CARROLLWOOD — To celebrate Florida’s Arbor Day, the Village Institute for Sustainable Technologies and Agriculture Gardens welcomed a new addition to its 3.31-acre park: the Marlberry tree.

“January is a good time in Florida to plant a tree,” said Jennifer Grebenschikoff, VISTA Gardens president, in her opening remarks. “We have so many people to thank for this, especially some friends of ours here. This means so much to us, we will take a tree any day of the year as long as it’s a Florida native.”

Grebenschikoff thanked the Moonlight Garden Circle of the Tampa Garden Club for its generous donation of the tree and the cost of its installation. There are three varieties of the Marlberry tree, two of which are non-native to Florida. The one installed at VISTA Gardens is the Ardisia escallonioides, chosen by garden member Vicki Kuse.

“I’m a volunteer at the USF Botanical Gardens and when I saw the Marlberry in bloom there, I just loved it,” Kuse said.

Kuse was asked to adopt the tree and after doing a little homework, decided it would be the right fit. It’s the only Marlberry tree featured at the gardens, and it will grow from Pasco County southward to the Florida Keys. Kuse told attendees during the Florida Arbor Day celebration that the Marlberry is expected to bloom with white flowers in the summer. It will also grow edible berries, enjoys the shade, and can grow up to 18 feet.

Mary Davis, secretary of the Moonlight Garden Circle, explained how every year, each circle in the Tampa Garden Club tries to find a community place that needs a tree.

“One of our members moved out this way and happened to find this beautiful niche at VISTA Gardens,” Davis said. “We’re always looking for ways to give back to the community; that’s the whole idea of the Tampa Garden Club, to put our resources back into the community.”

Michele Vatalaro, Moonlight Garden Circle president, added, “Each location can choose what tree they want. Sometimes they let the Garden Club pick it, and we try to pick something appropriate for the place and to educate them on how to take care of it. These folks knew exactly what they wanted and where they wanted to get it from.”

The city of Tampa allows the Moonlight Garden Circle to have a beer tent at Gasparilla, which is how members are able to raise money for purchasing trees and donating them.

Members of the Moonlight Garden Circle meet monthly to learn how they can make their gardens more beautiful. They also host plant swaps, take field trips, and host events for members and experts to share their gardening expertise.

VISTA Gardens organizes events throughout the year and offers memberships for gardeners. Members will trade or donate the fruits of their labor, and AARP has sponsored a bed for the purpose of serving a local food pantry. VISTA Gardens also educates the public on how to be sustainable by using solar power.

To learn more about either organization, visit or