Plaza 98 transformed a short strip of ordinary road into a happening place where neighbors can gather, talk, play, learn, dance, eat and more, and endangered native butterflies and plants can find sanctuary. It involved a whole lot of planning and a lot of grease from numerous neighborly elbows, and it all came together on Saturday night.
Other residents of all ages and sizes showed up and, armed with brushes and rollers, filled in the shapes with bright colors.
Besides the painting, tasks included furniture assembly and planter preparation.
With the road painted, furniture assembled, and planters prepared, Bound by Beauty stepped in with a team of volunteers to fill the planters with beautiful native plants, several of which are threatened or endangered in the wild.
So much for the preparations! Now it’s party time in the Shores!
Thank you to all who came out to work and party with your neighbors. Stay tuned for more information on Plaza 98 on the second Saturday in December, when Christmas will be in the air.
The Green Day Fair is a wonderful event in the life of Miami Shores. We close our main street to traffic, and come together as a community to shop for food and plants and gifts, to chat with neighbors, to listen to live music, to eat all sorts of delicacies, and, if fairgoers stopped by Bound by Beauty’s booth, to be awestruck.
What struck people with awe? Was it our booth, which was like no other, thanks to the easy-to-install, beautifully constructed cedar walls created by the talented Mike Oliva for his lovely wife, Melanie, an artist and activist extraordinaire (click here and here to learn more about this amazingly talented human being)?
Or maybe it was Maria Font’s warm and winning smile as she greeted those who entered through the back door (besides being powered by passion for pollinators, Maria is a truly gifted photographer who could find magic in the mundane. Click here to see her marvelous images)? Plus, we were the only booth with a back door….and we had awesome vintage Polish cutouts of brightly colored birds and flowers, visible in the background, and all sorts of other unique and wonderful nature-themed items for sale. And did I mention we had oodles of handsome guys helping out, like that guy back there?
Or were passerbys awestruck by our amazingly stylish friends, like Wendy Doscher-Smith and Jill Leslie? Too bad you can’t see Wendy’s go-go boots in this photo!
Come to think of it, our outfits were pretty awesome. I mean, who doesn’t think Monarch wings and antennae are the next “hot” thing in Miami?
Maybe it was our beautiful and unusual notecards featuring — you guessed it: butterflies — which proved a favorite with the crowds?
Was it our wonderful educational tools, that highlight the magical process of metamorphosis?
No, I think the answer was right outside our amazing booth, as filled with treasures as it was. What are they looking at?
What was at the root of this beauty and magic and wonder? It was our wonderful Monarch tower, made by Geoff Lee for the love of his life, Jean (I think we have a theme going here) and donated to Bound by Beauty, bejeweled with gold-crowned jade chrysalises and pupating caterpillars. Talk about performance art!
All in all, it was a most wonderful day, and Bound by Beauty is grateful to the Chamber of Commerce for having conjured up a Green Fair. All of us at Bound by Beauty thank everyone who came by and supported our critical mission of transforming how we interact with neighbors and with nature, using butterflies as the catalyst for change. All of us at Bound by Beauty are passionate about safeguarding the beauty of nature for future generations. #GreenDayMiamiShores
Let’s face it: if any one of us was plucked from our comfortable, air-conditioned existence and taken back in time 100 or so years, most of us would find it very difficult to survive life as a settler in the area we now call Miami Shores. The only respite from the heat on hot days was under a shade tree, or in the relatively cool waters of Biscayne Bay. Mosquitoes were often an inescapable torment and, with the Everglades and wet praireland nearby, venomous snakes like rattlers and cottonmouths were a constant threat. Settlers fished, farmed and foraged for foods that we can easily find in any number of nearby stores.
Read Carol Hoffman-Guzman’s fascinating history of early farming in the area, and imagine yourselves in the shoes — or bare feet — of the early pioneers.
Vegetable and fruit farming has long been an essential aspect of life in the greater Miami Shores area, starting with the Seminole Indians and the later homesteaders in the mid-1800’s. Let’s take a look at the evolving history of gardens, farming and agriculture among the early Miami Shores settlers.
Various history books give hints about the settlers and their gardens. The earliest pioneers often survived on local plants, fish and game gathered from the surrounding environment, as did the prehistoric tribes such as the Calusa and later the Seminoles. Thelma Peters, in her book “Biscayne Country,” suggests that we should think of the Biscayne area as a wooded island surrounded by a grassy, wet prairieland. Many homesteaders soon realized that the wetlands were not decent for long-term homes or gardens, so they settled on the higher wooded area, called the Piney Woods. However, this area was primarily a rocky limestone ridge that didn’t offer much in the way of good soil. Additionally, the available plant life was rather thin – mostly scrub palmettoes, pines, and coontie plants, along with some native “weeds.” In the photo below, you can easily see how sandy the soil was.
