The Third Place

The Third Place


Have you ever heard of “the third place?” It’s a concept introduced by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book, “The Great Good Place. ” In the book, Oldenburg writes about the need for a space beyond home (the first place) and work (the second place) where people can relax, socialize, and connect with their surroundings. Third places are known for being easy to access, inclusive to all, and free from rigid social structures. They provide a cozy and inviting atmosphere where people can relax and socialize, away from their homes and workplaces. This idea of third places has gained importance in conversations about city planning, building communities, and improving overall well-being. Cities are increasingly focused on creating spaces that encourage social connections and foster a sense of belonging among their inhabitants. “The third place” is an anchor of society and essential for our prosperity and for building strong communities.


Now, let’s think about an unexpected third place – the garden. Gardens aren’t just about plants and flowers; they’re havens where social connections flourish amidst nature’s tranquility. Gardens offer a peaceful escape from the chaos of everyday life, fostering social interaction and community bonding. Whether you’re chatting with fellow gardeners or simply enjoying the beauty of your surroundings, gardens bring people together from all walks of life. They also provide a chance to connect with nature, promoting mindfulness and well-being. From gardening activities to community events, gardens cater to diverse interests and needs, making them versatile spaces for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, many gardens are maintained by volunteers or community groups, fostering a sense of ownership and pride among residents. At their core, gardens embody the essence of “the third place,” offering a blend of natural beauty, social interaction, and community engagement.


Think about your garden for a moment. Remember the people you’ve met and the friends you’ve made while working together. Remember the joy you felt when you all got your hands dirty preparing the soil and planting seeds. Gardens are more than just pretty places; they’re important spots where people from different backgrounds can gather, connect, and feel better surrounded by nature. So, the next time you walk into a garden, think of it as more than just a place with plants and flowers. It’s a friendly place where community grows and friendships bloom at “the third place.”

Tomato Tips: Keys to Success

Tomato Tips: Keys to Success

Tomatoes rank high among the favorites for home gardeners, cherished for their versatility and flavor. Whether planted in traditional garden beds, confined to containers, nurtured in hydroponic setups, or suspended in hanging baskets, tomatoes thrive in the Florida Panhandle given the right care and understanding of essential growing principles. With a bit of advice and a dash of perseverance, achieving a beautiful harvest of delicious tomatoes is not only fun but also fulfilling. Check out these tips for successfully growing tomatoes in your home garden.

A bin of cherry tomatoes UF/IFAS Photo by Amy Stuart

In the Panhandle, we’re fortunate because we can start planting tomatoes earlier than many other places. But because tomatoes thrive in warm weather, it’s important to wait until the risk of frost is gone before putting them outside. If you’re eager to begin, you can start growing tomato seedlings indoors. Once the weather warms up, you can move these seedlings outside. Another option is to plant tomatoes in lightweight containers. This makes it easy to protect them if there’s a late frost or freeze by moving them to a safer spot. However, don’t delay planting your tomatoes for too long! They need time to grow and produce fruit before the summer heat sets in. Once nighttime temperatures stay above about 80 degrees consistently, larger tomatoes might stop growing fruit. But smaller types like cherry and grape tomatoes usually do just fine.

Some tomatoes, called determinate or “bush” types, grow to a specific size and don’t need pruning. Their fruits all ripen together within 1-3 weeks, which is great for container gardening and canning. Then there are indeterminate or “vine” tomatoes, which keep growing and producing fruit all season long. These kinds need support like stakes and some pruning to keep them neat and tidy in the garden.

Tomatoes are sun-lovers, needing about four to six hours of sunlight every day. So, when planting them, choose a sunny spot in your yard. Before planting, consider getting your soil tested by your local Extension office. You’re aiming for a soil pH between 6.2 to 6.5, which is ideal for tomatoes. Also, enrich your soil with organic materials like composted manure. When planting your tomatoes, it’s helpful to bury them slightly deeper than they were in their original pots. This encourages better root growth.

