DOOLEY BERRY / CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Mike Lucci creates seasonal beauty on Fly Creek
Mike Lucci, a retired Marine colonel and former Spanish Fort High School principal, now enjoys gardening full time at his Montrose home.
By Dooley Berry
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” gardener Albert Camus once wrote. The beauty of autumn is indeed ablaze in retired Marine Corps Col. Mike Lucci’s creek side garden in Montrose.
Flowers bloom profusely to greet the arriving visitor. The zing of red gingers — that most traditional of autumn heralders — chrysanthemums of yellow and orange, and hummingbird-attracting cardinal plants fling their welcome colors along the curved drive leading to the Lucci’s two-story home.
One of the greatest joys and seductions of gardening lies in looking forward to that next season, when the planning and planting of next year’s beds and borders presents an agreeable occupation on the gardener’s calendar. Mike has participated in this pleasant pastime since he first cleared the wooded acreage and built his and wife Judy’s lovely home 23 years ago.
“I do all the gardening now that I have retired and have more time,” Mike shares.
Mike grew up in Albuquerque, N. M. as the son of a gardening mother who favored growing and nurturing bearded iris.
His career in the military led him to establish homes along the Pacific and Mediterranean and he completed a four-year stint as a military attaché to the embassy in Morocco.
“Coastal Morocco is beautiful — just like coastal California. I had a gardener provided then who planted olive trees and kept the front of our home looking beautiful with year-round blooms,” Mike shares. “In Marrakech, the desert flowers only bloom in January, February, and March. The yellow and orange blooms only last about a week, and then they are gone. I gardened a little in those days — grew some roses and olive trees — but now I have time to experiment with plants I love in coastal Alabama.”
After retiring from the military to the Montrose area, Mike began a second career in education as an assistant principal at Daphne High School and later as principal at Spanish Fort High.
Knowledge in gardening, like in anything else, is gained by doing and observing. The successful gardener observes and looks at plant combinations, how large plants grow and how plantings could best be combined. An incredible coastal Alabama setting in which to dabble and learn, with property that provides full sun to shady understory, promotes the seasonal outdoor classroom in which Mike experiments and learns.
Besotted gardeners like Mike move through their gardens naming, gasping at, or admiring their plant specimens. They saunter, smile or sigh at what they find, often succumbing to an intangible moment that takes them for a brief escape into another dimension. Mike’s garden transitions from one attractive area to another, and he enjoys views, overlooks and a creek full of water and, at times, fish.
“I have to deal with lots of shade in my garden,” Mike explains. “I research what will grow well and try it out. I reseeded my front lawn in St. Augustine grass and it is now well established and doing well. I work in the garden a couple of hours each day except for late June, July and August, when heat is oppressive.”
On a pleasant walk through his yard, Mike points out several budding camellias, which will add enviable color in a faded winter landscape.
“I am very proud of my two different varieties of red ginger,” he says. “It flowers and then a bract falls and a new plant forms from it. I enjoy the autumn chrysanthemums, whose flowers look like daisies and make pretty bouquets.”
He points out the pretty pink, brown, and tangerine colored toad lilies currently blooming in a lush bed. Butterfly gingers and brilliant red cardinal plants from Point Clear’s Grand Hotel add visions of color and fragrance along the way. Tropical wisteria and muscadines lay draped over trellises, sharing their greenery with the golden haze of the autumn day. Native hawthorn thrives along the way to the creek side.
The past 23 years in Mike Lucci’s garden have been all about choice — choice of plant material, choice of what to do with it and how to combine it all pleasingly into the total landscape. His garden is an exotic plant infusion that is constantly in evolution — a layering of the seasons in nature and of his own lawn.
The choices of plants become symbols of each season in the garden, as well as in life. The maidenhair ferns of spring, the robust sunflowers of summer, oak leaves and acorns left behind with promise in autumn and the gentle beauty of the southern camellia in the harshness of winter all pay homage to the cycle of seasons and years that make up a life. The choices in the garden and in life are a message to the world. Mike Lucci’s message is surely an inspirational one.