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Over Coffee March 13, 2008
Mar 13, 2008 - 3:48:53 PM

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 By Penny Fletcher

There are so many pleasant surprises in South County. I’ve lived here since 1980 and every time I think I’m familiar with all the neighborhoods, some­thing happens to let me know there’s a place with which I’m still unfamiliar.

Penny Fletcher Photo Tanzeem Akhter of Riverview shows off her recently published book, Flowers of My Garden. The book is available at and by calling the author at (813) 610-3661.
  This week I was treated to a view of a section of the Shadow Run ­development in Riverview I hadn’t seen before. It’s tucked away ­behind the front part of the development with houses on two-acre spreads, many sitting way back from winding, country-like roads in groves of lush trees and shrubs or majestically perched atop man-made hills. Climbing the hill in the circular drive of my pre-appointed destination I felt like I was visiting one of my sons in Georgia or Tennessee.

I was in this particular neighborhood to interview Tanzeem Akhter about her recently published book, Flowers of My Garden. I knew the book was about the flowers and fruits Tanzeem grows in the many gardens surrounding her home, but I was totally unprepared for the striking beauty of both the ­gardens (even on a dreary March day) and the glossy photographs on the ­pages of her book.

Brightly-colored mangoes and guava, pineapples and papayas had been photographed close-up, and were placed opposite instructions for optimum growing in Florida’s soil. Some pages were simply filled with one large image of a flower. As we turned the pages I saw two-tone passion flowers, red and yellow shrimp plants, violet azaleas, spreading bougainvillea and delicate white jasmine.

Penny Fletcher Photo The book contains full color photographs and instructions for ­growing the flowers and fruits in Florida’s soil. Photographing her gardens for the book was the author’s first ­attempt at digital ­photography.
  The pictures were so dramatic I could almost smell the flowers and taste the fruit on the pages of the book while sitting on Tanzeem’s living room couch.

Two things that made this even more ­intriguing were that ­Tanzeem had brought seeds from ­places she’s ­visited around the globe and planted them herself, and that the photographs in her book were her very first ­attempt at ­photography and had been shot with a Sony pocket point-and-shoot.

Although it was not the time of day I enjoy coffee, it was offered and I stayed just long enough to become acquainted with Tanzeem and her husband Yousuf who not only tends her gardens but does her internet marketing as well.

The couple, of Indian descent, explained that they went to India to publish the book. “Here in the United States it would have cost me $30,000 or $40, 000,” Tanzeem said. “In India, it was still expensive, but it cost us much less.” The book, her first, took her one year to write and photograph. The gardens the book represents are a year-round labor of love.
Their two daughters are grown and both are doctors, and ­until ­recently Tanzeem owned and ­operated a preschool. Her love of her gardens prompted her to write the book, but she says she enjoyed writing and plans to publish more.

Her ­immediate ­future holds the completion of a cookbook, and in the more distant future she sees herself writing children’s books.

“I have a cookbook all written,” she said. “But now I have to cook all the dishes so I can photograph them and that will take awhile.”

It looks like Tanzeem and ­Yousuf have some good eating ahead of them.
Meanwhile, ­anyone who wants to buy Flowers of My Garden can find it for $29.95 at HYPER­LINK “” or they may call her at (813) 610-3661. The couple hopes to also get it into area ­libraries and stores.

*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause; or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although in the 14 weeks I’ve been doing this column, I’ve only missed ­coffee twice!) It’s what you have to say that’s important.

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