Florida’s warm and sometimes damp weather can cause problems with insects and diseases that harm tomatoes. To avoid these issues, it’s smart to pick tomato types that can resist common diseases such as verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt, as well as pests like nematodes. Check the seed package for information about resistance. For this region, some good choices are the ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Celebrity’ varieties. If you prefer heirloom tomatoes, think about trying ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Green Zebra’.

Tomatoes are better able to resist disease and dry off quickly after rain showers when they are trellised.
Photo credit Anh Ngo Hoang (Pixabay)

For tomatoes that keep growing, like indeterminate ones, people often use wire cages, stakes, or trellis systems to support them. It’s a good idea to put these supports in place either right before planting or shortly after, so you don’t mess up the plant’s roots. As the tomato plants get bigger, you can use clips or ties to attach them to the support. Another way is to put stakes between each plant in a row and weave string through them to help support the plants as they grow taller.

To stop small problems before they get big, make sure to inspect your plants often for signs of bugs or diseases. If you want to learn more about dealing with these issues, you can check out the Tomato Insect Pest Management guide on Gardening Solutions website:

Just like people need food to grow, tomatoes also need specific nutrients to thrive. Using a fertilizer with a ratio like 6-8-8 or something similar will provide these essential nutrients for your plants. You can choose between a liquid fertilizer mix or granular fertilizer. It’s important to fertilize when you plant your tomatoes and continue to do so regularly during the growing season to keep them healthy and strong.

Pick a location for your garden that’s near a water source, like a hose or watering can. Drip irrigation is a good choice because it gives the right amount of water and helps keep leaves dry to prevent diseases. Make sure watering your plants is convenient for you. Aim to water your garden with about 1-2 inches of water each week to keep your tomatoes healthy.

Tomatoes growing on a vine. Photo taken 05-20-21

Successfully growing tomatoes requires attention to detail and consistent care. Ultimately, providing your tomatoes with the proper care such as adequate water, sunlight, and nutrients, is essential for their health and productivity. With these practices in mind, you can look forward to a harvest of delicious tomatoes from your Panhandle garden. For more information about growing tomatoes in the Florida Panhandle, contact your local County Extension Office.

Camellia -The Rose of Winter

Camellia -The Rose of Winter

Article Written by Khadejah Scott, Horticulture & Ag/Natural Resources Agent, UF/IFAS Extension – Wakulla County

In the serene charm of winter, a beautiful flower comes to life, adding its beautiful blooms to gardens everywhere – the Camellia, often hailed as the “Rose of Winter.” Adorned with lush, glossy evergreen leaves and a tendency to bloom even when other plants are dormant, the Camellia showcases nature’s enduring strength and grace. Consider choosing and planting camellias this January to bring this touch of elegance to your own garden.

Camellia flowers. Photo by Marisol Amador, UF IFAS

Description: Originally from Asia, camellia plants first arrived in America in 1797 and were grown in greenhouses in New England. For over two centuries, they have proven to be reliable and valuable additions to the southern landscape. Their leaves are simple, thick, serrated (notched like a saw), alternately oriented, and usually glossy. These plants produce large, multicolored flowers that can grow up to 5 inches. The common name “camellia” refers to hybrids of Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua. Sasanqua types bloom from October to December, followed by japonica types, which bloom from December to March.

Landscape Uses: Camellias stand out when few other plants bloom in the fall and winter. Camellia blooms look similar to roses, as well as anemones and peonies. The rest of the year, camellias make excellent landscaping plants due to their glossy, evergreen foliage, intriguing patterns and textures, and low maintenance requirements. Camellias can be used as foundation plantings, screens, accent plants, background groupings, and hedges in the landscape. Mass plantings or clusters can yield the most significant benefit.

