- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

CARTERVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Vacationing in the tropics a couple of times a year is not enough. Not for Michael and Ruth Bradford of Carterville. They want to live in the tropics year ‘round. So, they created a backyard tropical paradise.

“I like the effect of looking across our pool and seeing tropical plants,” Michael said. “It’s about as close to the tropics as you can get in Southern Illinois.”

The Bradfords take at least two SCUBA diving vacations every year, and they always bring back some kind of souvenir. Seventeen years ago, they brought back a blue plumeria tree from their Hawaiian honeymoon. Well, it took root and spawned a dozen more.

“They’re resilient enough. Just put them in rich soil that holds moisture,” Michael said. “I’m partial to the tropicals — the birds of paradise because of its unequalled bloom, the mandevillas with their deep reds and pinks.”

Since tropical plants cannot tolerate cold temperatures, Michael built a greenhouse in the backyard to house them in winter. He also built an outdoor living area, complete with fireplace, grill, smoker, sink, refrigerator and tables.

“I had to read a lot of books, pick a lot of brains,” he said. “There is a certain satisfaction in having something nice that you know you did — the result of your hard work. I mostly enjoy the peace, to have a place to escape to and not have to travel to get there.”

When the Bradfords aren’t traveling, they’re working several jobs. Michael is the director of transportation for Carterville School District, and Ruth works as a licensed day care director from their Carterville home, as well as a customer service manager five nights a week at Wal-Mart in Marion.

“I hate it when it rains on my evenings off,” Ruth said, “because I want to go out and play in the dirt.”

Michael estimated that he puts in around 20 hours of week playing in the dirt, pulling weeds, trimming, pruning, watering, feeding, fertilizing and keeping the plants as pest-free as possible.

“He’s such a good plant person. It’s like his therapy,” Ruth said. “We both enjoy getting our hands dirty.”

They also like relaxing in their comfortable outdoor space.

“We wanted a nice living area to hold family gatherings,” Michael said. But, he admitted that finding enough space, even in their roomy backyard arbor, is getting harder as the family expands. In addition to eight children, they have 20 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“In the fall, we’ll have a fire and eat s’ mores,” he said. “We just wanted a place to sit and chill.”

Ruth echoed her husband’s sentiments.

“It’s our resort,” she added. “It’s our vacation spot.”


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/1nd2d3l


Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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