Behind the Scenes of The Sarasota Garden Club’s Gardens in Paradise Tour

Behind the scenes of one of five beautiful gardens in this year's Sarasota Garden Club Gardens in Paradise tour.

By Megan McDonald December 2, 2013

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One of five exceptional coastal gardens that will be part of The Sarasota Garden Club's Gardens in Paradise tour on March 15, Tan and Hal Hillman's three-quarter-of-an-acre property on tiny Cedar Cove in South Sarasota's Coral Cove neighborhood features an artful mélange of native plants. The Hillmans have spent nearly 30 years cultivating their grounds into a natural wonder, placing ease of care above all else. "It's a very casual garden," says Tan. "We say, 'If it didn't work out there all by itself, oh, well, it wasn't meant to be.'" Details about the Gardens in Paradise tour are at


More than a dozen varieties of bromeliads dot the property. "We put them in pots on garden structures when they're in bloom," says Tan.

Unlike sunny Sarasota gardens, this property, which is dense with live oaks, requires plants that thrive in shade, like ferns, bromeliads, ixora, calladium, lilies and palms.

An east Palatka holly is the focal point for a planting of ixora bushes surrounded by liriope.

On tiny Cedar Cove, the property was once covered by cedars. "We plant a new cedar each Christmas to try to regenerate them," says Tan.

Biggest challenge? Creating costumes for 1996's Nicholas Nickleby, an eight-hour production requiring 400 period costumes.

The resurrection ferns cascading down the oak tree limbs are fully open, a sign of a rainy summer. When dry, the plant shrivels and turns brown.

Many of the massed red and green bromeliads came from after-Christmas sales of Selby Gardens' holiday bromeliad tree.

Tan attached the big staghorn fern to the oak in 1986. They take pups to create hanging plants for friends or to place in other trees on the property.

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This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Sarasota magazine. Like what you read? Subscribe to Sarasota magazine.