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The Garden Scribe: Amelia’s Smarty Plants a Remarkable Gem


By Kaki Holt

Apr 7, 2011

In just the last couple of weeks, I’ll bet half a dozen people have asked me if I’d been to Smarty Plants. All right, already. I simply had to go see this new garden center and nursery for myself. It turned out that nobody had been exaggerating it’s a remarkable gem.

Tucked just off Dixie Highway and North 15th Avenue in Lake Worth, Amelia’s Smarty Plants surprised me with 2 acres of gorgeous plants, garden art and supplies.

Opened in November by Marta Edwards and Paul Harding, Smarty Plants has a large collection of shade plants — bromeliads, begonias, anthurium, aroids, ferns —assembled under cloth on the west side of its cavernous warehouse. Inside, I found a huge collection of fountains, containers, hats, outdoor canvas art, metal sculptures, pergolas and pots. On the east side, annuals, trees and shrubs waved happily in full sun.

Edwards and Harding spent six years in the landscape business before deciding on this new venture.

“People said it’s a bad time to open anything, but you just can’t think that way,” Edwards said.

I often advise readers to ask their nursery personnel about plants they are considering, but I have to admit that I shudder to think of the advice they might get from some clerks in big-box stores. At Smarty Plants, however, the owners are on-site to help customers with planting advice, from growing conditions to plant requirements. That’s likely to make a big difference in the success of your gardening efforts.

“Now that we’re open, we’ve had wonderful feedback,” said Edwards.

I have to say that it’s well deserved. The couple has artfully displayed the plants: Apostles Iris and Vanda orchids contrast nicely against a black wrought-iron screen. Tiny orchids fill a flower-seller’s cart. I could wander through this place all day. My car’s not big enough for all I wanted to bring home.


So now you know not to miss Amelia’s Smarty Plants. It’s at 1515 N. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth.

The Garden Scribe: Smarty Plants Stocks Plants You’re Unlikely to Find Elsewhere

By Kaki Holt


Jan 19, 2012

I’m pleased to say that Smarty Plants is well launched into its second year as the area’s hottest garden center. Last spring, I wrote about the company’s amazing selection of plants and garden art. I thought I’d check back in to see how things were faring and evidently, residents of Palm Beach and vicinity share my joy at this well-run garden resource.

Avid gardener and loyal customer Beverly Myers spends hours working her Manalapan garden.

“I have a beautiful garden and lousy nails,” says Myers, who first found out about Smarty Plants from her gardener.

According to Myers, the selection of plants is greater than what’s available at the warehouse home-improvement stores.

“I used to go to Home Depot, but she has an extraordinary number of plants and wonderful accessories for the garden, too,” she says.

Myers is referring to owner Marta Edwards, who stocks more than 24,000 plants at her 2-acre location in Lake Worth.

“Obviously Palm Beachers are not my only customers, but for my hardscape items, I do buy with higher-end taste in mind,” Edwards says. “However, I have to keep price points in line.”

While browsing between the rows of perfectly displayed plants, customers are unlikely to see a yellowed stem or a tattered leaf.

Hutton relies on Edwards″ background in the landscape business for information about growing conditions for each plants.

“I just tell her what I’ve got, and she suggests plants because she’s so knowledgeable about what grows where,” Hutton says.

The huge indoor display room offers garden accessories in modern and classical styles. Recent arrivals include modern fountains from Germany, iron pots from Poland, “fire cubes” and Dale Chihuly-style glass ornaments

“Our Palm Beach customers appreciate our selection and are supportive because they want us to succeed,” she says.

Start the New Year With These In-The-Garden Resolutions

By Kaki Holt

Dec 29, 2012

Since I am enjoying three whole weeks with no classes to teach, I’ve been tackling conditions in my poor, neglected garden with a vengeance.

When I spoke with Marta Edwards, iowner of SmartyPlants in Lake Worth, before Christmas, she and I discussed a game plan that could work for many South Florida gardens. Call the plan my “New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners.”

The mulch around my plants thinned considerably over the summer, thanks to all the heavy rain. But instead of using cypress mulch, Edwards urged me to consider pine needles. I’ve used them in vegetable gardens, because even tiny seedlings can negotiate their fine texture but never at home. So that was first on my list.

“While most mulch eats nitrogen, pine needles actually release nitrogen into the soil,” Edwards says. “That makes them a great sustainable alternative to other mulches.”

