The Legend of the Rainforest Gardener

Since I just updated the bio on my 'about' page, I thought I'd share how I got into gardening in the first place... in third person narrative.  Another garden writer mentioned that writing in the third person was a great way to get around the terrifying chore of talking about yourself, and it was a bit more fun to boot. Oh, and I added some 'critic' reviews at the end too, just so you can fully appreciate my awesomeness. (That should really be a word.)
I've also fired up the old scanner and shared some photos from my life including one or two of me being an incredibly dorky kid!  Now that's entertainment!

Kayaking in Michigan as a kid.
Steve Asbell is a garden writer from Jacksonville, Florida with a tendency to talk about himself in third person narrative.  So begins the legend of Steve:

A nature lover since childhood, Steve was destined to be a great garden writer from the beginning. In preschool he once spat in the class tadpole tank to "provide algae for the tadpoles to eat", and was promptly sent home by a horrified teacher. His courtship with nature continued in the playground, where Steve dodged baseballs and soccer balls while observing flowers and butterflies on his belly.

Still a kid, checking out the geese.
When relocated to the Mojave desert along with his military family, Steve was content to chase lizards all day, returning home to read Ranger Rick magazine with his pet horned lizards and green anole by his side.  It was around that time that our hero embarked on a field trip and found the tropical gardens at the San Diego Zoo, where he brought home a toy gecko (which he sagely named "Balboa" after the park) along with an undying fascination with the rainforest.  The seeds of The Rainforest Garden were planted, though they weren't to germinate for many years.

Camping with my soulmate!
Moving forward a decade, Asbell met Jennifer, the love of his life.  Together they went on excursions into Florida's remaining wild areas such as the Fakahatchee Strand, and nature became entwined in their growing romance for better or worse.  They went camping and kayaking together, visited sea turtle rescues, and he would also drag her along on endless hikes.  Steve was also going to school to be a graphic designer, and his future was all but set in stone.

An illustration showing the love of Steve's life with the love of her life.

An original photo by your favorite blogger, painted by his mom.
However, this career was not to be.  Steve's limited funds forced him to reconsider his career path, leaving him in retail for the foreseeable future.  Around the same time, his mother Nancy Asbell had become confined to a wheelchair, as a result of Lupus and a broken back that left her unable to leave the house.  She was told that she'd never walk again, and wasn't expected to live for much longer.

This blow was dealt shortly after a trip to south Florida, where Steve was able to enjoy nature with his mom one more time and photograph her standing beneath a massive banyan tree.  Steve sought out to give his mom a gift that would remind her of the fun they had on that last trip to south Florida.  "Why not plant a garden for her to enjoy from the window?" Steve pondered. The Rainforest Garden was born. 

The garden in its first year
Little did Steve know that the gift he gave his mother was fast becoming his life calling!  What started out as a few plants along the fence, morphed into a full fledged obsession.  Nothing had ever invigorated our author like this before, and two dimensional designs and illustrations seemed quaint compared to the miniature jungle world that he set out to carve from a suburban yard.  Design, writing, photography and gardening merged together to form The Rainforest Garden blog, which soon became the ultimate creative outlet as well as a second full time job.  An extremely satisfying and fun second job.

Every week, Steve makes the forty minute drive from his apartment to "The Rainforest Garden" at his parent's place.  He's also packed his own balcony full of tropical plants, and uses it as a staging area to start new plants that will eventually be planted across the St. Johns river, in his parent's garden.

Nancy Asbell still sells her landscape paintings at galleries, and is also slated to record a track for a lupus benefit album alongside Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, Julian Lennon and others.

Steve's mom is now walking, in utter defiance of even the best doctor's predictions.  For short periods at a time, she can now step into the garden that she once only saw from the patio.  Check out her art at Fine Art America and follow her blog at

One of Nancy Asbell's Florida landscape paintings.


Steve has won many awards, none of which reflect his writing skills in the least.  Mr. Asbell won a few awards in a community college art show, recently won some giveaways online, and once found a hundred dollars in a parking lot which he promptly wasted on a game boy.  The other day he won a dollar on a lottery scratch-off ticket. He then spent it on another lottery ticket and lost.

Here's what (real) critics have to say:

That is why your garden and 'collection' look like a hotel/motel entrance, only the flamingos are missing: Nursery shopping. - Antigonum Cajan, a respected blogger

Good info but so lacking in good photography... More (and better) pics please,this is a VISUAL medium:)
- Constructive criticism from Lila, a commenter on a guest post at Life on the Balcony. (Joking aside, I really appreciated this advice... thanks Lila.)

Your blog sucks and I hate your stupid face.
- Steve Asbell. (I am my own worst critic.)

I hope you've enjoyed my tongue in cheek bio! A shorter version without photos has been added to my 'about' page.


  1. What a nice post! Bless your Mom's heart. What a trooper she is, and a wonderful artist, and I love it that she can now get out in her garden created by you for her.

    I look forward to learning more from you here on your blog.

