Lina’s Garden

This is the second in a series of Wildlife Garden of the Month posts.  We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.

 

Lina’s Garden

by Lina Castaneda

Sustainability and Activism

minima.lina

The beauty of a Gulf fritillary butterfly is captivating!

 

Florida has a unique climate and there is so much to learn, believe me, it begs to be acknowledged. Not just in fauna and flora but in land and the Natives that steward it, the Tequestas, Seminole, Calusas, Miamis and Miccosukee. It also begs to be inclusive with all the people that came after and it needs to be accessible to all to appreciate. I want to acknowledge first and foremost, that this piece of land was the land of the Tequesta tribe, and the story of our garden in a way is to pay respects to them and mitigate the effects of poorly used land at all scales.

 

There is a funny thing to believing in sustainability that seeps through every part of your life, from food to materials you wear on your body, to what’s inside and outside of your home. I was very aware of this for years, before and after having kids, and living in small apartments. I was conscious about waste and had a growing green thumb. I started with my tiny compost bins and tiny balcony veggie garden with tomatoes, roses, peppers and herbs. And then it finally happened, we bought our home in Little Haiti with our first kid. After a couple of years living in this house I decided that decorative grass in my front yard was the most pointless perk of owning a home. The time I spent cutting grass on the weekends is wasted because no one, and nothing in this outdoor environment benefited from it. Absolutely no bees, no butterflies or birds could possibly benefit from this- and I gained nothing but a heck of a lot of grass allergies.

 

Our lawn covered in high maintenance grass.

 

My front lawn started with a consultation from a man in native gardening that didn’t have much time to explain all my questions about what he was bringing to my yard. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better scenario because it caused me to do the research myself and learn on my own. My desire to learn about plants was amplified from container balcony plants to something short of a tiny forest. So here it began and the grass had to go. I had no patience in dealing with the removal or sheeting of the front yard so we agreed to smother it with about 6”-8” of height of mulch. There were no plants to remove except for a non-native clusia that similarly to grass, contributed absolutely nothing to its surroundings. So without much to consider, the entire front yard was covered (about 1600 sqft) with mulch. The kind of mulch we used was not the commercial one though, this one had not been sprayed with chemicals like most bags you’d find in Home Depot and the like. We got it from a local arborist that had enough chipped wood from his jobs and the consultant had it delivered to us. Now I learned that the arborists do it for free.

 

The very first of many truck-loads of chemical free mulch to cover. This one gave us 6”-8” of initial height of mulch on the front lawn.
The first few small to medium sized plants installed. This view lasted for almost a year while the plants established.

 

 

End of first year of plants installed.  Some grass attempted to grow through but was easily pulled.

 

 

Then the planting started, we got the recommended plants from the consultant in addition to some that I had found in native nurseries like Silent Nursery and Veber’s Jungle Garden. Midsize plants were put in their respective places considering height vs. position of the sun to create more shade in some places than others. Areas of desired privacy were also considered and the denser plants were placed there. There’s so much I can say in detail about each of these plants if you ask me in person I can yap about it endlessly. I will mention however, our starring plant: powderpuff, or sunshine mimosa, a creeper that was meant to cover a good 80% of the yard replacing grass, staying low, resistant to pedestrians and most importantly, never needing to be cut. It grew marvelously in direct sun and once established it grows incessantly. The overall growth of the garden until this day has taken 2 years and for some people it seems like an unbearable sight and wait time. There was only mulch and tiny plants for the majority of the first year but the second year was incredibly rewarding, everything took off and bloomed. It was recommended to us to get even bigger plants at the beginning to skip the wait time barren visual, but this incremented our budget to 5x the cost. I didn’t mind the time it took to grow because I got to know every single plant in its small stage to full growth. Plus the garden was meant to go against all conventional, out of the box and cookie-cutter aspects of what a lawn is these days. Extra time to grow didn’t hurt anything.

 

We repurposed rocks and mixed concrete slabs from an uneven backyard patio removal.

 

My children spend a lot of time discovering new things in my garden.

 

We see such amazing sights as this Long-tailed skipper butterfly, which is taking a rest after laying eggs on the butterfly pea. Their caterpillars are particularly interesting to watch.
The more we planted, the ,more dragonflies we saw zipping around the garden.

 

Mimosa creeper closes its leaves as you touch or step on them. It is an incredibly resilient groundcover.

 

Spanish needle is a wonderful native nectar plant, attracting a variety of bee and butterfly species.  Check out this honeybee’s pollen-filled saddle bags!

 

The goal of the garden was to make it as self sustainable and purposeful for the local fauna. There was to be no cutting, no irrigation, no fertilizing and no manicuring or leaf blowing of any kind. And so, it has lived to that purpose until this day! Perhaps the only thing we maintain is adding truck loads of mulch (which we get for free) every 3 to 6 months. We joined the program of Connect to Protect and hold 5 native plants from them as well as 6 Florida-friendly trees from the 1Million Trees Project in order to increase canopy in areas like where we live. An additional aspect to the front garden was always a given to us, making it a wonderful space for our kids to explore. It did not become so necessary like it did in 2020’s pandemic. With so much time staying in, we explored every nook and cranny of this yard. There were so many new bugs, more visiting birds, new growth and more flowers in plants, interesting textures and we started to explore our options beyond having a pollinator-friendly garden.

 

Including my kids and giving them responsibility to care for the garden. My son here helps me build the herb spiral.