The next chore was to cut away all the unsightly brown fronds, leaves and stems. I will leave pruning till March when any danger of an extreme cold snap has passed. If I pruned now, the plants would generate new growth that wouldn’t be able to withstand any frost.

Even so, it was time for new cutting tools. I only own the bypass style — they act like scissors — but they aren’t good for snipping off the dry, dead branches I need to remove. Instead I need the anvil type that actually chop.

Edwards recommended her new line of pruners by Burgon and Ball, made from made high-carbon steel in Sheffield, England. The firm’s been in operation since 1730.

While I need to fertilize, it’ll have to wait until any danger of a freeze has passed. But I do have some holes where I’ve taken out plants that didn’t survive those four months of neglect. I’m considering planting Florida Cracker roses, also knows as Old Garden Roses. The ones I already have bloom year-round.

“They’re not native, but I’m using them as a compromise to the Florida Swamp Rose,” says Daniele Garson, director of Pan’s Garden at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach’s headquarters on Peruvian Avenue. “With natives, it’s sometimes a challenge to find nice specimens.”

A rose that doesn’t require a lot of chemicals is perfect for me. While I’m hardly a purist when it comes to natives, I do refuse to dump toxins on my property.

It’s Easy To Create a Water Garden

By Kaki Holt

Jan 4, 2018

It’s easier than you might think to create a water garden. Picture a lovely little gem in a pretty container ... but one that dances with light reflections.

“Aquatic container gardens are getting more and more popular,” said Mike Matthews, manager of Smarty Plants in Lake Worth. “We’ve seen more customers coming in to buy water plants over the last six months.”

By choosing small plants such as dwarf papyrus and small-leafed water lilies, you can enjoy all the delights of a pond in a 10 or 15-gallon container.

“Using a pot is no problem as long as you have a nice sunny area,” Matthews said.

Aquatic plants are grouped by how and where they grow: floating, submerged, or emergent. It’s a good idea to include a mix of all three. Just leave at least one-quarter to one-third of the water surface free of plants, both for asthetics and to allow sunlight to reach the bottom of the pot.

Matthews suggests plants such as water lilies, bog lilies, bloody dock, cattails, rush, taro, papyrus and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata). One water lily, one or two marginal plants and an oxygenating plant make a good start for a large tub.

According to Matthews, the most popular water lilies are Nymphaea George T. Moore, Star of Siam, Trude Slocum and Shirley Burr.

By choosing dwarf plants along with an interesting container, you can even situate a water garden right on your patio or balcony.

When selecting your pot, remember that water weighs about 10 pounds a gallon, so choose a size you can handle. That said, anything that can hold water will do.

If you’re concerned about mosquitoes, remember that water in motion doesn’t attract the pests. A solar pump system will provide agitation and save energy. Otherwise, you can add a couple of mosquito fish to eat the larvae.

An aquatic garden will provide you with hours of enjoyable sights and sounds, plus it’ll be a water source for wildlife such as birds, frogs and turtles.

SmartyPlants Cultivates a Zen Approach to Plants 

By Florida Weekly

September 2016

Most folks grew up with the neighborhood garden center. Remember those? Local folks sold flora guaranteed to bloom where it was planted. Season ended for many of those local garden centers in the '80s and '90s, as big box retailers came to the fore, often offering plants to teh public at prices less than what those local retailers were paying wholesale. But big-box retailers aren't for everyone, and that's where SmartyPlants comes in.

The Lake Worth store takes a Zen approach to garden centers, courtesy of owners Paul Harding and Marta Edwards. New Age music plays in the background as wind chimes catch the breeze. Water splashes in the fountains as customers stroll among the plants.

You can design your own space, or you can call on SmartyPlants to do it -- the firm designs and maintains landscapes across South Florida. Mr. Harding and Ms. Edwards took a break to share tips.

What tips would you offer customers to begin the process of decorating with plants?

Landscaping is truly decorating with plants and it is like anything else -- there is a learning curve if this is something new to you. It is important to select landscape theme that is congruent with the style of the house to be landscaped. Drive around to get ideas or the feel you want and determine how much maintenance you are willing to undertake. Explore Florida's native plants as alternative and consider creating a garden that brings butterflies and birds to you yard.

What are some questions clients should ask before spending a lot of money on plants?

