Gardener of the Week: Aug. 30

Baltimore Sun reporter

Joe Bragg's Bel Air backyard garden is so Margaritaville, it'll have you searching for the lost shaker of salt."They call me 'Coconut Joe,'" said the mortgage loan officer, whose lush, tropical-themed backyard is a tribute to Jimmy Buffett's popular 1977 song about a fictional getaway.

A colorful diversion from other properties in the quiet, pastoral cul de sac, Bragg's yard has become a neighborhood magnet, a place where he and dozens of friends and neighbors get together for parties and holidays. Besides palm trees and yucca plants that decorate his hilly landscape, he has remnants of pirate lore: a wooden treasure chest, thick-braided rope that looks as if it once adorned a dockside, seashells, bamboo siding, the flag of Jamaica, paraphernalia from the Florida Keys, a weather-beaten boat and a couple of toy talking skeletons -- one utters such phrases as, "Can you get me a drink?"

"I love the tropics," said Bragg. "I wanted my backyard to feel like a different place, like being at the ocean."

But it also has the feel of a well-kept garden, with cannis plants, crape myrtle trees and hibiscus. He also grows tomatoes and green peppers. All of his plants are spread out and blend in well with the nautical items and lighting that illuminates the area at sundown. Bragg's friends and neighbors come and enjoy the landscape year round, some while relaxing at the his nearby makeshift bar or in his hot tub that seats 10 people.

This marks the third home Bragg has spruced up with such an elaborate backyard. His passion for creative gardening was passed down from his mother, whom he says, has an array of plants and flowers at her home in Shrevesport, La. She instilled in him a do-it-yourself approach to gardening and landscaping, which is why he did his crafted his elaborate backyard himself, buying most of the items from department stores. He keeps the insects away with a bug zapper. During the winter months, he and his family stay warm in the backyard with the help of an oversized space heater.

"I just shop around looking for deals," said Bragg, who keeps the bugs away with a zapper. "I'm always trying to come up with new ideas."

Favorite plant: "My hibiscus and my palm trees. They remind me of the tropics."

Gardening tips: "You have to remember that when you're planting trees, you can't plant them all close together. They're going to get bigger, so you have to allow for space. Now, my trees look sporadic, but they'll look good in a couple of years."

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