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Flowering achievement

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Retired teacher loves wildflowers

By Ashley Thornton, Staff Writer

For many, now is the time to be out of doors planting and gardening and enjoying the fruits of their labor and of Mother Nature’s.

This is the case with Evelyn Etheredge, long time Chiefland resident, who said, “people identify me by ‘oh, you live on the corner down there by the traffic light where all of those beautiful wildflowers are.’”

Almost 92 years old and it’s not unusual to drive past and see her petite frame out working in her yard, pulling weeds as she goes on her walks. Though it is the season to do so, Etheridge is one who will not be pulling out her lawn mower anytime soon. 

“I love Mother Nature things and I had some wild flowers growing in this part of the yard that I didn’t keep mowed. I just came to love wild flowers,” she said. Every spring now, her two-acre property is filled with multi-colored phlox and yellow coreopsis, the state wildflower, among other blooms, some planted, but the majority of which have seeded naturally.

Etheredge expresses appreciation for the beauty that surrounds her home as she said, “I think I feel like that’s God smiling down upon me with such a spread.” She went on to explain that there are two types of growth, wildflowers and weeds, pointing out some purple flowers that she says many consider weeds.

“So anything that has a flower on it I protect, and my flowers attract a lot of attention from people passing. Many stop and make pictures … any plant with leaves that blooms, I protect.”

She doesn’t mind the attention or sharing her yard. On the contrary, Etheredge said that she often goes out and strikes up a conversation with those stopping because they are admiring her flowers as she does. It gives them something in common to talk about. She used to put up signs asking people to enjoy her flowers, but not to pick them, though she has made an exception now and then for someone asking permission to pick flowers for a loved one.

What advice would she give to others hoping to grow their own? “I tell them, when they go to seed, they can come gather seed, but you don’t have very good luck trying to transplant a wildflower. Mother nature takes care of that.”

There’s a lot more to her story than the beautiful blooms that fill her yard. Etheredge has a history in Chiefland, in Hardeetown, and she has been an inspiration to some in the community.

Born on a farm in the rural part of Newberry, she was the next to youngest of 10 children and now the only one living. She graduated from high school in 1941, attended three years of college at Berry College in Georgia and then finished her final year at the University of Georgia in 1946.

She moved to Chiefland to fill a position teaching Economics at the high school. She lived with a roommate who was a teacher and also ran a boarding house.

“My roommate had a boyfriend whose cousin she introduced me to and end of story, we lived happily ever after,” Etheredge said of her and her late husband, B.T. Etheredge, to whom she was married for more than 50 years.

“I grew up on a farm. I didn’t want to marry a farmer because they have such a hard life, but that changed,” she said with a smile. “I learned to love farming because it was close to the earth.”

Etheredge later taught second grade and became part of the reason one of her students chose to also teach. Now teaching second grade, her former student invited Etheredge, in recent years, to come back and read to her class. Etheredge said she had such a good time during the experience.

When asked how long she taught for, Etheredge said, “Not as long as I could have, but I wanted to stop while the sun was still shining.”

 

Looking for advice on how to make your yard and plantings flourish? According to Barbara Edmonds, Homeowner Horticulture Program Assistant with the University of Florida IFAS Extension office in Levy County, one plant doesn’t suit all. She explained that providing resources where people can go for information is far more valuable than saying do this or do that as soil types and environments vary greatly. For an online database of Florida plants and an interactive yard tool visit  HYPERLINK "http://floridayards.org/" \t "_blank" http://floridayards.org/ or contact your local county extension office for further assistance.