Miami Shores settlers from North Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas were mostly poor people from the back country. Seth H. Bramson, in his book “Boulevard of Dreams” about the Biscayne area, states, “The first settlers were essentially subsistence farmers. . .” (see footnote 1). Their focus was on simply growing enough food to feed themselves, their families and occasional visitors. Initially the output was only minimal, with little or no surplus food for trade. These Southerners also knew which native plants were edible, including pokeweed, sorrel, dock and other greens that were good in stews and soups. Huckleberries, wild Muscadine grapes and elderberries also grew in season in some areas in Florida.
Some early homesteaders brought with them plants from their prior gardens: tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, celery, eggplants, corn and peppers – some survived, some didn’t. New settlers also brought with them fruit plants and trees from their home states in the Southeast and Midwest. Such fruits included strawberries, oranges, limes, pears, peaches, and oaks with edible nuts. Local and tropical fruit trees were later adopted to their diet. Despite the poor soil, Mrs. Sturtevant, an early settler, wrote in 1875:
“‘We will persevere in our pleasant work and have the oranges, lemons, limes, tamarinds, figs, bananas, pineapples, mangoes, sappadillas, alligator pears, Jamaica apples, Japanese plums, sugar apples, guavas, papaws, and dates in readiness for our visitors. Mammee apples and cocoanuts require more time: a few of the latter have attained considerable size and may be expected to fruit in three years, but there are plenty in bearing in our neighborhood’” (see footnote 2).
As Thelma Peters points out, Mr. Sturtevant used to take a handcart to the bay to gather seaweed which he used to mulch his plants (see footnote 3). Given the fertility of their garden, he was clearly on to something by adding organic matter that enriched the soil and kept it moist.
Early settlers gained some information about native plants from their Seminole neighbors, who occasionally canoed up the small waterways to visit and trade with the settlers. The Seminoles showed them how coontie roots could be safely processed to remove a neurotoxin to make starch. They also introduced other plants that were good for food and medicine, including the edible hearts of the local scrub palmettos and the small “Indian pumpkins” that grew in vines up into trees.
Early settlers began to augment their diet of local fish and game by raising chickens, geese, pigs, and cows (mostly for milk). Branded pigs were allowed to run loose and occasionally they interbred with wild hogs brought previously to Florida by the Spanish.
Subsistence farming was indeed the initial emphasis, but “truck farming” for sales to neighbors, outsiders and stores became a later interest. This business eventually became commercialized by families and companies, which purchased acres of land, especially for pineapples, coonties and various fruits that tolerated the sandy soil and dry season. Florida arrowroot starch made from coontie roots was sold locally and at markets in other towns, and was eventually shipped to other parts of the country. Packinghouses also shipped pineapples and other produce through new nearby railroad depots. Common garden plants, including fruit trees, could eventually be purchased from stores in Key West and later in Lemon City – and then be shipped or transported into the Biscayne and Shores areas. Local sawmills opened to harvest the formerly ubiquitous Miami-Dade slash pine in response to a growing need for houses and farm buildings.
Joe Blair, who arrived in the area in 1928 to escape cold winters up north, opened a business selling fertilizer and livestock feed to farmers in the area (see footnote 4). Although tillers and livestock feed have long since been replaced by lawn mowers and leaf blowers, Joe Blair’s is still open on 79th Street. Later, in 1949, Mercer’s Seed Company opened in downtown Miami Shores, and quickly became a favorite gathering place for residents of the Shores who were interested in growing fruit and vegetables, and in landscaping their property.
Over time, as a community develops and increases in size, various farming practices and customs change. While vegetable and fruit gardening has long been a component of living in Miami Shores, many of us today are almost completely cut off from the nature upon which the early settlers’ lives depended. Our farming roots were further severed by changes to the landscape code that forbade the planting of vegetables in front yards, thereby depriving some residents of the ability to grow their own food. One current case, in which a resident is suing the village of Miami Shores over this part of the landscape code, is under appeal, and oral arguments are scheduled for August 21, 2017 (see footnote 5).
Carol Hoffman-Guzman, PhD
Our village is certain to face many difficulties in the years ahead, with climate change and rising seas. The early settlers can teach us valuable lessons about resiliency under difficult conditions. Perhaps it is time to examine more closely the idea of coming full circle, and creating urban farms in the Shores. Mary Benton, Founding Director, Bound by Beauty
1. Seth Bramson, Boulevard of Dreams, A Pictorial History of El Portal, Biscayne Park, Miami Shores and North Miami (Charleston, SC: The History Press), 11.