Photo by UF IFAS

Plant Selection: You can buy camellias from nurseries, plant sales, garden festivals, and camellia displays. Plant size and form vary significantly among varieties, ranging from small to big, spreading to upright. There is also a great variety of flower shapes, hues, and conditions, and new types are released yearly. A comprehensive list with descriptions and images is available from the American Camellia Society (

Care: To ensure the longevity of your camellias, choose a suitable location with bright, partial shade, protecting them from intense afternoon sun. Plant between November and February for optimal root establishment before summer. Use mulch to retain moisture and stabilize temperature fluctuations. Camellias thrive in well-drained, fertile soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. While generally resistant to drought, consistent watering is necessary during prolonged dry periods. Apply acid-forming fertilizer twice a year, and prune lightly in early spring if needed.

Ultimately, camellias stand as enduring botanical treasures and timeless landscape companions. For more information about camellias, contact your local county extension office.

Backyard Landscaping Tips to Support Birds This December

Backyard Landscaping Tips to Support Birds This December


Florida has a diverse array of birds. Warblers, raptors, shorebirds, and more may be spotted now in North Florida. Your yard or landscape can serve as an ideal habitat for wildlife, particularly birds. Even a modest quarter-acre plot can be intentionally designed to offer a supportive environment for a variety of birds. Transforming your backyard into a sanctuary for birds might allow you to witness these fascinating visitors firsthand.

"Rudbeckia' photo by UF/IFAS
“Rudbeckia’ photo by UF/IFAS


Bring a touch of local charm to your yard by choosing native plant species whenever you can. Native birds have a natural connection with these plants, having evolved alongside them. What’s more, landscapes featuring Florida-native plants demand less attention and resources compared to those with non-native varieties. Native plants are well-suited to the local soil conditions, usually need less fertilizer, and boast better resilience against common pests and diseases. Embrace the beauty of native flora while making your yard a low-maintenance haven for both birds and nature.

"Snags" photo by UF/IFAS
“Snags” photo by UF/IFAS


When trees face disease or reach the end of their life, think about leaving them as standing snags—imperfect yet invaluable shelters for wildlife to feed and nest. Additionally, creating a couple brush piles, especially near other plants, offers fantastic cover and feeding spots for birds. These piles not only provide a feeding opportunity for our feathered friends but also act as protective hideouts in open spaces. Embrace the natural cycle by turning aging trees and brush into welcoming havens for local wildlife.


Birds take to the skies, and for a thriving habitat, it’s essential to have various levels in your environment—tall trees, medium-sized trees, high and low shrubs, and groundcover. The more diversity, the better, as different bird species rely on different layers for their needs.

Tall trees play a crucial role, creating a sort of continuous woodland environment where birds can gracefully move from tree to tree. The choice of trees and shrubs you plant significantly influences the overall health of your landscape. Opt for species that suit your specific site and soil conditions to ensure a welcoming and supportive environment for our avian friends

"Birdbath" photo by UF/IFAS
“Birdbath” photo by UF/IFAS


Water is a vital ingredient for wildlife environments, and birds reap the rewards from any water source you offer. It can be as easy as placing a shallow dish or bowl filled with water or adding a small fountain to your outdoor space. Just remember to switch out the water regularly to thwart mosquito breeding and ensure a clean and refreshing oasis for our feathered companions.


A delightful way to connect with nature and witness birds up close is by using bird feeders. Not only does this provide an opportunity for observation, but it also supplements the natural food sources available to birds near your garden. For those interested in incorporating bird feeders, it’s important to remember proper care and maintenance. Neglected feeders can become breeding grounds for mold and bacteria, posing a risk to the health of the birds. A recommended practice is to clean feeders at least once every 1-2 weeks, or more frequently in wet or humid conditions, using a diluted bleach solution. For nectar feeders, a simple wash with soap and hot water is sufficient. Always ensure the feeders are thoroughly dry before refilling them with bird feed. This way, you not only create a welcoming space for our feathered friends but also ensure their well-being through responsible feeder care.


