What does a Painted Bunting have to do with making our community stronger, block by block? Michael Faisal Green, who is very knowledgeable about birds, advised me to keep an ear out for the Cardinal’s ‘chip’ call as Painted Buntings often forage for food together with their cousins. Sure enough, that is how I frequently spot this gorgeous and elusive bird in my garden. I was reminded of the large flocks of diverse bird species my husband and I saw when we lived in Costa Rica.
Michael went on to explain that birds often travel in communities, increasing the number of eyes and ears that can detect predators, and using the skills of different species to protect them and forage for food. How clever of them, and what a perfect metaphor for how neighbors working together on a block are stronger as a group than each resident is on their own.
As was mentioned in an earlier blog post on the goal of creating a safer block, we have a wonderful mix of neighbors, including urban planners, lawyers, former law enforcement, construction, engineers, vegetable and pollinator gardeners, and so on. Imagine how much stronger combining those skills and that experience makes us as a unit.
The idea that we are stronger together makes a lot of sense, but how do we put that into practice as neighbors? We have to start by getting together, as I wrote in the last blog. We had a lot of ideas as to how we can actually live this notion. A lot of what makes us safer also makes us stronger, like simply getting to know our neighbors.
We are safer and stronger if we have more eyes and ears out for the local equivalent of predators that threaten a flock. Our multiple ring doorbells and security systems make us stronger as a unit than we are individually, enabling us to share information with each other and with the police in the event of a crime.
We are safer and stronger together if we join forces to prepare for and clean up after hurricanes or other major storm events. This photo shows a group of us gathered in advance of Hurricane Irma’s arrival back in September 2017 to discuss what we were doing to prepare individually and as a group, and how we could manage the aftermath. It gave us all a stronger sense of security, which is a great thing to feel when a hurricane is barreling down.
Those of us with trees on our properties like the idea of joining forces to get a block discount on a tree trimming service with a certified arborist, that can help prepare us for winds that might bring down weakened limbs. Most of our neighbors who lost power during Irma did so because of limbs bringing electrical lines down. The block discount saves us money, and the joint preparation and cleanup after makes us safer and stronger. A mountain of tree limbs is very daunting to face on one’s own.
Last but not least, we discussed the fact that we are stronger as a group, with a louder voice, if we join forces to bring about positive change in our village. We will be looking for ways in which we can make a difference together as neighbors to make our community safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable. Stay tuned for a recounting of what we discussed about making our blocks healthier. And start thinking about doing something similar on your block. Come hurricane season, you’ll be glad you did.
Bound by Beauty officially launched Saving Butterflies 101 with a gathering of neighbors on our two blocks in Miami Shores. Susan, a neighbor and ally in the fight for nature and for our future, and I went door-to-door to deliver invitations. We followed up a week later by leaving friendly reminders on our neighbors’ doors. You can do this on your own, but it is much more fun if you find an ally on your block, and less work too!
To prepare for the gathering, we made a sign-in sheet with columns for name, address, phone number, email, and preferred means of communication, including text, WhatsApp, or other.
We also rummaged around and found some butterfly-approved name tags for the visual learners among us. Although Susan and I already knew a number of our neighbors, imagine our surprise when one door opened to reveal a neighbor from Italy, who has lived on the block for 14 years! Who knew? What a lovely surprise! Ciao, Luca!
We are fortunate on our block to have neighbors who are former law enforcement, doctors, urban planners, architects, public health professionals, engineers, and butterfly and vegetable gardeners, among others; imagine what we can accomplish together! And we discovered that five of our neighbors have a connection to Denver, Colorado: what are the odds of that?
We started off by explaining the goal of Saving Butterflies 101, which is to join forces with neighbors to create a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable community, block by block. We intend to do so by following Bound by Beauty’s motto: Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate.
The replication part is very important, as we want neighbors on blocks all around us to be inspired and informed about how they can transform their own block. To this end, we invited a neighbor from a block south of us who is eager to join forces with neighbors on her block. That’s Pat, our southern neighbor, on the right in the photo below. Go Pat!
We broke down each of the goals, beginning with brainstorming about how to make our two blocks safer, which is what this post is about (stay tuned for future posts about how we can accomplish our goals of becoming a stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable community, block by block). Having as many neighbors as possible gathered together, getting to know one another, is a hugely important first step in making us safer. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
Neighbors spending more time outdoors also makes our block safer, and we talked about ways in which we could do that, while learning from each other as well. Ideas for block workshops include composting, rain barrels, pollinator and bird gardens, growing vegetables, pruning, and propagation. A lot of these ideas will help us achieve our other goals as well.