2. Thelma Peters, Biscayne Country 1870-1926 (Miami, FL: Banyan Books, Inc. 1981), 12.
3. Peters, Biscayne Country, 12.
4. Erik Bojnansky, “Restoration Road: Once a seedy and dangerous thoroughfare, Miami’s 79th Street is looking up.” Biscayne Times, Vol. 16, Issue 6 (August 2017): 22-37.
5. In August 2016, a local judge found that, “the prohibition of vegetable gardens except in backyards is rationally related to Miami Shores’ legitimate interest in promoting and maintaining aesthetics,” and the Village’s decision to prohibit such plantings, therefore, “passes constitutional scrutiny.”
Dr. Carol Hoffman-Guzman is a 30-year resident of Miami-Dade County, with a BA in anthropology from Cornell University and a PhD in sociology from FIU. She currently resides in Miami Shores, where she has started researching the local history and plant life. Carol’s interest lies in the common people who developed the area, as well as a community’s use and interaction with native and introduced plants from prehistoric to modern times. She is also writing a book about the plants and people of the Lake Okeechobee area. You can read her previous article for Bound by Beauty about the natural history of the area here.
Aspiring or published women writers can join Carol and friends at the Miami Shores Community Church for her Women Writers’ Group. For more information you can contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update on the pine rockland and butterfly garden plantings: one of Bound by Beauty’s members watched an Atala butterfly christen a newly planted coontie with her eggs several days ago; and two of us watched this morning as a Sleepy orange butterfly deposited her eggs on the Bahama senna! It is a wonderful feeling to provide a safe sanctuary for pregnant female butterflies and their offspring!
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Bound by Beauty gathered together with friends, neighbors, members of the Miami Shores Community Church Garden Program, and AT&T Pioneers to install a pine rockland, marking the second phase of the transformation of a spacious, sod-covered rear churchyard into a community garden and sanctuary for butterflies and other pollinators, as well as endangered native plant species.
Pine rocklands are an incredibly rich, critically endangered habitat, containing numerous flora and fauna that are found nowhere else on earth. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden has a wonderful program designed to connect the few remaining fragments of pine rocklands, through plantings in urban gardens. You can read more about the Connect to Protect Network here. By joining this network, the Community Church school was given ten free pine rockland plants. Additional plants and other supplies were purchased thanks to a donation from Meg Watson, Pastor at the Community Church.
We started by gazing in delight at a pair of mating Monarch butterflies in the previously planted butterfly garden, which you can read about here.
We added some yellowtop plants to the butterfly garden, as well as a Chaya, or Mexican tree spinach cane, whose lovely white flowers will attract nearly all native species of butterflies to its nectar (you can read how humans benefit from this plant here).
Others, meanwhile, started adding plants to the pine rockland. We planted three Florida slash pines, a tree whose disappearance due to urbanization in South Florida has led to the near-extinction of the Flying squirrel and the Red-cockaded woodpecker.
In addition to the Florida slash pine, we planted coontie, the host plant for the Atala butterfly; wild lantana;pineland croton, the host plant of the critically endangered Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies; Chapman’s liatris, as well as sunshine mimosas (the only species not associated with pine rocklands). All of these species are drought-tolerant once established.
The pine rockland may be little, but its message is mighty: we must join together to save nature, which we depend on for our existence. It was a joyful experience for everybody involved to take such positive steps toward healing nature and creating a sanctuary for butterflies, endangered plants, and humans. Stop by and take a look! And stay tuned as we find creative ways to expand Miami Shores’ first community garden.
Mad dogs, Englishmen, and, apparently, members of Bound by Beauty are out in the midday sun. You can see from our rosy cheeks and noses, not to mention the glistening sweat, that we worked hard today to prepare the bed for the planting of the pine rockland plants on Saturday. Lucky for us, we love doing what we do!
So what did we do? We removed the plastic tarp that was solarizing the bed, then started sculpting a pine rockland, using coral rocks donated by members of the community. We just may have created the highest point in Miami Shores!
Then, we took the plants donated by Fairchild Garden’s Protect to Connect Network and other generous folks, and placed them in a mockup of the garden to come. We thought it looked pretty good!
Last, but not least, we took the potted plants to the shade, where they will await the moment when their roots can stretch out into the soil.
Come join us on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Miami Shores Community Church for the planting and a celebration of Miami Shores’ Community Garden. Bring your lawn chairs and favorite beverages, and join your neighbors in the relative cool of a summer evening. We look forward to seeing lots of friends and neighbors!
