Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Persistence is everything in this wildflower project

The following is excerpted from a story about a Florida Wildflower Foundation grant project in Jacksonville that originally appeared on the Florida Native Plant Society's blog. The project was one of 15 La Florida, "Land of Flowers," Community Grants given throughout the state in 2011.  Read the full story.

By Barbara Jackson, President, FNPS, Ixia Chapter

“Nothing is ever easy at the shipyards”

The site before planting.
This statement, from an environmental consultant in Jacksonville, has proven to be completely true. He should know. He has been involved in the Shipyards for over 15 years, advising the City of Jacksonville and others about this almost 40-acre site.

The Shipyards is in downtown Jacksonville on the St. Johns River. It was a working shipyard from the 1850’s until 1992. After it closed, the land sat idle for years, surrounded by a chain link fence and full of weeds and debris. Last year, I saw an article in the local newspaper quoting the mayor, who wanted to spread grass seed in the area. “Oh no, I thought, not grass seed!” I immediately pictured a 40-acre site full of native plants, butterflies, bees, birds, paths, benches and smiling people. I contacted the mayor’s office and explained my idea. I also said our FNPS chapter would find funding, Months went by before we were granted two acres for planting.

Ixia chapter volunteers spread pine straw after sowing seeds.
At the same time, the Florida Wildflower Foundation announced the availability of $500 grants for wildflower seed purchase to county governments that had a wildflower resolution. It certainly appeared planting two acres of wildflowers would be the easiest, least expensive, and best way to go for the Shipyards site. The City of Jacksonville Economic Development Commission (JEDC) would write the grant. The Ixia Chapter would handle the planting and any other costs, which appeared minimal.

Right away, we had a soil pH test done. The results were very high, well over 8.0. This immediately limited us to only wildflowers that could handle high pH, such as Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis). Additionally, we discovered the soil was highly compacted. We decided to explore the purchase of good topsoil, and I found a private donor of all the soil. The pH of this soil tested perfectly!

Meanwhile, the City of Jacksonville City Council adopted the resolution required by the Florida Wildflower Foundation to apply for the grant. Unfortunately, the resolution was worded incorrectly and was not acceptable to the foundation. Back to the City Council. The resolution was re-worded  and passed again. Now, on to the grant writing with a staff member from the JEDC. Everything was done just in time for the proposal submission deadline. The City was awarded the grant! Great news, except we were required to purchase actual wildflower plants with the funding, not seeds, because of the current soil problems, which did not take into account the soil that would be donated.

I thought I could now concentrate on finding someone to donate moving all the topsoil to the Shipyards site, another small detail. Also, I was informed by the City staff that we had to provide our own irrigation lines and pay for the water. It was also clear that $500 worth of wildflower plants would not cover two acres, so we had to purchase additional plants or seeds. “No problem,” I thought, always the optimist, “I can get donations for all of this.”

Just when I thought the path was clear, I was informed the Shipyards site was heavily contaminated and that the site should not be disturbed. I was also informed the donated topsoil had to be tested for contaminates before being moved to the site. It took several months to get the $1,000 test donated.

Unbelievably, the results indicated two prohibited contaminates, meaning we could not use the soil. We were also staring at a rapidly closing deadline to use the $500 grant. We put our heads together with our staff contact at the JEDC and contacted the Florida Wildflower Foundation, which approved another site and a switch from plants to seeds. A wonderful site at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Forest was selected. It is a main through fare from that area to downtown Jacksonville, with more than 10,000 cars passing daily.

In addition to the $500 of seeds purchased by the grant, our chapter spent $291 on more seeds. The planting was accomplished by chapter members in 3 1/2 hours on Nov. 13, 2011. 

Postscript: Seedlings began to pop up in December. Read details of site preparation and planting on the FNPS blog. Look for photos of the project in bloom in May.

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