Security systems, including video cameras and lights, are an important part of being safer. We got recommendations from neighbors who had security systems installed. Some neighbors installed their own, while others used an electrician. Everybody agreed that such systems make us safer, starting with the Ring doorbell, and the Neighbors app that connects us.
One of our neighbors who is former law enforcement had some great, common sense ideas on how to be safer on the block, including being aware of our surroundings especially when we are returning home after dark, or coming home from Publix. If a car appears to be tailing us, we should drive past our home and head straight to the police station to avoid a potential armed robbery.
We agreed that we are safer as neighbors on a block if our trees are properly trimmed before hurricane season. Not only do improperly trimmed trees imperil us and our houses, but downed limbs are the most likely cause of downed electrical lines. Life without electricity, especially in the heat of the summer in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane, is miserable and dangerous. Those of us on the block who have trees on our property can save money by getting a group discount from a certified arborist and tree trimming company, while making all of us safer.
To connect us further, we all agreed that we wanted to be part of a text and email group. We plan to use the text communication for emergencies and time-sensitive issues, and email for recommendations, invitations, etc. We talked about letting our neighbors know when we’re away and asking neighbors to pick up boxes that are delivered when we’re out.
All of these ideas will make us safer and enhance our sense of trust and security in an uncertain future as we join forces with our neighbors. As the newest neighbor on the block wrote after the meeting: “It was wonderful to finally meet so many of our neighbors and come together to make our neighborhood even better.”
There have been a lot of dire reports and sobering warnings of late about the decline of bird species and the disappearance of birds throughout the world, mainly due to pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat. Most of us have empirical or anecdotal knowledge of this. It is a serious problem that everyone should take to heart. But, rather than focusing on the problem, this blog post is about what you can do to be part of the solution. Yes, YOU! What would you say if I told you that you could fill your garden with beauty and, in so doing, provide sanctuary and sustenance for our beloved birds at the same time? Imagine: a garden filled with flowers and berries and butterflies and bees AND birds. Wouldn’t you want to spend all your spare time in it? And aren’t our feathered friends worth it? I thought so. So, adjust your reading glasses, get comfy, and read on.
As Douglas W. Tallamy writes in Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, “It is increasingly clear…that much of our wildlife will not be able to survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in suburban habitats.”1 Chances are, you live in a suburban habitat, which may be just a lawn with a tree or two and a few plants from Home Depot, but that’s all going to change. What you need to do is stop using toxic chemical insecticides and herbicides that do more harm than good and plant a diversity of mostly native trees, shrubs and other plants that attract native insects (hint: butterflies and caterpillars are insects), that provide protein for birds. Although many birds love to mix it up with delectable berries, the vast majority rely on insects for their main food source. And since many species we see here in South Florida are migrating long distances, that protein becomes even more important. For most butterfly gardeners, knowing that you are providing sanctuary and sustenance to birds as well makes up for the sadness of losing a certain percentage of caterpillars and butterflies. Especially when you take into account all the caterpillar- and butterfly-eating lizards that the birds are also eating.
Lizard, hoping to snag an insect, before a bird or a bigger lizard snags him.
What’s that you ask? How does a butterfly garden filled with native nectar and host plants attract birds? Some, like the Wild lime tree, have seeds that only birds could love. Well, perhaps lizards too.
When the Wild lime tree produces seeds, it attracts birds all day long. Read on to see another reason birds hang out in this tree.
This Giant swallowtail is laying an egg on a Wild lime, the same tree that produces those hard little delicacies pictured above. The Wild lime is one of very few citrus native to Florida, and is impervious to diseases like citrus canker and greening. It provides no benefit to humans other than the beautiful butterflies and birds that visit it. Don’t you agree that is enough? Read more about the Wild lime.
The Giant swallowtail caterpillar looks remarkably like bird or, in this case, lizard poop. This is clearly designed to fool the birds…but birds are no fools (I wonder if lizards are?). All it takes is the slightest movement for them to tell the difference. In case you’re not sure, the caterpillar is the tasty morsel on the left.
Over time, the Giant swallowtail caterpillar shape shifts from lizard poop to snake-like creature, trying to fool the hungry birds into looking elsewhere for a meal.
Although birds do pick off a percentage of the poopy or scary Giant swallowtail caterpillars, there will always be those that manage to reach adulthood. As you can see from this photo of a newly emerged butterfly from a rescued chrysalis, you will be richly rewarded when they do. And check out the size relative to the relatively large Monarch butterfly.