Bound by Beauty connected recently with Jennifer Possley and Peter Vrotsos, both of whom are involved in Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden’s Connect to Protect Network, which seeks to protect the critically endangered pine rockland habitats of South Florida. We met them at Fairchild’s nursery on a day of threatening skies and downpours, to pick up Bound by Beauty’s five native pine rockland plants, which include host plants for butterflies, as well as plants that provide food for butterflies and other wildlife, and 10 pine rockland plants for the Miami Shores Community Church school’s community garden. Read more about this very important effort to save pine rockland species, and learn how you can become a member of the network and receive your own native plants here. We will be scheduling a planting at the school soon, so stay tuned!
Bound by Beauty teamed up with the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305, members of the Miami Shores Community Church, and friends and neighbors in Miami Shores, to create a magical community butterfly habitat and the beginnings of a pine rockland, in an overlooked, grassy area of the church next to the school.
We began last Thursday, one of the hottest days of the year, by carving up the beds. This might sound simple and straightforward, but St. Augustine grass has a tenacious grip on the earth, and is loathe to let go. For those of us engaged in the fight against climate change, ripping out St. Augustine grass is a apt metaphor for the struggle to replace the unhealthy with the healthy, in order to heal our planet.
One after another, our weed wackers failed in their attempt to cut through the tough leaves and roots of the grass. James Ard, a friend of nature who lives up the street, showed up in the nick of time with his powerful gas-powered edger, which one of the Pioneers employed to good purpose, while the rest of us used hoes and rakes to remove the remnants of the grass, which we piled up in another bed where the pine rockland habitat will be created. We almost finished the job, but the extreme heat leading to tomato-red faces dictated our temporary withdrawal.
Saturday, the day dawned bright and sunny, but a nice breeze off Biscayne Bay, along with lemonade and snacks provided by the Girl Scouts, provided some comfort to those who returned to finish the job. After removing the last remnants of St. Augustine grass, the crew got to work smoothing out the butterfly meadow planting bed, while others got to work labeling each plant and wetting down the future pine rockland and covering it with a plastic tarp in order to solarize it over the next few weeks. The wet soil will conduct the heat of the sun and kill the grass and other weeds. The Girl Scouts covered the ungainly plastic-wrapped pile with gaily colored butterflies, caterpillars, and a sign indicating its future use.
When the butterfly meadow bed was raked smooth, Bound by Beauty placed the potted plants in their assigned location, educating those gathered on the purpose of each plant, while the Pioneers and other volunteers began digging holes and adding some homemade compost.
Then the leaves donated by numerous members of the community were added to the bed to the depth of a couple of inches, followed by one inch of natural eucalyptus mulch, to mollify those who don’t believe that leaves should be used as mulch ;-).
The final task was to thoroughly water the new plants, and to place a temporary fencing around the meadow to ensure it survives recess!
Here is a list of the plants that went into creating this butterfly meadow:
Many thanks to Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church, the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305 (and their mothers!), James Ard (who schlepped the plants up from Homestead and lent us his powerful edger in the nick of time), and members of the community who donated their time, their labor, their leaves, and their rocks!
Bound by Beauty had a wonderful time at the Unity Day Fair in Miami Shores. Our booth featured a Monarch tower bedecked with Monarch chrysalises, and we even watched a couple of caterpillars pupate, which is always a thrilling sight. Jill Leslie captured the remarkable process with her cell phone.
Bound by Beauty also had on hand a Pollinator Pledge, which a number of fair goers signed to protect our precious pollinators from the widespread use of pesticides. Those who signed got a butterfly named for them on our wall.
We offered a petition in support of a farmers’ market in Miami Shores, and another in support of a ban on pesticides in public spaces. There was also a signup sheet for neighbors who are interested in participating in the creation of a community butterfly/healing garden at the Miami Shores Community Church. Many thanks to all who signed!
Most of all, we enjoyed meeting our neighbors on a beautiful day in South Florida. Thank you Jen, Susan, Wendy, Jill, Doug, Roly, Ed, Salomon, Mike, Pete for setting up an awesome booth and being part of this lovely and meaningful day.
Bound by Beauty’s team is collaborating with Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church to create a butterfly/healing garden that will be open to all members of the Miami Shores community, when school is not in session. The conceptual design involves three main areas: a butterfly meadow; a pine rockland; and a forest retreat. This will be a place for inspiration, healing, meditation, and prayer, while surrounded by the beauty of butterflies and a healthy natural environment. During the school day, the children will have a chance to explore the many aspects of this natural learning environment.