Creating a bird-friendly backyard in North Florida is not only a satisfying project but also a meaningful way to help protect our feathered friends. By making smart choices in your landscaping, you can turn your outdoor space into a welcoming sanctuary for birds. The benefits are twofold: you get to enjoy the colorful variety of bird species visiting your backyard while also contributing to the conservation of biodiversity in the area. Let your backyard showcase the harmonious relationship between humans and nature’s nomads. For tips on landscaping that supports birds, reach out to your local county extensions office.

Amarylis – The Botanical Fashion Statement

Amarylis – The Botanical Fashion Statement

Gardening is a year-round activity here in the deep South. As the rest of the states bundle up for the upcoming winter, North Florida’s gardens are bustling with activity. There is still plenty to do this November in North Florida. Amongst the many tasks include planting the subtropical amaryllis, Hippeastrum spp. It’s a beloved choice for gardeners due to its hardy nature and minimal maintenance requirements. The good news is, you can welcome these wonderful amaryllis into your garden this November, bringing a burst of beauty to your outdoor space in the coming spring without much fuss.

Amaryllis is a low maintenance, reliable bulb for Florida. Credit: fotofrogdesigner/iStock/Thinkstock, © fotofrogdesigner


Imagine flowers that open up like grand trumpets, each one stretching up to a generous six inches in diameter. What’s more, these magnificent blooms don’t make a solo appearance; they often arrive one after the other, as if in a graceful floral procession. Amaryllis doesn’t just shine in one color but offers a whole palette of choices – from vibrant reds, warm oranges, and delicate pinks to the purest of whites. And for those who adore the extraordinary, there are amaryllis varieties with stunning stripes as well. The plant itself boasts glossy, elongated leaves, each one measuring about 1.5 inches wide and 18 inches in length. With amaryllis, nature’s paintbrush knows no bounds.


For amaryllis in North Florida, it’s ideal to plant them during November and December. Find a spot with some sunlight and good drainage, not too much shade or full sun. These bulbs are tough; just dig a hole deep enough, but for top performance, prepare the soil by tilling it, mixing in organic material and some complete fertilizer. Plant bulbs about a foot apart, with their necks above the ground. Water them when you first plant and keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged until they’re settled in.


Amaryllis plants can keep on blooming if they get what they need and the bulbs can be left in the ground for years. To keep them happy, put some mulch down when you plant and get rid of any weeds that show up. In the growing season (from March to September), you can feed them with fertilizer, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label. When they’re growing and blooming, make sure the soil stays moist. Once they’re established, they can handle dry spells and only need water if it’s been super dry for a while. After the flowers are done, you should remove the old flower stems, and this not only keeps things looking nice but also helps prevent diseases. Every now and then, amaryllis might get a fungus problem called “red blotch” or “leaf scorch,” and you might also spot some chewing insects like caterpillars or grasshoppers.

Red blotch disease of Amaryllis. Credit: Bob Rutemoeller


Amaryllis creates a stunning landscape display when planted in masses of 10 or more, all with the same vibrant color. You can place them right at the base of evergreen shrubs to create a beautiful backdrop. If your house and shrubs have dark colors, go for amaryllis with bright, eye-catching flower colors. On the other hand, if your house and surroundings are light or white, the darker-colored amaryllis will really stand out. These versatile plants have many uses in your landscape, whether you’re decorating terraces, creating tree islands, sprucing up slopes, adding a welcoming touch near a gate, enhancing borders, or simply scattering them around for a pop of spring color.

Amaryllis has many landscape uses. Credit: squirrel77/iStock/Thinkstock, © squirrel77

The beautiful amaryllis offers a glimpse into the resilience and wonder of nature, reminding us that even in the face of changing seasons, life and beauty continue to thrive. Why settle for ordinary blooms when you can have the show-stopping drama of amaryllis? This November, ditch the dull and dive headfirst into the dazzling world of these majestic bulbs.

 For more information about growing amaryllis, contact your local UF/IFAS county extension office.