Native Plant Garden Ecosystems are catching on among Villagers

Susan Turnipseed took inventory of the Florida-friendly raffle plants on hand.
Susan Turnipseed took inventory of the Florida-friendly raffle plants on hand.

The new, action-oriented , Villages chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, held its fourth regular meeting on Friday afternoon at the Big Cypress Rec Center. The club’s raison d’etre is to educate residents about the benefits of native flora and provide resources for those who wish to add native Florida plant species to their lawns and yards.

The club’s leaders, Steve and Susan Turnipseed, are still in disbelief at the standing-room-only crowd that turned out for their inaugural meeting, and the number of people who have continued to fill their meeting rooms. District government staffer’s who deal with landscaping, watershed drainage and nature preserves have been remarkably open and welcoming as well.

Steve Turnipseed welcomed speaker Lavon Silvernell from Groveland.
Steve Turnipseed welcomed speaker Lavon Silvernell from Groveland.

The Turnipseeds and their able board members, have been instrumental in connecting club members with local nurseries and service providers who can give area residents the benefit of their expert and advice about the types of native plants which will thrive in local soils; survive the extremes of Florida weather — with alternating torrential rainy seasons and droughts, and will attract local birds, butterflies and other small creatures to the landscape.

Dedicated board members include Myrna Ferquhar, Georgette Gerry, Kathy Porter, Jeanie Powell and Mary J. Walsh.

Plant specimens were raffled, and the main speaker, Lavon Silvernell’s topic, Creating a Sense of Place in Your Florida Landscape, garnered strong interest.

Kathy Porter
Kathy Porter

Programs chairperson and Florida master gardener, Kathy Porter, who introduced Silvernell, got the audience’s attention by saying: “Dorothy, you are not in Kansas any more” — pointing out, especially to Villages newcomers — the radical differences Florida gardening presents vs. where Villagers may have tended gardens before — for example, in New York, Michigan, Nevada or Oklahoma.

From Green Isle Gardens nursery in Groveland, Silvernell is a retired Trout Lake Nature Center Naturalist and is currently president of the Lake Beautyberry chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

De la Vista North Villager, Karen Panker, joined the group because she is interested in keeping Florida as natural as possible. “The Native Plant Society provides great information and references,” Panker said, “so I can begin to populate my yard with natural plants — it’s a slow process. I also share the information with friends.” Panker, who wants to support Florida’s water and plant resources, and its animal populations, is studying to be a Florida master naturalist.

Saverio and Constance Madeo want to help the ecosystem and save yard maintenance costs.
Saverio and Constance Madeo want to help the ecosystem and save yard maintenance costs.

New Collier Villagers, Saverio and Constance Madeo, who moved from New York City about one year ago, want to save our precious environment. They want to invite bees, hummingbirds and butterflies into their villa yard, and realize that their conservation efforts will save on maintenance costs as well.  Using native plant species in resident ‘ s gardens can save water, especially during drought conditions, and can create relaxing retreats for both humans and nature’s creatures.

Susan Turnipseed made a short slide presentation of Florida-friendly plants which are currently in bloom — including white scrub mint, blanket gaillandia with red flowers, pink redbud flowers, flatwood plum and crossvines. Crossvine’ flowers are known to attract hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies love pawpaw plants.

Silvernell addressed a misperception many people have that native Florida gardens must be well manicured and contain sod. Nothing could be further than the truth. “You can do lots of different landscape designs with native plants — they can be casual, formal, geometric — whatever you like — and with planning, you can likely have some of your plants in bloom, for beautiful color in your yard year round.

Silvernell wakes up happy every morning when she sees her rainlilies in bloom, and also has frog fruit, fuzzy purple mimosa strigillosa and lacy lilac passionflowers on her property. “I call this type of mimosas ‘MayPop plants,” she said, “because they expand underground and ‘may pop up’ here or may pop up over there — you never know.” She discussed the benefits of canopy trees in providing conditions to grow shade loving plants and those which need filtered sunlight. One of her favorites is the firebush (hamelia pateris) which grows very tall, with bright red flowers, and can even become a small spreading tree.

To make the most of your gardening experience in Florida:

1. Realize that creating a Florida-friendly property is not only in the environment’s best interests — it is in homeowners’ best interests as well.

2. Once native plants have replaced some or all water-hungry turf-grass, water conservation will benefit Florida’s aquifer as well as result in lower water bills. Native plants have high tolerance for central Florida’s rainy season as well as years with prolonged drought.

3. Once we familiarize ourselves with local native-plant nurseries and their expert landscape designers and architects , we’ve established a ready garden information resource for beneficial plant choices.

4. Native Florida landscapes will decrease garden chores, by leaving needed nutrients in our soils and inviting insects to pollinate flowering plants and fruit trees. Most native species stand up to hot summer sun as well as occasional freezing temperatures.

5. By becoming familiar with the broad range of recommended Florida-friendly’ plants, we can plan varied, colorful lawns and gardens which provide a beautiful ambience for ourselves and our neighbors and a relaxing respite from the day’s work or activities.

6. Be sure to know the scientific name of the plant you are ordering — because species vary widely in terms of height, color and other characteristics — you want to be sure you get what you are looking for.

7. Don’t let people call your Florida-friendly ground cover ‘weeds.’ Some low-growing flowering ground covers do grow freely on the side of the road — but wise gardeners plant them for beauty and to preserve nutrients in the soil.

Landscape design expert, Gail M. Hansen, a University of Florida associate professor, will be the group’s April 24 speaker. The next field trip, scheduled for Wednesday, April 15, will be to the native plant nursery at Green Isle Gardens in Groveland . The date for an upcoming trip to learn about creative garden structures will be announced shortly, and members may sign up to view the Sand Hill Pine and Pine Flatwood Communities in the Ocala National Forest on Tuesday, April 21.