Photography by Tina Sargeant

In a suburb of South Lakeland, twisting and turning around the man-made curves of what appears to be a typical street in a typical neighborhood, there is a small and unassuming sign pointing off to the right. It’s hidden under the trees, directing the eye up what looks like an impossibly steep hill.

Blink and you miss it.

If you happen to see it one day, please respond to its beckoning and follow its mystery up and up and up the hill cloaked in green ferns and vines and elephant ears.

When you reach the top, you will find Audra and Grace.

Few are privileged enough to live here in this magical community, in these houses nestled under the trees that grow tall and strong in every yard and lawn. Trees even spring up in the middle of the streets, as if that were just a normal thing for trees to do.

Grace has lived here for more than 25 years, in the home her mother, Emily, passed down to her. Grace came to Lakeland from the chilly shores of Grosse Ile, Michigan, to attend Florida Southern College and ended up staying in the steamy subtropics of Lakeland after she graduated in 1958.

Audra, nearly 50 years later, also graduated from Florida Southern, in the year 2006. In
the eyes of the grandfather oak trees that shade both of their homes, 50 years is just a blip, a few moments of a life that can span many hundreds, even thousands, of years. Yet, they all — Audra, Grace, and the oaks as well — have a deep love for their neighborhood.

Grace, who is retired, is an outdoor gardener, which is apparent from the moment her house comes into view. Pinwheel jasmine, amaryllis, plum, salvia, and flowers from four corners of the globe fill every inch of her well-tended and happy garden.

B E D S  O F  B I R D ’ S  N E S T
F E R N S  A N D  N U N ’ S
O R C H I D S  R E L A X I N
F O R  G R A C E  T O  S P R AY
T H E M W I T H W AT E R .

Courtyards and terraces showcase blue, purple, and green pots and tables displaying exotic plants such as medinillas and oncidiums. Beds of bird’s nest ferns and nun’s orchids relax in the shade waiting for Grace to spray them with water.

Audra, who is in the middle of her professional life, does not yet have the luxury of time to spend on an extensive outdoor landscape, so she chooses to focus her attention on living with plants inside her home. After spending time in Southeast Asia attending the University of Hong Kong,
Audra’s home reflects her love of plants and also that of a clean and modern style. Choosing the right plant, and then deciding where to place it, is the most important aspect of indoor gardening. Windows and light are two things that must be present for houseplants to thrive, and blinds and curtains need to be opened during the day to allow maximum light indoors.

Audra and grace are examples of how cultivating plants — indoors or out — can define our homes and bridge different generations. The neighborhoods of Lakeland are a greener and better place because of it.