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Friends to all flora

Walk in the Third Street entrance to Farmington City Hall, cast a glance to the left, and it is all but impossible to miss the nearly seven-foot Norfolk Pine standing just inside the doorway.

It may be hard to believe, but that Norfolk Pine was once one of three scrawny, little forgotten sticks in a pot of dry soil. The other two little sticks are also on display at city hall -- both of them about five feet tall.

The Norfolk Pines are on permanent loan to the city by Farmington husband and wife, Paul Peterson and Tracy Donovan. The couple, who have named their backyard Florasophia Studios and Gardens, are plant lovers in the purest form -- and happy to be so.

More than just a couple of green thumbs, Peterson and Donovan are living proof plants respond to a little love and care. Their plants tend to grow well -- very well -- thanks to the time and attention they give.

Plant rescue

"When we met," Peterson said, "I think I had one plant. Maybe."

But Donovan had grown up around plants. There were many in her home as a child and young adult. She had worked on a farm and in a garden center.

"It's something I've just always known," she said. "It's rather just natural."

Being with Donovan, Peterson soon found out he had a talent with plants, too. And, it turns out, he had a soft spot for the stragglers. The ones with yellowing and drooping leaves. The ones with drying stems. The ones that needed rescue.

And so it became a bit of a hobby, working with these little, left-behind potted plants. They would find one in a store marked on clearance because it was nearly dead, or a friend would give them a neglected house plant. The challenge became to bring them back to life. To make them thrive.

There were a couple years, Donovan said, where their passion for plants maybe got a little out of hand -- when they eventually accumulated so many that they had to form paths from their kitchen to their living room.

"Like any kind of collection, it can get a little out of hand," Donovan said. "There's this need to save every one."

Though Donovan can admit defeat at times, Peterson, the optimist in the pair, tries to hold out hope for some of the dying as long as possible. Eventually, though, "she tells me, Paul. Let it go. It's not coming back," he said.

Finding success

Often, though, their attempts are so successful their plants simply get too large for their home. Take the Norfolk Pines, for instance. They once belonged to Peterson's brother, who did not have a talent for keeping them alive. So Peterson and Donovan started to care for the trees. Before long, the pines were too large for their home. At the time, Donovan worked at Trinity Care Center, so they brought the trees there so care center residents could enjoy them.

Same thing goes for a four-foot rubber plant at city hall. Donovan acquired it from friends who were going through a divorce and had more things to worry about than watering a plant. And then, there's the split-leaf philodendron. When they found it, it was being used as an ashtray outside a Wal Mart. But they took it home and gave it love.

"It grew and it grew and it grew, and it got huge," Peterson said.

After splitting it, they soon had two huge plants. One still sits in their dining room. The other? Well, they called the Como Park Conservatory and asked if they would be interested in taking it. The conservatory did.

"So this little plant that started off as an ashtray is now in the conservatory," Donovan said.

Sharing the love

Peterson and Donovan believe strongly in being part of the community where they live, and they try to do so by sharing their hobby with others. That is why, once the plants got to be too large for Trinity, and they saw the large windows at the new city hall, they offered to share their hobby with the greater Farmington community.

Donovan believes building a home takes kind of a two-pronged approach. The first part, naturally, is to create the home atmosphere within the walls of the building where she lives. The second, though, is becoming part of the community where that building stands.

They call their backyard project Florasophia because it is a "work in progress," she said. With a mud stove and a couple of compost tumblers standing by, wind chimes hanging from trees and flower beds plotted around their yard, the couple hopes to transform their backyard into more than just a couple of gardens. Long term plans include possibly growing Chinese medicinal herbs, and building a worm farm. The plan is to create kind of a whole self-sustaining eco-system, and to share it with the community around them.

It is just another way for them to perfect their passion for plants.

"If plans were dollars, we'd have plenty of money," Donovan said. "I think they grow well because they're appreciated."