LAUREL HILL — Sarah Petty is looking forward to the longer days of summer. More daylight will give her more opportunities to do her favorite pastime — gardening.

The Okaloosa Master Gardener and her husband Jim enjoy getting outdoors and tending to the plants around their Laurel Hill home.


Their yard sports various items, among them an eye-catching giant azalea bush someone planted well before they bought their home; a young Japanese maple caged in a metal fence to protect it from deer who visit the couple's yard and help themselves to their garden for lunch; blueberry bushes, daffodils and brightly colored verbena.

Among Petty's favorite plants is a native yellow azalea she was able to grow.

She said beginning gardeners should add perennials and bulbs like amaryllis and daffodils (the varieties that grow well in North Florida). She also said they should start with ones that are native to Okaloosa County, like stokesia plants, just to get a good variety.

"If they're just getting into planting," Petty said, "it's better for them to start getting their garden and add perennials of different types, and they can get some ideas by going to plant sales and finding what kind of perennials to add."

"Those are the plants that will just continue growing year after year. You don't have to replant them. They'll be like azaleas and camellias…And that way, if you put a plant in like a perennial, then you don't have to do it again. You don't have to do it every year — plant plant plant. It's one of those that you can put it in, and if it likes where it is, it will come back every year for you," Petty said.

For all of Petty's favorites, there was only one "ugly duckling" of a plant on the Dogwood Garden Club member's list.

"Weeds...they're always there...and you've got summer weeds and winter weeds," she said. "You have to keep after 'em, but it gets you outside."