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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."

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.

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.

Last updated: 10/24/15