Family hopes to save life's work of Hillsborough County master gardener

A son is on a mission to keep his mother’s legacy alive. 

The Hillsborough County woman spent decades growing a lush tropical garden. However, she passed away this summer, and now the two-acre property’s future is uncertain. The family hopes her life’s work can be saved with help from the community.

Eileen Hart was well known in the Tampa Bay gardening community. She logged thousands of hours as a master gardener volunteer teaching people about plants and how to grow them.

 "She could take a brown twig and get it to turn back into a plant," said Eileen’s son, Stephan Hart.

Eileen used that talent to develop the family’s property in Odessa into a layered tropical garden, thick with more than 1,000 different species and varieties.

She started planting in 1975 and never stopped.

"Has turned from just kind of open sandy soil, some grass and a few trees to a two-acre botanical garden," Stephan said.

It's an intentional jungle, blooming year-round.

Stephan says his mother was full of energy right up until her sudden death this June. Eileen passed away from a heart attack at 78-years-old.

"She's now in every garden with me spiritually," said Stephan. "She was always there mentally, but now she's definitely there hanging out, probably telling me you should plant that a little different or trim that."

The family wants to keep Eileen’s legacy alive, turning her passion project into a dedicated botanical garden. The mission would be to educate and benefit the public.

"I'd love to see it turn into some version of public-private research gardens," Stephan said.

They are still working out the details, but tell us there is interest from local organizations and the Eileen C Hart Botanical Garden will be a reality in a few years.

"That was her biggest worry, was that nobody would care for her garden when she wasn't there," Stephan said.

And he is not letting that happen.

The family is raising money online to support maintaining the gardens while the transition is taking place.