The old adage "right plant, right place" is so important. Are the plants you like appropriate for the exposure and conditions throughout the day? Are those plants susceptible to pests? Also, when and how to properly prune and fertilize is important to know and implement so your plants will perform and meet long term expectations.

Is there a favorite trend in tropical plants right now? 

Tropical plants have always been popular and will continue to be popular especially for people who live here seasonally. They want lush colorful gardens, and who can blame them? For Floridans, there is a definite increase in desire to create butterfly gardens. Numerous people come in asking for butterfly host and nectar plants which is wonderful. We see a less steep trend but a noticeable one to create gardens that incorporate South Florida native plants in the landscape - they require less care in the long run than their tropical counterparts. And finally, a markedly upward trend can be observed in decorating with succulents. This can be a challenge in South Florida during west summers, but it can be done. Succulents perform especially well during hot dry summers like we have been experiencing.

Which trends are you glad to see go away?

Sod! We are seeing more and more people give up on sod after replacing patches of their grass or replacing the entire yard multiple times. People say, "I want to sod the yard because I want low maintenance..." but this is inaccurate. Sod and low maintenance in the same sentence is an oxymoron. Sod requires regular water, regular fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide applications plus weekly mowing, which is a lot more than many shrubs or ground covers need. Also, we'd like to say goodbye to the concept of creating a monoculture hedge, which entails using one plant along the entire length for screening or decorating purposes. Trimming is required less often on a non-monoculture hedge and plants may be allowed to grow in their natural shape and size.

Lake Worth Garden Center Puts Faith in Community to Thrive

By Allison Ross

February 2, 2011

Lake Worth - The bold green sign with chirpy front is an immediate draw to passerby along this understated stretch of Dixie Highway.

Once inside, the array of lush green plants and bright flowers, coupled with soothing music, creates a very different scene from the bustling street outside. That's exactly the point, say Marta Edwards and Paul Harding, owners of Amelia's SmartyPlants at 1515 N. Dixie Highway.

The 2-acre garden center that opened Nov. 3 is the couple's first foray in to retail business. The two have owned  landscaping company, AmeliaScapes, for six years.

"We're a landscaping company trying to evolve," Edwards said.

"We know that people need plants even in a bad economy and that people want a beautiful home, and we wanted to help with that." She added that starting the garden center seemed "like such a n easy and simple dram on paper, but it has been tough."

Indeed, opening a garden center in late 2010 is no easy feat, although industry experts say there's reason for optimism.

"It's been a rough two years for garden centers because of the economy." said Sarah Martinez, managing editor for Garden Center magazine. "Beautiful plants and outdoor living aren't a must-have."

Gardening and garden centers became popular in the mid-1990s thanks to the buying power of Baby Boomers and as Martha Stewart and others made gardening a lifestyle issue.

But in recent years, independent garden centers in particular have faced numerous challenges, such as the slowdown in consumer spending during the recession, big box competition and a younger generation of consumers that may not have grown up gardening like Baby Boomers did, said Jenifer Polanz, editor of the Today's Garden Center magazine.

But Martinez added that, because some long-standing garden centers closed in the past few years - including all of Target's garden centers - it's left space for a new crop of retailers to plant their seeds.

"We have faith in this Lake Worth community." Harding said. "We really enjoy our jobs and we really know plants, and we think people will see that."

Thanks to the localvore movement and the trend in people growing their own produce, Martinez and Polanz say they expect to see an increase in popularity of independent garden centers. Still, Polanz cautioned that independent garden centers need to think about how they are going to differentiate themselves because just selling plants won't cut in this competitive environment.

"A retailer in the South has to be creative in their product mix and services to be able to combat the low prices of the box stores," Polanz said. Martinez agreed, noting that some big box retailers sell plants below cost to get customers in the door and pointing out that there are a number of nurseries in South Florida that customers can purchase plants from directly. 

Amelia's SmartyPlants' owners know they are getting into a rocky business, but they say they're ready. They say they are focusing on carrying items that customers say they want a nd are focusing on organic products and items made in the United States to support the economy and the environment. They are planning on expanding their fruit and vegetable line up to cater to people who want to grow their own food.

"We aren't going to stop living just because people say it's a bad time to open a business," Harding said. "We're just getting the pulse on this place now. This is a living project. We are going to grow and change to meet our community's needs."

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