If you plant Passion vine, you will attract three or four different butterfly species if you’re lucky: the Zebra, the Julia, the Gulf fritillary, and the Variegated fritillary. Here we have Zebra eggs, laid in a clutch. Learn more about the native Maypop passion vine and the Corkystem passion vine.
If you didn’t have predators like birds in your garden, you can imagine how quickly your Passion vine would be gobbled up. You did read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, right?
Zebra caterpillars are particularly vulnerable when they have just shed their too-tight skins and their spikes are still soft and translucent. Imagine what a tasty treat this little guy would be until exposure to air hardens and blackens the spikes.
You can see how much the Zebra caterpillars have grown, and can imagine how much Passion vine they will consume before they pupate.
And here the whole cycle is about to be repeated. Remember: for butterflies, it’s all about the mating, baby.
What’s that you say? You thought this post was supposed to be about birds, but all you see are photos of caterpillars and butterflies? Oops, here is one to give you, the reader, food for thought.
These White Ibis use their long, curved beaks to hunt for insects in the garden, aerating your lawn and ridding it of pests. If you use chemical insecticides or herbicides, you are having a direct negative impact on these beautiful, helpful creatures by poisoning them and depriving them of food. You don’t want to do that, do you? You can deal with a few weeds in your lawn to give these marvelous creatures a break, right?
This photo of a Prairie Warbler on a native Florida Privet was taken by Kirsten Hines, renowned nature photographer and author, in her own garden in Miami, FL. You can see her other nature photos on her Instagram page kirstennaturetravel. She knows a lot about attracting birds to South Florida gardens; in fact, she even co-authored a book about it. Learn more about the Prairie Warbler. Make sure you listen to its song.
That’s okay. I’ll wait while you order it. You won’t regret it. Or, if you live in Miami Shores, you can run over and check it out from Brockway Library.
Anyway, that adorable little Prairie Warbler Kirsten photographed in her garden can be found hopping around in shrubby habitats looking for — you guessed it — insects, like caterpillars and beetles, flies and lacewings, spiders and millipedes and other yummy protein snacks. My friend and poet and bird photographer Michael Faisal Green says some Prairie Warblers overwinter here in South Florida; others breed here in the summer, and some are year round residents. The Prairie Warbler’s song is beautiful and unforgettable and, like a number of bird species, you’ll likely hear the song before you see the bird. Wouldn’t you love to see and hear them in your garden? Kind of makes you want to run to the nearest native nursery to start carving up your useless lawn and creating that bushy shrubby habitat that will attract the insects that attract that beautiful creature with its song that ascends up the chromatic scale, doesn’t it?
Speaking of birds you often hear before you see, butterfly gardens also attract hummingbirds. In addition to nectar from plants that also attract butterflies, hummingbirds eat small insects like caterpillars, insect eggs, and spiders and feed them to their babies.
A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In some lights, the ruby throat looks black. Learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The long tubular flowers of native Firebush are often visited by hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies.
Tropical, or Scarlet, sage is another plant with alluring red tubes. Zebra butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn irresistibly to its nectar. You can also find it in pink and white if red isn’t your thing.
Every human visitor to my garden likes my native Coral honeysuckle almost as much as the hummers!
The gorgeous non-native Firespike! Even if it didn’t attract hummingbirds and Zebra butterflies with its sweet nectar stored in alluring red tubes, you’d still want it in your garden, right? It also comes in magenta and other shades of pinky purple.
This delicate creature is a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by Michael Faisal Green.
Michael Faisal Green illuminates these beautiful, fragile, delicate creatures: The general rule is that there is only one hummingbird species that breeds in the US east of the Rockies — the Ruby-throated — and that’s most certainly true. However, the same cannot be said for wintering hummers. South Florida is getting increasing numbers of eastward migrants — hummers that breed on the West Coast and the South that migrate west to east, instead of the typical north to south. In addition to these uncommon migrants, South Florida is the winter home to many Ruby-throated hummers who spend their summers in the Northeast U.S. and as far north as Canada. Most of these migrants descend through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean into Mexico and the West Indies, though living on a uniquely dangerous metabolic knife edge means that crossing the Gulf and flying for a day without rest constitutes one of the most astonishing acts of aerial endurance. They are literally hours away from starving to death during long flights. The semi deciduous habitats of South Florida means that there are always flowering native plants here and the one redeeming aspect of human development — a lonely and outnumbered redeeming factor it is too — is that there are a sufficient number of native gardens and habitats, replete with nectar-laden flowers, to sustain small numbers of these birds throughout winter. Flower nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. If we can maintain as much natural habitat as possible — they love red flowers like firespike and firebush — and cultivate gardens and green spaces so that they can safely winter here and spare them a dangerous trans Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation that they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their winter home until we came along. South Florida, keep those gardens native and alive with flowering plants that sustain them!
