Gardener Extraordinaire Jon Carloftis will be heading down from his home state of Kentucky to spend a day at the Cummer Museum on November 5th. He will be talking how the art and gardens co-exist. The daytime event will feature a lecture and luncheon, but if a cocktail party is more your speed, come by in the evening for a special bourbon tasting, provided by Makers’ Mark, highlighting a couple of Jon’s favorite Kentucky drinks. Pick one event or join the Museum for both! I was lucky enough to catch up with this busy man and pick his brain for tips on making more spaces green!
EU: In your opinion, what is the most important part of a garden?
Jon Carloftis: A place to sit and enjoy the garden is often overlooked, unbelievably. Think of it as your living room and set it up with sofa, chairs, tables, outdoor rugs, outdoor speakers for music if desired or the sound of water.
EU: If people are on a budget, do you have any inexpensive and easy projects to spruce up their home landscape?
JC: A few containers filled with well thought-out plantings can change a whole space either in the front or back of your house. Try to be consistent rather than a mix-mash of different ones to make a bigger show.
EU: What are the best plants to start a container garden?
JC: Tropicals are the way to go in almost every plant zone. In Jacksonville, where it’s super hot in the summer and can get occasional freezes in the winter, tropicals can take the heat and have an endless array of color and texture. You do have to think about protection if it dips down below freezing, but moving them into a garage for a week or so can be easy with a piano dolly.
EU: You’ve done so much over the years. Can you tell us about one of your favorite projects?
JC: The one I’m working on at the moment is always my favorite. Right now, we are restoring the Old Taylor Distillery (Aside: please Google it and see this incredible place, deserted since the early 70’s!), a Centennial Memorial Garden for the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion, a private garden for a former Governor’s daughter in Lexington, KY, and a 5-year project for Maker’s Mark bourbon. Each one is different, and life couldn’t be any better. It’s so exciting that my sleep pattern is getting messed up because of the excitement!
EU: You have quite the celebrity clientele. Can you tell us about any cool celebrity spaces you’ve done?
JC: Luckily, I’ve been able to create gardens for my favorite actors that are the best of their craft. I worked with Edward Norton, who bought Richard Gere’s old penthouse, and we started from a blank slate. I have built three gardens for Julianne Moore (first one was all reds like her hair and the second one was all shades of green). We also built an urban garden for comedian Mike Myers that turned out fantastic. However, it doesn’t matter if they are famous or not, I just LOVE what I do everyday and making people happy through nature. It’s so rewarding to be in a business that makes things better rather than destroying the earth in some way.
EU: Do you have any words of wisdom to the City of Jacksonville about how to create more sustainable green space?
JC: Jacksonville, create garden spaces that children can enjoy at an early age. If you grow up in a garden, either playing or eating or hiking, then you will be a different person when you are an adult, in a much better way. A few of my friends were never really allowed outside to explore when they grew up and it’s terrible how weak their immune system is to pollen, etc. and how little they know about nature. It teaches you respect. You learn to live and let live. Only once did I mess with a hornet’s nest or stick my hand under a rock without knowing what’s underneath. These little actions go a long way with personality development. But you have to start them young, so it’s cool from the beginning. Then, when these kids are older and are in positions of making decisions, they will make the right ones. Nothing is more sustainable than this approach.