Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Speaking native tongue - you never know who's listening

By Lisa Roberts, Executive Director

The front bed of my parents' landscape in October after the re-do in August.
Early last summer, my father, who lives in the Orlando area, announced he wanted to redo his home's traditional 50-year-old landscape. "Great," I thought, "maybe I can sneak in some native plants." But then he stunned me by announcing, "I want only natives."

Sure, my parents are members of the Florida Wildflower Foundation -- they've supported me in everything I've endeavored. But this was different: When I spoke in "native tongue," they were actually listening.

When my father asked me to lead the project, I contacted a native nursery, which came up with a plan that eliminated beds of struggling ligustrum shrubs and replaced them with extended plantings that took out St. Augustine sod and introduced an impressive slate of diverse species.

As I presented the plan and its plants to my parents, Dad's only question was, "Is it native?" Because if it wasn't, he didn't want it.

Planting took place in August. Into the front yard went mass plantings of Mulhy grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), climbing aster (Symphyotrichum carolinianum), sunflower (Helianthus debilis), wild petunias (Ruellia caroliniensis), blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella), rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus), coonties (Zamia pumila) and sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa). Fringe ( Chionanthus sp.) and magnolia (Magnolia sp.) trees were planted like accent points.

Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) and coonties took the place of withered azaleas in the side yards, and masses of wild petunia, sunshine mimosa, tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) and anise (Illicium sp.) took the place of African iris. Several Simpson's stoppers (Myrcianthes fragrans) were planted in the corners of the back yard. Canna (Canna flaccida), blue flag iris (Iris virginica) and climbing aster were added to a bed under an in-ground fountain. For good measure, gama grass (T ripsacum dactyloides) and coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) was sprinkled here and there.

My parents have commented many times about the increase in wildlife they see. Native and honey bees gather nectar, butterflies fly crazy patterns from flower to flower, and birds hop among the flowers in search of insects and seeds.

Now I have yard envy. My own landscape is gradually segueing to the native side because I can't yet afford to wipe the slate clean to start over. In fact, maybe this was just a parental ploy to see me more often, because I now visit regularly to spend time in my parents' yard, preening plants and enjoying my parents enjoy their yard's new look.

The moral of this story is: Keep speaking in native tongue - you never know who's really listening.

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