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Odessa family looks to share deceased mother's botanical garden with community

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Posted at 10:39 AM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 15:46:42-04

ODESSA — An Odessa family is searching for ways to keep their mother's legacy alive. She spent decades growing a botanical garden in her yard, but since her death, the future of the garden is now in limbo.

"My friends have called it the jungle, 'man, you live in a jungle,' and it's only gotten twice as thick," said Stephan Hart.

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Stephan has a lot of fond memories of growing up in his childhood home in Odessa. His mom Eileen Hart started adding new plants in 1975 and never stopped. There are now more than 1,000 different species scattered across the two-acre property.

"I could walk around with my mom, 'what's that, what's that blooming, what's that purple thing,' and that's why I became a botanist," said Stephan.

Eileen was well known in the Tampa Bay gardening community. She was a member of more than a dozen plant societies and a graduate of the first class of Hillsborough County Master Gardeners in 1981.

"I think an excess of 20,000 hours of volunteer work over her lifetime just going and teaching other people how to grow plants, passing on that passion for watching a plant grow and bloom," said Stephan.

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This past June, Eileen unexpectedly passed away due to a heart attack. Her husband Robert said every time he walks through the property, he feels her presence.

"Just keep looking up and thinking that she is going to walk in the door any minute all sweated down," said Robert. "She created an Eden for us to live in."

However, with Robert now in his 80s, and their children all grown up and moved out, the focus shifts on how to keep Eileen's legacy alive.

"We can't lose this beautiful botanical garden; there's been 46 plus years of love and devotion put into this garden that we have to maintain it in some fashion or form," said Stephan.

So the family is hoping to partner up with the community, whether it's used for professional research, school field trips or just a public place to plant, they want to keep the garden thriving, but they need help.

"If you have an artist that's really good and they pass away or move, you can take the art and put it in a museum, what you can not do is take this art and put it in a museum, the museum is here," said Stephan.

"I feel her spirit is here, I feel that she is happy with what we are trying to do, and that's important," said Robert.

For more information on how to help the Hart family, you can email Stephan directly at stephan@simplynativeplants.org. The family has also set up a GoFundMe page; just search Eileen C Hart Botanical Garden.