Read more about how to attract hummingbirds to your garden at worldbirds.org.
Firebush has flowers and berries. Kinda makes you want to pop one in your mouth.
Here’s another shot which I couldn’t resist adding, to point out the curious similarity between an Atala butterfly’s orange abdomen and some of the Firebush berries.
And speaking of berries, there are lots of other Florida natives that offer delectable berries to birds.
When the wild coffee isn’t offering berries to birds, it provides nectar for pollinators like this Zebra butterfly. And when it is in bloom, it fills the garden with the scent of honey.
This is the bright red fruit of the Rouge plant, a native that typically has blooms and berries at the same time. It also makes a fine perch for an Atala butterfly.
Another native plant that does double duty, offering flowers for pollinators and berries for birds is the Little Strongback. I watched a tiny female Black-throated Blue Warbler happily gobbling down one of these berries.
This is the male version of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, photographed by my friend, Michael Faisal Green. You can see his beautiful photos and musings on his Instagram page: my_fy_green and you can read more about these Black-throated Blue Warblers.. You will be very happy if you spot these beautiful little creatures in your garden.
You can see how the native American beautyberry shrub got its name. Most plants have just the purple berries, but this one decided to be different. I sat and watched that same female Black-throated Blue Warbler eat her fill of the purple ones the other day. I wonder if she is eating for more than one…?
This is the flower of the American beautyberry, which is another win/win plant for birds, bees and you!
Another important element for both butterflies and birds is dead trees and palm fronds. As Kirsten Hines notes in Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens, “Birds need dead trunks. Woodpeckers and other trunk-foraging birds search out insects lurking under dead trunk bark. Cavity-nesting birds use dead trunks for their nesting.”2
Leaving this dead palm up for birds like this Barn Owl to nest in is worth it, no? Learn more about how you can attract Barn Owls to your garden.
This tree is full of tasty treats for this Red-bellied Woodpecker to find. Read more about this magnificent creature.
Imagine the looks on your friends’ faces if you could brag that you have Zebras roosting on dead palm fronds in your garden. Untidy gardens can bring great beauty, wouldn’t you agree?
Another gorgeous shot by Michael Faisal Green. This Painted Bunting is guaranteed to knock your socks off, figuratively speaking.
Michael Faisal Green writes: Painted Buntings are quite shy birds. They do not have the natural inquisitiveness of Mockingbirds or Cardinals and will avoid open spaces and humans as much as possible. The outrageously-coloured males, perhaps aware of their colourful conspicuity, seem to be particularly reserved and are much less likely to be seen in the open than the females. For this reason, it is essential that any garden that wishes to attract them has plenty of shrubs and cover from which they can appear and disappear rapidly. Exclusively herbivorous, the best way to lure them into the open is with caged bird feeders stuffed with white millet. They seem to prefer approaching food from multiple perches, so regular, single perched feeders are not as attractive to them. Another important point worth noting is that birds are inured into a flock mentality and will always feel safer when there are more of them around. Attracting other birds to your garden — jays, woodpeckers and finches — will likely reassure birds that your habitat is safe. I have noticed that female buntings tend to shadow their larger cousins, female cardinals, and are more likely to be seen with them in gardens.
Here’s another view of the glorious male Painted Bunting, taken by Michael Faisal Green. This creature is surely worth saving by providing the seeds it needs. In addition to the feeder with white millet mentioned above, lots of native grasses provide seeds, in case you have a craving to see this bird in your garden. You can read up about these breathtaking birds.
There are many other bird species that visit South Florida gardens besides the ones mentioned in this post. The more insects, berries, and seed-bearing grasses you have, the more of them you’ll see. And now that you’re armed with all this information, and inspired to transform your garden into a paradise for you and wildlife, here are some native nurseries we recommend to get you started on your exciting new adventure!
