When people think of a hedge, they typically envision a green wall that offers privacy and a windbreak. It probably doesn’t occur to many that such manicured green walls are actually harmful for the environment as they require upkeep in the form of noisy, polluting hedge trimmers and, particularly in the case of Ficus hedges, toxic chemical insecticides. What if you could create a hedge that actually benefited the environment, while bringing beauty and birdsong to your garden?
We invite you to ponder the concept of a ‘hedgepodge’, a biodiverse vertical food forest for butterflies, bees, and birds created from a myriad of beautiful native wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and small trees. You will still get your privacy and a windbreak. More importantly in this era of climate change, you will be creating something that actually helps conserve the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. What will you have to give up? The polluting noise of hedge trimmers, toxic chemicals poisoning your landscape, and a bit of your manicured mindset. What will you gain in return? Beauty in the form of clouds of floating butterflies, happy bees, migrating jewels with wings, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you are helping make their lives — and thus your own — possible.
So, how do I get started, you ask? If you have an existing hedge, consider planting some native Corkystem passion vines every few yards along the length of it. The mere act of doing so will bring three different butterfly species to your garden, attract birds to the tiny purple berries, and give buzzy bees some sweet nectar. Corkystem is a gentle vine with tendrils that won’t strangle your existing plants. And it grows just fine in sun or shade. Just make sure you put a barrier around it to keep the lawn guy from weed wacking the vine.
Will it be messy, you ask? Well, there is poop involved, from both the caterpillars and the birds. But the former creates compost and the latter produces seedlings.
If your existing hedge has holes in it, or if you are starting with a clean slate, there are lots of wonderful Florida natives that will delight you by bringing more beauty to the garden. Take Wild Coffees, for instance. There are two Florida natives: Bahama wild-coffee and Shiny-leaf wild coffee. These attractive plants do well in a variety of growing conditions, attract butterflies and other pollinators, as well as birds who eat the fruit. You can click on their names to do a little research to see if they’re a good fit for your garden.
And then there are the Stoppers: Red stopper, which has white flowers and orange fruit; Red-berry stopper, with white flowers and red fruit; Spanish stopper, with white flowers and brown and black fruit; White stopper, with white flowers and red and black fruit (and, some say, it smells a bit like skunk); and last but not least, the Simpson stopper, with white flowers and orange fruit. All of these shrubs attract birds and pollinators.
Another plant to consider — the Pineland strongback or Little strongback (or strongbark as it is frequently called) — is one of my favorites, so much so that I have it as a stand-alone shrub that has delicate, cascading branches that are covered year-round with white flowers and orange fruit. I once watched a female Black-throated blue warbler pop one in her mouth, even though it was nearly as big as her head. It would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge.
The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge. Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.
Another good hedgepodge plant for wildlife is the Wax myrtle. It has white and green fruit that gives cover and food to birds and feeds two kinds of butterfly caterpillars.
Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast.
Last but not least, is the Florida privet, a lovely, salt-tolerant shrub with yellow and green flowers, and blue, purple and black fruit that attracts birds.
There are numerous other plants that would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge, but I’ve given you a lot to go on. In between doing research into which plants make most sense in your garden, why don’t you order Kirsten Hines’ book, which will tell you all you need to know about attracting birds to your garden in South Florida. And while you’re at it, why not daydream about your neighbors converting their hedges to hedgepodges, thereby providing thriving and beautiful wildlife corridors throughout the community.
To read more about the importance of native plants and insects, order this book: