a riot of tropical color, with sunny heliconia, sizzling red cannas and hot-pink-and-yellow lantana in dense plantings. It all surrounds a lath house and deck that is 50 feet long. "I have an inside house and an outside house," says Nancy. "They're about the same size."

Now Nancy is creating a 25-by-30-foot pond. When that's finished, she'll begin her most ambitious project yet; a 3,000-square-foot rainforest, complete with lagoon and waterfall and stocked with South American plants. "I say it's for my business," she says. "But mostly, it's because I can't stop myself."

Nancy Mcleod's garden
The finished project features a hand-dug creek -- and the original footbridge.

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