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By Susan Howell

Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit many backyards, properties that I have admired and also learned from, some places in particular enchant me from the moment I set my feet there, this is what I experience each time I visit the home of my friends Lamar and Eileen Greene. 
Their home sets upon 40 acres of planted Slash Pine, but this is not your typical pine forest. The Greens are members of the Florida Land Stewardship Program, where they work with foresters and wildlife biologists setting the goal to develop wildlife habitat by promoting the growth of native trees and shrubs within the pine plantation.
This mixed use desired habitat has wild turkey, deer, fox squirrels and quail frequenting their property which offers food and cover for wildlife populations.
 A driveway winds through this woodland forest leading up to their home and gardens, where the Wow Factor sets in when their house comes into view.
 Built by the Greenes, this cypress log home screams welcome. Its architectural style according to Eileen, Northwest meets Key West, is rustic, warm and so inviting, beginning on the wooden front porch decorated with seating, shade loving containerized plants and various outdoor art pieces. A sea foam green metal roof complements the dark wood of the house, a color they chose after seeing it at a chateau they visited in Alberta, Canada.
Through beautiful glass etched double doors, the focal point of their yard can be observed, a very large Koi pond.
Built as an ecosystem within itself this pond is naturally filtrated by a bog garden. Colorful large Koi swim among a variety of aquatic vegetation, including lotus, noted for its huge leaves and eye popping white flowers.
This carefully planned pond is built on a rise; where seating is provided on an observation deck built at the front of the pond which leads onto a narrow walkway that circles around the back of the pond where a managed bamboo garden grows.
Rising from the soil stalks of Japanese Timber Bamboo, Bissett Running Bamboo, Striped Bamboo and the beautiful olive green Kanapaha Royal a clumping variety grow alongside magnificent Bald and Pond Cypress trees creating the upper story of this layered water garden.
Holly, Red Leaf Red Bud, Mulhy Bamboo, Beauty Berry, bottle brush and fire bush are examples of under story vegetation that not only filter sunlight but attract wild birds and butterflies. Around the perimeter of the pond, bird feeders built on pedestals invite year round and migratory birds, while the water attracts amphibians like bull and leopard frogs. Aquatic birds have also paid a visit to this pond; a Great Blue Heron and also a grebe have been observed by the Greenes.
As you make your way around their yard, an interesting mix of plants and flowering shrubs border the perimeter of the house, height, texture and color add depth to the landscape, while ground peanut hulls serve as mulch enriching the soil as they decompose. Butterflies flutter around their large butterfly garden where zinnia, larkspur, Spanish needle and other nectar plants grow.
This garden paradise continues into the back of the property where your eyes immediately focus on the violet-blue flowers of Blue Sky Vine. At the back of the house an iron gate leads you into a courtyard where Asiatic Jasmine serves as a ground cover.
Inside this tropical looking garden space, banana, lime, mock orange,and kumquat trees are mixed with purple salvia and assorted perennials. 
Continuing around the back, Confederate Rose, oak leaf hydrangea, vitex and the fragrant sweet almont grow. An interesting patio area is paved with old reclaimed bricks that once lined the streets of Gainesville and reused empty wine bottles, adding charm to a garden where containerized vegetables grow among assorted vegetation and a mixture of garden art. Native passion vine, coral honeysuckle and colorful pink and red allamanda climb wooden trellises that border this unique patio. 
 Japanese Magnolia, mulberry, hickory, persimmon and cedar grow along with a variety of oak trees, a virtual botanical paradise where the landscape is both wild and managed at the same time.
Speaking of wild, recently the Greenes discovered on their property a colony of the rare and threatened Crestless Plume Orchid also referred as the Giant Orchid.
Found in scrub flatwoods and sand hill habitats this terrestrial orchid can grow up to three to five feet, the orchid’s stalk can hold up to 30 blooms that are small purple flowers encased in a yellowish-green hood cover.
A vast combination of ornamental and native vegetation finds something always blooming throughout the year, which reflects dramatically Lamar and Eileen’s love for nature, conservation and gardening. Whenever I visit I am reminded you need not go too far to find beauty and inspiration in someone else’s backyard.
FYI: Native Floridians, the Greenes are both Nature Coast Master Gardeners and are working toward receiving their Florida Master Naturalist certifications.