Jim Notestein, in His Own Words
Garden Designer & Horticultural Advisor
Personal Best for Community Well-Being
by Jim Notestein
for the StoryCorps Oral History Project
An Interview with Jim Notestein,
Recorded on Heritage Day at the Matheson Museum,
October 23, 1999
View on YouTube
JAMES EDISON NOTESTEIN is a fifth-generation Floridian, owing to his mother's ancestors — McClellan, Harris,
and Bacon — who came to Sarasota after the Civil War had devastated Tupelo, Mississippi. Mrs. Bacon
was diagnosed with tuberculosis and her physician's remedy was to move to the "piney woods" of
Florida. The Bacon family traveled by ox-drawn wagons for nearly two-years, because of the primitive trails. Part of that
trail system came down what we know now as State Road 121 — sometimes called the Woodpecker
Trail — characterized by vast, open, pine flatwood-grasslands that dominated Florida's central ridge, also
called the Crown Region. In this wildfire-managed bioregion of North Central Florida, the social,
cavity-nesting bird clans favored the once-abundant, lightning-killed, standing snags for their dwellings.
With no stores along the way, the Bacon family would periodically make extended camp to raise root
crops and squashes — adding to the wild game and edible native plants they foraged.
This same route was taken by William Bartram in 1774 as he sought botanical specimens for his
father in England. He came as far south and west in Florida as the Kanapaha area that we know now as
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. A historic marker near the water lily gardens at KBG briefly recounts his
With many ups and downs, the Sarasota colonists carved out a settlement in what first became
known as "Bucket Town." (A company set up to harvest the cedars made them into commercial
buckets by the thousands.) As with Cedar Key, the Sarasota area was lush with giant southern red
Real estate developers couldn't see much of a property market using the name Bucket Town. So they
began a charming fabrication. Everyone remembers Hernando deSoto, ruthless Spanish gold-seeker and
Indian killer. Perhaps he had a daughter. Perhaps her name was Sara. Thus began a picturesque fable of
Sara deSoto. It was subdivisions from then on out.
Like most of us, Jim's ancestors scratched out vegetable gardens for more than recreation. They had
to hand-dig their own wells. But nearly all his Florida people were horticulturally inclined. Some of
them worked with Thomas Edison in his search for the first light bulb filament and with A.I.Root, the
pre-eminent American beekeeper. Edison's winter home in Fort Myers still has one of America's largest
collections of plant material — some six-thousand specimens. Bamboo proved to be the best candidate
for carbonized whiskers of practical illumination. Edison also used bamboo instead of reinforcing steel
to imbed in his above-ground swimming pool in Fort Myers. To this day, there are no cracks in the pool
structure — something steel could not duplicate.
Jim's paternal great-grandfather planted the first royal palms in Florida. Many of these elegant and
shapely giants still line the major boulevards of Bradenton. This ancestor also experimented with citrus
and had large groves in western Manatee County.
While in grammar school, Jim was regularly placed with his father's aunt, from whom he learned
most every useful skill and craft except metal work and building construction. These last talents were
imbued by his father and a maternal great-uncle, with whom several homes were built and many vintage
automobiles altered. It was from the great-aunt, May Notestein, a gentle and encyclopedic teacher, that
Jim learned principles of plant life at her Bradenton home.
With May, it was a long-term adventure of science and persistence: cross-pollinating amaryllis
blossoms, carefully edge-planting the large, black, circular, tissue-thin wafer seeds, and several years
later finally enjoying unique color expressions of their mixed parents. And in between — painting images
of mature plants on canvas, making original and unique ceramic plates with floral relief, and even
weaving on the loom fabrics with a botanical flavor. Along with these lessons came the pleasure and
magic of baking bread, listening to grand stories, and gradually becoming a person with a love of the
Jim learned from his great-uncle Earl, a carpenter, how to double-ring-cut the cambium from crotons
and "moss-them-off." Otherwise called air-layering, this technique of plant reproduction allows a large
root formation to occur in a air-tight bag of damp spaghnum. After a month or so, this ready-to-pot
specimen, several feet tall, can be cut from the mother-plant, with no shock to either.
On his own...
Science, engineering and architecture called Jim to the University of Florida in 1961. Missing an
opportunity to pursue technical horticulture, for which he was aptly prepared, Jim imagined to become
an astronaut. But that never took off.
A youthful will-o-the-wisp went as far west as Route 66 would go — working in the planning
department of a multi-county park and open-space district in Oaklands' East Bay Region, community
gardening in heavy clay soils of Berkeley, manufacturing stadium-scale sound projectors, dancing with
freedom-fighters of the love-generation, visiting the same old-growth redwoods as John Muir,
discovering the wild Pacific coast of Lewis and Clark, and camping in snow atop glacier-split Half-
Dome in Yosemite. Something was missing...something was calling home.
But not for long...
Jim's good fortune was to be discovered by Emily — an encouraging spirit — with whom an interest in
things green and growing began to unfold. "Woodland Echoes," their homestead near Gainesville's
Rattlesnake Branch of Hogtown Creek, became the foundation for walking the talk of advocacy
gardening, renewable technologies, and applied citizenship. Together, they helped develop the first
Farmers Market Gainesville had known in one hundred years.
In business and in the community...
With a modest investment in truck, tiller and tools, Jim started hundreds of small, backyard
vegetable gardens for local folks wanting the many benefits of growing their own.
Jim was a vocational horticulturist at an experimental treatment facility that demonstrated positive
behavior modification among variously-challenged individuals.
To help launch the local affiliate of National Public Radio, Jim was recruited to create and produce
the Florida Plant Kingdom, a weekly guide to horticultural pleasure and success for listeners from coast
to coast (Gulf to Atlantic). Many of Jim's broadcasts have been published in six different regional
periodicals. He has been a member of the National Garden Writers Association.
With a nod from the Jeffersonian inspiration, Jim left his farmstead to serve a term of elective office
as Alachua County Commissioner. Growth management, natural resource conservation, economic
initiatives, intergovernmental cooperation, energy and material innovation, fiscal responsibility,
establishing a county-wide library district, and diplomatically protecting the public interest were
hallmarks of Jim's community service.
Jim has maintained an effective relationship with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, many
departments of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the State of
Florida's Division of Forestry, and Florida's Division of Plant Industry.
A member of the Florida Native Plant Society, Jim enjoys collaborating with the Front Runners
Chapter of the Florida Nursery and Growers Association, and the Association of Florida Native
Over the years, as citizens and visionary representatives have gathered to discuss and promote
sustainability and community development, Jim has played an active role to encourage the grassroots
approach to building the future.
Photographs on this page, from the top:
pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana),
yellow walking iris (Trimezia martinicensis),
African white iris (Dietes iridioides),
azalea (Rhododendron simsii).
Arbors & structures
Labyrinths & mazes
Areas of special expertise
Biological pest control
Solar air conditioning