Garden Statues Salute Saints & Sinners

Garden Statues Salute Saints & Sinners

Garden statues – There are saints and sinners along with some surprise winners sitting in my back garden.

Let’s start with saints.


garden statues - angel
Garden statue – an angel graces the pond

Next to the fish pond stands a metal angel, hands touching in prayer, wings serenely open wide and fanned by a white Penta plant growing in all directions.

Buddha, not a saint but very holy, sits nearby, legs crossed in the best yoga fashion. He looks down on a small bonsai tree that has managed to survive outside, perhaps due to the good influence of having Buddha sitting nearby.

Garden statues - Buddha
garden statue – Buddha sits serenely

In the middle of yard St. Francis stands with a bowl in his hands, perfect for feeding birds. After all, St. Francis liked to give sermons to the birds. The story goes they would sit in nearby branches and listen.

Buddha, an angel, St. Francis – Oh yes, I have garden statues covering all the good vibes in my back garden.

You could do the same in your garden or on a lanai.

Yet a word of caution – for every saint there is a sinner. Be careful when putting say, a heron statue outside.

Garden statues can be saints or sinners

Last summer a great white heron came, landed on the open veranda, surveyed the situation, stalked over to the small pond and ate all but one goldfish. I don’t want to encourage him to return by having a heron statue sitting there, a clear signal that herons are welcome (not).

And I wonder about those really big frog statues. Do I want a humongous toad to think this is the place to live just because I have a lookalike toad sitting sedately in ceramic glory?

garden statues - gecko
Garden statues – a gecko seen on a butterfly garden tour in Sarasota

Some garden purists say having pink plastic flamingos in the yard is unforgivable – like giving in to funky kitsch is a mortal sin.

Nonsense. I say go for it, as long as they reside in the back yard and not in the front yard where the public drives by. There is, after all, some decorum to maintain.

But the back yard is your secret pleasure so why not indulge?

What happens in the back yard stays in the back yard.

Garden statues can compliment or complicate your garden plans for blooming plants, produce, native plants, rain barrels and ponds.

Let’s be honest. We’re attracted to these garden enhancements even if we just admire them but don’t bring them home.

Speaking for myself, every time I travel I have to resist temptation.

Garden Statues are hard to resist

Some people can’t walk by a shop that makes chocolate. I have trouble walking by any garden shop, both for the plants and the yard art.

On a recent trip to Tarpon Springs, I reluctantly declined to visit Tarpon Home & Garden – their brightly colored yard art filling up a corner lot on Pinellas Avenue but we had a tight schedule and a long day ahead.

Just so you know for future reference, Tarpon Home & Garden is located directly across the street from Mama Maria’s Original Greek Cuisine, one of my favorite restaurants.

As you have already figured out, the chances of my going back to Tarpon Springs and giving in to the temptation to visit both places are excellent,

Finding yard art and garden statues

Yard art is found in surprising places.

For the ultimate kitsch yard art experience, go to Barberville Roadside Yard Art and Produce in the middle of the state on U.S. 40 near U.S 17. It is actually in the middle of, well, not much. It is a stand alone attraction.

Huge tin metal chickens share space with Mexican ceramic pots, squirrel statues, large dinosaurs. Once saw a 15-foot giraffe. This is a seriously funky and fun place to visit.

And then, just to top it off,  I have some surprise backyard art winners– birdbaths and birdhouses.

Formal gardens, especially those from the 18th and 19th century, often contain a reflecting pool – a shallow long rectangular pool with a still surface that acts as a mirror – reflecting the sky.

Did you know your birdbath does the same thing as formal reflecting pools? My birdbaths are terracotta dishes and I place them so when I’m sitting outside, they are nearby, I can see the trees, clouds and sky reflected in the still water. Peaceful, an ever-changing visual treat as the day moves on.

And those birdhouses are not just for birds. On a recent butterfly garden tour I saw birdhouses being used for plants. Vines spilled out the front opening and down the birdhouse.  Right now my only birdhouse has a resident toad living inside. Using birdhouses as planters will have to wait until his lease is up.

Summer is upon us.

Here is your plan:

Travel safely and do brake for yard art, garden statues and plants.

You never know what might come home with you. I actually liked the 15-foot giraffe in Barberville but fortunately for us all it was too big to fit in my small car.

Maybe it is time to visit Tarpon Springs again.

Who knows what saints and sinners are waiting to be discovered?



On May 1, 2016, the Spanish translation of my children’s book debuted. It is the first translation of one of my books and I’m so happy it is Mary Margaret, a positive uplifting story for ages 4-10.

Enjoy and share with family and friends.

here is the book page on my Web site

Maria Margarita la Manati









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Go Greek for a day (or two) in Tarpon Springs

Go Greek for a day (or two) in Tarpon Springs

“Once a week, go Greek.”

