It’s the classic case of hiding in plain sight.
Take a historic home, add an eye-popping garden and wrap it all in a tall, wooden fence. Such a barrier usually invites curious stares, but Bruce and Lois Selfon’s cozy cottage is located two doors down from of the most popular destinations in town — the Naples Pier — which practically guarantees no one is looking at it.
Until now. On Saturday, Feb. 6, the Selfon residence will be one of four properties featured on the Naples Garden Club’s 55th annual Naples House and Garden Tour.
Once it’s finally spotted, visitors won’t be able to ignore the Selfons’ lush garden, a sun-laced wonderland of winding paths and twisting vines, of fruit trees, potted plants and brilliant blooms.
“It’s just so amazing, nature,” Lois said. “For me, it is a spiritual experience, to see a plant yield and bend and want to get to the sun.”
The Selfons moved to Naples 13 years ago, first renting the cottage they would later buy. The previous owner had gently renovated the house, Lois recalled, but the yard hadn’t received the same attention: It was only a dull expanse of sand, dotted by clusters of spiky mother-in-law’s tongues and shrouded by an overgrown ficus tree. To help spark the garden’s rebirth, she sought the advice of Robert Read, a botanical and tropical scientist with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
And she went on a plant shopping spree.
“I went crazy,” Lois said. “I was so thrilled with all the color and beauty and shapes of foliage as well as flowers.”
As anyone with a garden knows, the story doesn’t end with Lois planting and the plants growing. Botanicals need care to thrive, and Lois fervently planned to give it.
“That’s when I learned about companion planting,” she said. “I learned to talk to my plants, to learn when they were happy.”
Companion planting is what Lois calls cultivating a space where plants are able to form a complimentary relationship. She uses taller, sun-loving botanicals to provide cover for shorter, shade-favoring plants, and is sure to grant every leafy life enough room to flourish. If something seems to want to be in a pot, that’s what it’s allowed to do; if something wants to try different places in her garden, she obliges.
Lois is also devoted to using green plant care methods in her garden, even joking that vermiculture composting — more commonly known as “worm poop” — is more exciting to her than the prospect of buying a new pair of shoes.
“Everything is extremely organic to the Nth degree,” said Lois, who is a master gardener.
She recently tapped the Green Lagoon, a Naples company that offers eco-friendly consulting and products, to help further her quest. Instead of traditional pesticides, the company uses a fermented, non-toxic blend of yeast, molasses and herbs to repel plant predators and manage fungus growth.
The Green Lagoon’s Edgar Guzman praises the Selfons for their commitment to fostering a space where all things may thrive. Conventional pesticides can ultimately do more harm than good in a garden, he notes, since they kill all kinds of insects, including pollinators.
“Here is the best example,” he said of the Selfons’ garden. “The homeowner has a balance in the soil, the water, the plants.”
While the organic elements of her yard are a clear favorite, Lois Selfon is unabashedly partial to some plants,. She doesn’t hesitate to declare an imbe fruit tree in the front of her garden “perfect,” not only because of what it has — an elegantly curved trunk, tiered shape and hardy, oval-shaped leaves — but also because it lacks big, showy blossoms.
There’s a lesson in that, she notes.
“There’s so much more to appreciate about plant life than flowers,” Lois said.
She positioned the imbe tree outside her porch so she could enjoy it during her daily travels in and out. Throughout the Selfons’ cottage, the couple worked to “bring the outside in,” Lois said.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the Selfons’ master suite. The room overlooks the garden and pool area, but Lois decided she wanted more windows in order to see her botanicals. To do so, she sacrificed part of her walk-in closet — perhaps not surprising, considering her priorities about shoes.
The remainder of the Selfons’ home is combination of private retreat and art gallery. Technically, the cottage could be three bedrooms — or even four, adding the loft — but Lois notes the couple is quick to rely on the help of hotels when guests come calling. Would-be visitor rooms became the Selfons’ casual living areas or, in the case of the loft, a library for Lois’ numerous cookbooks.
Art, especially modern and pop, graces almost every available surface of the home. In the formal sitting area are works by Peter Max, Hessam and Geoffrey Lardiere as well as Lois’s own art, although she describes herself a “hobby artist.” The guest cottage serves as her studio, but a slow stroll through the Selfons’ property reveals her artistic process extends far beyond those four walls.
“I’m an artist, and I do my garden as an art form,” she said.