Sunday, October 5, 2008

Walter and Karin Taylor's wildflower garden makes the news

FWF Walter Taylor in his wildflower garden. Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel Jean Patteson Sentinel Staff Writer Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel October 4, 2008 The homes on Baxter Court in Winter Park feature yards with mowed green lawns and trimmed green shrubs — except for the yard of Karin and Walter Taylor at the end of the cul-de-sac. That yard erupts from that suburban sameness in an unruly riot of color, form and texture. There's red salvia and blue spiderwort, yellow rosinweed and purple beautyberry. There's feathery lovegrass and spiky Fakahatchee grass, creeping powder-puff and soaring cardinal flower. Native plants, every one. "About three years ago, Karin started going out into the front yard with a shovel and digging up our St. Augustine lawn," says Walter, a retired biology professor and author of two books on Florida wildflowers. "She wanted me to use a tiller, but I told her the tough roots would beat a tiller to death. So I got a shovel and helped dig." Maintaining a lawn takes too much water and fertilizer — neither good for the environment, says Walter. "And too much mowing," he adds. In its place, the couple started planting native flowers, shrubs and grasses. They also replaced a giant camphor tree, an invasive species, with a native tulip poplar. The plants flourished, bloomed, reseeded. A local code enforcement officer took note. "I got a letter saying the yard was in violation. It needed to be cleaned up, or I'd be fined $150 a day," says Walter. "I was irate. I knew the Florida statutes allow homeowners to plant natives because of the water-shortage problem." After he simmered down, he invited the officer around for a friendly chat. The situation was resolved, and the Taylors' native garden continued to flourish. In September, it was honored as the Eastbrook subdivision's Garden of the Month. Making a good start Switching from lawn and exotics to native plants was a natural move for the Taylors. "I've always loved wildflowers," says Karin. "Then Walter developed an interest, and we got involved in the Native Plant Society." Their fascination with Florida plants has taken them to every county in the state and more than half the state parks. "But I've never been to Miami. Cities are not for me," says Walter, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky. "I've always preferred the outdoors." At the urging of his high school biology teacher, he attended college, attaining a degree in biology and history from Murray College in Murray, Ky., and a doctorate in zoology from Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. That's where he met and married Karin, who was studying for her master's degree in genetics. In 1969, they moved to Winter Park, and he started teaching biology at the University of Central Florida. During the 1990s, he wrote and took photographs for his first two books, The Guide to Florida Wildflowers and Florida Wildflowers in their Natural Communities. He retired four years ago, and now has professor emeritus status. "I still have my lab there, plus free parking," he says. "I'm as busy as I ever was." He has a third book, a guide to Florida grasses, that is due out in 2009. He also is co-authoring a book about André Michaux, the first trained botanist to collect and study North American plants in the late 18th century. And gradually, he is replacing the lawn in his backyard with native plants. It's a move he advocates every chance he gets, including during the frequent talks he gives to garden clubs and plant societies around the state. "We have raped this land. This was an area of extraordinary diversity, but it's all being paved over. People had better start protecting this Earth before it's too late," he says. Planting native plants, he says, is a good start. Jean Patteson can be reached at 407-420-5158 or jpatteson@orlandosentinel.com. Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel

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