Look for this motto on shirts worn by the wait staff at Mr. Souvlaki’s restaurant on Pinellas Avenue in Tarpon Springs. Be quick to take a peek because the waiters are moving pretty fast, threading their way among tables packed with people primed for a Greek lunch or dinner served seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Go Greek - Greek chow mein
Greek chow mein, an original dish at Mr. Souvlaki’s restaurant, Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

And many locals are speaking Greek, a good sign that the food here is the real deal. Mr. Souvlaki’s is the home of the Greek Chow Mein (you read that right), an original dish that looks like chow mein but tastes Greek. I haven’t a clue how they make that happen.

On a recent visit to the restaurant Patricia Pochurek, a writer friend and my Tarpon Springs cultural guide for the day, had the Greek chow mein. I chose the calamari platter.

Both were excellent. Be advised that a half order is big enough for a meal plus a takeout box. A full order, just guessing, would probably feed a family for days.

Go Greek in Tarpon Springs

Back to the motto – once a week, go Greek.

If I had to pick a day of the week it would be either Wednesday or Friday. Why? These are the two days that the Heritage Museum is open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $3 per adult, children get in free if accompanied by an adult.

Go Greek - yoga in the park
Yoga students (and dog) at Craig Park overlooking Spring Bayou, Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Located in Craig Park, a tranquil green space overlooking Spring Bayou, the Heritage Museum is shaded by venerable trees. Step inside. What you find will knock your socks off.

A former library turned museum, the building has high ceilings, light-filled rooms, a refurbished art gallery with excellent track lighting and a large, acoustically tuned room used for chamber music concerts, classes and lectures. To see what is coming up, visit this Web site:

There is a small but packed historical museum on the right wing of the building with photography of the city’s history and samples of life from Indian times to sponge divers.


Go Greek - Christopher Still mural
A mural by Christopher Still in the Heritage Museum, Tarpon Springs. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Turning left into the art gallery wing, take a deep breath, because this is where the light-filled architecture and renovations really pay off.

On the walls are Giclee reproductions of murals done by Christopher Still, the artist in residence for the Florida Legislature.

Still resides in Tarpon Springs and has an art studio downtown. He was commissioned to do ten murals for the Florida State House chambers. The murals trace Florida’s history from the 16th century to modern times. In 2010 Still was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

A Tampa bay native Still has a special love for being in the water. He built a clear plastic box where he can insert his hands into gloved openings and paint underwater. That ingenious box is on display in the art gallery.

Get a hold of the legends – they are numbered keys to his murals, with explainers. For example, in the mural “To Have and Have Not” a young girl holds a Florida orange. Behind her a train crosses a bridge in the Key. The foreground has a sponge divers bell helmet and much more. The legend tells the stories of why each object was chosen.

Go Greek - tarpon sculpture
Tarpon sculpture at Tarpon Springs Public Library. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Pick up a copy of the free brochure called City of Tarpon Springs Cultural Treasures. The list includes five places – the Performing Arts Center, the Cultural Center, Safford House Museum, Heritage Museum and Historic Depot Museum.
And that (drum roll please) is just for starters.

Use this Tarpon Springs brochure as a day guide to creativity and culture served up in community that both remembers its past and extends a gracious welcome to the here and now.

Everywhere you turn there are portraits of the past – murals on walls, old photographs, exhibits, events and people remembered.

Like the annual Epiphany celebration, a well-known religious event that always attracts thousands to Tarpon Springs every January.

Two exhibits at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center on Pinellas Avenue remain up through April 30, 2016. They are: Epiphany Exhibitions: “Leap of Faith” and “Epiphany in Tarpon Springs”

The photographs, both color and black and white, are from a variety of sources, including newspaper coverage. Moments and memories remembered. A bishop or archbishop throws a cross into the water. Young men jump into the bayou. Only one emerges victorious, holding the cross.

In one photo a white dove, set free at the annual event, lands on the archbishop’s hat and stays there. A close up color photo of three alter boys in full robes shows them sitting – no faces, just their robes and their hands clasped as they wait for the church service to begin – a powerful moment.

If the building looks like a City Hall that is because it is the first City Hall of Tarpon Springs built in 1915. Expansions happened but not always in the building’s favor. In 1962 the front porch steps were removed to widen Pinellas Avenue. A shame.

The city kept to a tradition of recycling by moving City Hall in 1987 into the former Tarpon Springs high school.
The old City Hall is now both the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, admission is free, and also home to the Center for Gulf Coast Folklife Gallery. That is why you see the long name: Center for Gulf Coast Folklife Gallery/Cultural Center.
Hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

GO Greek - 1926 Jitney
A 1926 Jitney restored by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society. Photo by Patricia Pochurek

From there it is an easy walk to the Historic Depot Museum on Tarpon Avenue kept open as a public history museum by the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society. Hours are Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A recently restored 1926 Jitney will soon sit on the museum grounds and be used for parades and taking people around town on weekends.