Sometimes we come across a photo that brings joy to our hearts and resolve to our souls. This young girl attended our recent Seeds2Share workshop at our wonderful local Brockway Library. She has just finished planting her Tropical sage seeds in the moist peat pellets that she prepared for them. She clearly feels the magic of the moment, and takes pride in her accomplishment. We believe that growing plants from seed is part of our DNA, and teaching young people to germinate seeds turns them into nurturers of nature. Many thanks to Children’s Librarian Brenda Holsing and the staff at Brockway for making this workshop possible and understanding the importance of teaching children about nature! Thank you to the Miami Shores Community Alliance for their grant, and many thanks to Marcia P MacPhail for capturing this wonderful image.
STOP…….and imagine a world where kids take to the streets in a peaceful manner to demand that adults start taking action to protect their futures…. We found some old photos dated 4/19/1972 in Flashback Miami Shores, showing Miami Shores police stopping traffic on NE 6th Avenue so the elementary school students could march against pollution. Wow! What happened? When did children stop marching against pollution? How can we get them re-engaged in the world around them?
These photos inspired us at Bound by Beauty to do something to activate and inspire young people to take to the streets again. What better way to empower them than a positive Pollinator Parade that would be tons of fun and would educate people about the importance of pollinators? We found willing partners in Inspiration Pollination, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores. Inspiration Pollination is a nationwide collective that uses art to connect the public with the plight of pollinators, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores is an offshoot of Pesticide Free Miami, a coalition working towards local policy banning harmful pesticides and herbicides in public spaces.
Melanie Oliva, the inspiration behind Inspiration Pollination, came up with a winning logo for the parade, and we handed out butterfly fans to various schools and community organizations to create a “buzz.” Come join us on Saturday to celebrate the pollinators that make our lives possible! Wear a costume, make a sign, bring a musical instrument, and get ready to have fun and make history in Miami Shores in the first annual Pollinator Parade at #GreenDayMiamiShores! Pssst, there will be face painting too, from 3:30-4:30 at the Bound by Beauty booth!
I love butterflies. Who doesn’t, right? But I never thought much about their night-time counterpart, the moth.
That was until the day that my husband discovered a flower that would change my outlook on moths entirely.
Up until then, I thought moths were okay. If butterflies are like your cool, world-travelling friend with the fabulous wardrobe, moths are like that friend’s old college roommate, Janet—who is a dentist and lives in the suburbs and wears a lot of brown. Janet is nice. She’s fine. But you never think to invite Janet to any parties. Janet is okay.
I knew that moths are pollinators, too and so, yes, also important. The how and why was fuzzy. I didn’t have for them anywhere near the awe and adoration I have for butterflies. Sorry, Janet.
So here’s what changed…I can be long-winded, so just settle in 😉.
A few months ago, my husband and I bought our first house. When we first went to see it, I thought the house itself was cute enough, but small and not at all the charming Old Spanish bungalow I had envisioned. Then we walked into the backyard…and found paradise. We fell in love with the lush canopy of fruit trees and swaying palms. And as we stood there, mesmerized by dappled sunlight and drunk off the breeze, we realized we already felt we were home.
We bought the little house from a man with kind eyes named Tom, who told us it had only ever been owned by his family and it’s where his mom lived until she died. Her name was Nadine. I learned from a neighbor later on that Nadine once had a beautiful garden that, sadly, became overgrown and eventually was mowed over when she was too old to care for it. I also learned that she loved to collect orchids and would plant them on the marvelously gnarled bottlebrush tree right outside what would become our bedroom window. Of course we noticed the orchid leaves hidden beneath and between ferns, air plants, and myriad invasives. But we had no idea when or if they’d ever bloom. We also had no idea how many there really were and how truly spectacular a show we would enjoy over the next few months.
One day, an orchid, one of Nadine’s Gifts—as I’ve affectionately started to call them—caught my husband’s eye and he called me out in a happy fluster as he’d done many times since we moved in. Nadine’s Gifts, we would learn, were resilient and neither neglect nor blade could defeat them—but that’s a tangent for another time.
On the bottlebrush tree my husband had found a pair of small white flowers, each about the width of a quarter—they looked like mini calla lilies. Neither of us had ever seen an orchid that looked like that before, so I submitted a photo to my plant ID group and hoped someone would know. And, of course, they did (they the bomb). Brassavola nosossa, Lady of the Night, she was called. Some furious Googlin’ later and I learned that she is fragrant, but only at night. It turns out, that’s when she gets nice and smelly in hopes some dark and handsome moth will come and give her a good pollinating (honey, don’t we all???).
We resolved to run out and catch the show at nightfall.