    Have a great 2011 ~ FlowerLady

  2. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, FlowerLady! My mom really is a trooper; she once had a spinal tap done and had the best attitude about it, thankful for every little thing with the exception of the aforementioned spinal tap. I'm proud of myself for braving the needle when they draw blood, but I'd be a big wimp in her shoes.

  3. Steve,
    I generally shy away from "about me" blog posts, thank you for sharing your journey, and changing my mind! What an inspiring story, and it shows how your garden is really your heart turned inside out! Kudos to your mom - she is a wonderful artist, and so are you - keep up with the blog - I love reading about your rainforest adventures.

  4. Hello Steve,

    Its always good to know how something began, the reasons and inspiraions behind it. And so thanks you for sharing how your passion for gardening started and how the "Rainforest Garden" came into being.

    Your Mom is a gifted artist and a survivor. I wish her the best. And may your "rainforest" continue to grow strong.

  5. You are quite the writer and how smart to provide an algae growing spot for the tadpoles. Too cute. Not so sure about the critics though, think I'd as soon do without them:) Your mother is a wonderful painter and must be very proud of her son for his love and care to brighten her day with such a lovely garden.

  6. Great title to your writing today....I laughed when I saw the title. Who can resist not reading this? It's how I currently feel now in my own job....gardening and landscape make me happy. And your Mom's story is one to inspire....even the Doctor's don't know everything. I hope your Mom keeps proving them wrong...keep that garden strong and green. There is nothing more beautiful than dedicating oneself to the art of nature.

  7. I do so love a good legend and this was a good one. Knowing how your gardening passion came about and all the background to the Rainforest Garden was very interesting reading. Hearing of your mom's strength is inspiring. You and she are both wonderful artists with much to offer.

  8. Hey guy...that was so cool! I'm touched about the part with your mom and her struggles. What a great bring the tropics to her doorstep. I have a great respect for you and thanks so much for risking those personal details in a great bio.
    As far as spitting into that fishtank at school...I shall NOT tell you why I was sent to the principal in elementary school...just know we have a lot in common. LOL
    OK..I'll tell you. I jumped out the class window as a 1st grader. I was pretending to be a paratrooper during WW II. My teacher was not amused.
    David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston

  9. Great bio! So glad you chose to share it all. What a great gift you've given your mother and yourself by planting the garden. Even though it sounds like you have the type of relationship with your mother where you would visit her regularly anyway to have the "excuse" of the garden is a wonderful thing. It must allow you to spend time together where you aren't just showing up to see her but have other tasks to tend to. I hope that makes sense. Some of my best memories of spending time with my grandma was when I was tending my garden in her backyard.

  10. What a fun bio!!! You sounded like the coolest geeky kid around to me!!! Love your humor! Your Mom's art is astounding! I love the painting she did of your Ibis (?) at top. Just gorgeous! Gonna go check out her other art right now!!!

  11. Hmmm... I only wish my garden looked like a hotel entrance. Ooh, I think particularly of The Breakers over in West Palm Beach. Or really, any cheap motel would do. In my neck of the woods, they are always lined with lush birds of paradise, ti plants, arboricolas, and palms that never seem to get fried in the freezes like mine do. Formulaic, I guess, but it works.

    Love that banyan photo, by the way! Those trees are enough to inspire anyone.

  12. Excellent post and a huge thank you for letting us into the world of Steve Asbell :D

  13. I am pretty sure that awesomness is a real word.

    I apply to myself all the time.

  14. africanaussie: I've put this off for so long. I get so nervous when it comes to writing about myself too, but it helps when someone else ends up being the star of the story at the end.

  15. Solitude Rising:
    Thank you so much for your kind words. Its amazing to think that I've only been doing this gardening thing for a couple years!

  16. Tina: I'm not a great writer but I learn a lot from the real ones out there! Someday... BTW those tadpoles needed my help! :)

  17. rohrerbot: Thanks! I figured that while I was yackin about myself I might as well go all out and make myself a legend. :) BTW I don't do this as a full time job... yet.

  18. NanaK: Thanks! MY mom really has been an inspiration to me and it was nice to share why I garden to begin with.

  19. Tropical Texana: I most certainly AM amused with that story! Bravo for sticking it to the axis forces in the classroom!

  20. Hello Steve, glad to meet you in person, haha! Congratulations to your Mom for raising a good and caring son, a good tree always produce a good fruit, unless eaten by some insects. But you write very well and funny sometimes, and i like your honesty. I actually envy people who are not equipped with basic knowledge on plants but can make beautiful gardens, and some others like you even get some income in writing about them. I know some bloggers who are like that. I am better prepared to do a garden but not doing it. But i still hope someday i can also make a good one, when time, circumstances and funds permit. God bless!

  21. A great gift indeed to your mother. She might have love your effort in giving back something for her love. I wish all mothers are blessed like yours!
    And her paintings are so life like. Give her my regards. I am sure it is your families love and care that helped recoup fast.

  22. Danger Garden:
    You're absolutely right! Since she they live a ways away, the garden really does help to get me in the car some days. :)

  23. Julie: Hope you liked my mom's art! I had fun writing this, and it was nice to let everyone see the real me. I'm going to try and open up more often!


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