The train depot is right next to the Pinellas Trail, a Rails to Trails project (old railroad right of ways converted to alternative transportation) and well used by bicycle riders, walkers and skaters.

By now you are hungry – and when the Greeks are cooking, just show up. They are justly famous for their cuisine.
In addition to restaurants dotted around downtown, the Sponge Docks area is close by with a variety of choices including favorites like Yianni’s Greek Restaurant and Mykonos Greek Restaurant.
No matter what day of the week, a visit is not complete without Greek pastries.
Just saying . . .

Go Greek - pastry
Pastry at Hellas Restaurant and Bakery on the Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Visit the Hellas Restaurant and Bakery located on Dodecanese Boulevard. Your sweet tooth thanks you before you walk in the door. It is close to impossible to leave without a sweet or two. The hardest part is making a decision. That is why you see people lined up with their arms folded, staring intently at the display cases.

Go Greek - sponge boat
Sponge boat on the way out to gather a sponge or two. Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

A few steps away on Dodecanese Boulevard the Sponge Docks have the real thing – sponges brought up from the Gulf of Mexico. You are here. Stock up. In fact, take a tour on a sponge diving boat and see the traditional diver in action.

GO Greek - Sponges from the Gulf of Mexico, in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias
Sponges from the Gulf of Mexico, in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Like dancing? The Sponge Docks has that covered too with Salsa on the Sponge Docks coming up on two Saturdays, May 28 and also October 1, 2016 from 6 to 11 p.m. There is a free dance lesson from 6-7 p.m. before the band begins.

Night in the Islands on May 7, June 4, July 9, August 6, September 10, 2016, again at the Sponge Docks has free dance lessons 6-7p.m.offered by Levendia Dancers plus outdoor dining is available on the sponge docks, Night in the Islands is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ah, so much to do, so little time.

Have you figured it out yet?

Go Greek more than one day a week

Tarpon Springs need more than day – so go Greek for two days or more – check out the 1910 Inn, a Bed and Breakfast on Tarpon Avenue, just steps away from Spring Bayou and downtown.

Go Greek - the 1910 inn
the 1910 Inn, Tarpon Springs, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Consider parking your car and using the Jolley Trolley to get around. Five dollars buys an unlimited day pass.

Oh, and for the list of places to go and things to do, did I mention visiting the Cathedral along with the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art and then sign up for Odyssey Cruises where you can go on a narrated nature tour and go shelling on Anclote Key?

Too much?

Then it is time for some honey and walnuts and pastry.

Open the box from Hellas Restaurant and Bakery.

Pass me the baklava please.


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A Declaration of Cultural Diversity

A Declaration of Cultural Diversity

We believe these truths to be self evident – cultural diversity makes us strong, celebrating our heritage keeps the past alive for future generations and when the Greeks are cooking, just show up. Amen.

Cultural Diversity Alive and Well in Florida

That said – here are some places to go in Florida were cultural heritage is alive and well worth a visit. Tarpon Springs, 33 miles north of Tampa, started out in 1848. The town made a name as a winter resort for folks from up north who didn’t want to shovel snow.

Then came the discovery in 1852 of sponges in the Gulf of Mexico. This was big news. Greece has sponge blight in its offshore waters and the industry was dying. Whole families came over to be spongers in America. They brought their culture and yes, their wonderful food.
cultural diversity - Tarpon Springs

The Sponge Docks still exist today. It is no accident that many restaurants line the sponge docks. When the boats came in, the crews were hungry. Pass the baklava please.
Take the shuttle bus that goes from the docks to downtown and be sure to tour the inside of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
cultural diversity = cathedral in Tarpon Springs

Ybor City * used to be a swamp. Along came Martinez Ybor looking for a place to build a cigar factory. He thought his workers in Key West were getting too uppity and wanted to relocate. So he filled in the swamp and built his factory. Obviously those were the days before permits.
cultural diversity - casitas in Ybor City
To keep his workers he built casitas, little attached houses, so cigar workers could sent for their families from Cuba. A casita cost $2500. The families came. Cuban culture still flourishes today. Have lunch at the original Columbia restaurant or try a Cuban at La Tropicana Café. Bueno. Other groups that came to work in the factories – Italians and Germans.

Speaking of Germans, Florida has a large German population in the southwest area but I’m not the only one who thinks the best German restaurant is up in Sanford, 23 miles northeast of Orlando.

Hollerback’s Willow Tree Café is a European style café and German restaurant that is family owned.. They know how to get to you. The day’s desserts are displayed in a case and you have to walk by . . .yum.
Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go! Enjoy

* Ybor City is Chapter 35: Celebrate the Cigars in 50 Great Walks in Florida., Lucy Beebe Tobias, published by University Press of Florida, 2008

©2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias, all rights reserved.

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