In the moonlight, the pale little flowers of the plant were brilliant against the dull bark of the tree. She was dazzling. We leaned in and inhaled expectantly. Jasmine? No, more gardenia…some citrus, maybe? But with a delicate musk and somehow melancholy…like losing yourself in a love song—by Adele.
There she was, a perfumed mistress calling to her lover in the darkness. Beautiful and in lonely waiting for her beloved moth-suitor to find her. (Super sexy, right???) Suddenly the night was gorgeous and mysterious, and an insatiable curiosity as vast as the stars welled up me: This is one flower calling out in the long dream of night…but what other wonders unfold when the kingdom of the sun retires? What other wanton winged-ones go around pollinating expectant petals? (Look, Janet! You are redeemed!)
Over the next few weeks (or so. Not sure how long. I don’t want to over-commit.) I’ll take you on an educational cabaret of the natural world’s night-time delights and its mysterious staffers: The Night Workers. The Moonlighters. Pollinators & Pistils: A Bed Time Story…I will work on the title of the series.
Next week (or thereabouts): Moths—Who is Janet & What is She Good For? (Also a work in progress. The writing will get better. Promise.)
Jen Llerena lives in Miami Springs with her four cats who she will often describe as terrible people, her beleaguered dog and her very patient husband. She likes to play outside with plants and butterflies and is sometimes socially awkward. But she’s a snappy dresser, so no one minds. Jen works in a field entirely unrelated to butterflies, but she makes up for that with wine. Oh, and she’s part of Bound by Beauty.
Mental Health: the Overlooked Crisis and the Benefits of Gardening by Maria Cannon
Living in the modern world has lots of advantages. Medicine has conquered many diseases. Technology gives us smartphones and the Internet. Economic progress enables us to enjoy higher incomes and more interesting careers. In many ways, we’re better off than those who came before us.
Some of the changes over the past 100 years offer us little reason to cheer, however. Many in today’s society seem to think that the answer to our problems is to just take a pill. This is a deadly misconception, as medical professionals are quick to note.
The belief that drugs can give us happiness leads only to addiction and other short-sighted coping strategies like denial or withdrawal from others. You’ll enjoy far more benefits if you engage in healthy activities such as gardening. So sink a spade into a clod of soil and get ready for a better life. All you need is a little sunlight, a little dirt, and a big desire to feel better.
You probably already know that tending a garden is great physical exercise. But a growing body of evidence shows that it offers a bloom of benefits for your mind and spirit as well. These include:
Sharper thinking. A pair of studies showed reduced risk of dementia among seniors who make gardening a regular part of their lives. Researchers believe the combination of mental and physical activity helps to keep the wits sharp over time.
Better sleep. Gardeners enjoy deeper, more restful sleep than sedentary people who stay inside.
Beating the blues. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that gardening can help to relieve depression. This is especially true for those who garden at least 2.5 hours per week.
Faster recovery from stress. Gardening promotes the release of brain chemicals that help mind and body to bounce back from stressful events. One study shows that getting your hands dirty can help cleanse your mind of its worries better than physically passive activities like reading. Don’t use that as an excuse to stop reading this article, though!
More happiness. One study showed that seniors in particular enjoy a lighter, more positive mood as a result of gardening. This is partly due to improved diet, but it also results from the focused concentration growing a garden requires.
Union with nature. Data shows that physical activity in a natural setting offers more benefits than exercise in an artificial environment. It seems there’s something deep in the human spirit that craves closeness to the outdoors and the wonders of nature.
Improved social skills. Gardening builds a sense of community among those who engage in it as a group, offering potent psychological benefits.
Add it all up and it’s easy to see why so many people think of gardening as a tonic for the soul. This is some real food for thought, given that planting a garden need not cost more than a few dollars. This is true even for crowded urban settings. You can grow a lot of food in even the smallest patches of dirt, a fact to which fans of container gardening will gladly attest.
Are you a gardening novice? Don’t fret. You’ll find tons of free information online, at libraries, or by asking local gardeners.
Maria Cannon wrote this article for Bound by Beauty. Maria has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies–gardening, quilting, sewing, and knitting–play a major role in maintaining her mental health. Those of us who are involved with Bound by Beauty believe wholeheartedly in the healing power of nature, whether the problem is rooted in the body or the mind. Whether you grow vegetables or butterflies — or both! — your immersion in nature will go a long way toward healing what ails you.
Plaza 98 transformed a short strip of ordinary road right off Miami Shores’ main drag 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.