 

I recently got certified in Permaculture with Earth Activist Training and I learned so much about soil, plant biodiversity, water harvesting, environmental impacts, social justice and more. All of which I wanted to apply to my already existing self-sustainable garden. Could I include food? The kids loved the small vegetable garden bed in the backyard but what if we could have more and include more different vegetables and even share? With more time outside I poked for spaces and found areas where a little key lime little could grow, some tomatoes could hangout near the firecracker bush and different kale varieties could snuggle in between the milkweed. And it worked! We got excited and decided to make an additional space for the kids to plant some herbs. Behold, the most permaculture thing anyone can do; an herb spiral. Here we have an eternal and massive sissoo spinach bush growing, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and different basil varieties. A few other things we incremented was the amount of rain barrels around the perimeter of the house. In one single day of steady heavy showers we collect about 250 gallons (more if we had more barrels!) of non-chlorinated water that our raised vegetable beds love. We also collect bags of leaves that people put out on their curbside to add to our compost or backyard and we also practice “chop-and drop” when a plant (specially palm trees) drop leaves or become hazardous and needs a chop, we simply cut and leave the cuttings or leaves on the ground or under a tree. “Produce No Waste” as Permaculture principle No.6 reminds us.

 

Our garden faces south allowing us to have raised beds that grow during our winter season.

 

Kale and broccoli in between the gaillardia by the entrance.

 

Key lime, tomatoes and basil in between Pineland croton and Firebush.

 

With this knowledge in my belt I have slowly begun to help our neighbors with mulch and sharing of plant cuttings from our garden.  I have hosted online talks about composting with worms, finding pollinator friendly plants and offered drop-off compost options for the community near and far. Very recently I have started a forest school coop with a few moms and their kids in order to share the space and bounty. With lots of plans crushed during this pandemic I am focusing on learning more in detail about our local ecosystems and like I mentioned at the beginning with the land acknowledgement, there is so much we ought to learn and preserve. Even if it’s water! Because this land was never really ours, it is not ours to keep but we can make it right and better for our children.  It has been nothing short of a heaven for our family to experience, learn and grow with our garden and I highly recommend anyone desiring to break out of the conventional lawn mold to do it! 

 

Our entrance holds a large Coral honeysuckle vine that brings us a wild show of butterflies and hummingbirds.

 

The morning hummingbird spectacle at the Coral honeysuckle vine.  Imagine waking up to this sight!

 

 

 

 

A Few of Our Favorite Natives

 

 

Would you like to transform your garden into a place of beauty where migrating birds find sanctuary and sustenance and butterflies and bees find their fill of nectar, but you don’t know where to start?  We’ve got you covered: read on to learn about some of our favorite native plants that will make birds, butterflies, bees — and you — happy.  There is a whole world of native plants to discover, but there is nothing wrong starting out with baby steps and planting one or two to start with.  You can read more about these plants by clicking on their names.  And you can find many more recommended plants by reading our other posts, which are listed below.

 

Blue porterweed has such pretty flowers.

The native Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a perennial classic that is drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun to partial shade. The small delicate blue/purple flowers are the perfect calling card for Gulf fritillary, Julia, Monarch, and Sulphur butterflies. This plant does well in pots or planted in the ground, and will grow to about 2 ½ to 3’ tall.  The possibilities of use in a landscape are endless. They can be used as a mid-size mixed low hedge, along a walkway, grouped as ground cover shrubs, or even an accent to a garden entrance or a mailbox post.      

 

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit of the Little strongback.

Pineland or Little strongback/strongbark (Bourreria cassinifolia) is a wonderful small tree growing to about 7 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, with gracefully cascading branches covered with delicate leaves that allow the sun to shine under the plant, making it a perfect choice for the center of a grouping as well as a stand-alone tree.  All year round, the Little strongback’s sweet little white flowers offer nectar to a variety of butterflies and bees, and orange berries that provide food for birds, making it a perfect plant for wildlife.  It is endangered in the wild which makes us want to protect it in our gardens.

 

The flowers of the native Lantana involucrata attract Zebra butterflies and other pollinators. The berries delight birds.

Known as Button sage or Wild sage (Lantana Involucrata), this shrub typically grows to about 5 feet tall and about as wide (although in the right conditions it can grow as tall as 8 feet).  It gets its name from the lovely smell of the leaves, and the beautiful little white or pale pink multi-clustered flowers that look like old-fashioned buttons.  The flowers attract butterflies like the Atala and the Zebra, and bees as well.  If that isn’t enough to convince you to plant one in your garden, how about the fact that its beautiful purple berries attract all manner of birds, including Mockingbirds and migrating warblers.  This is another winner for wildlife.

 

A beautiful Atala butterfly sips the nectar from a Pineland croton.

Pineland croton (Croton linearis) is a smallish shrub growing to about 5 feet high and 6 feet wide, if left unpruned.  Its little white flowers look insignificant to the human eye, but you should see the video we have of Atala butterflies brawling over the nectar, which bees love as well.  Its leaves are long and graceful and a lovely sage green.  This plant is also the host plant to two critically imperiled pine rockland species of butterflies, which is a good enough reason to plant it in your garden as a symbol of hope for all endangered creatures.  This shrub tends to fall forward while growing but can easily be propped up with a small stake or that frame for a campaign poster that you’ve been keeping around, hoping to find the perfect way to upcycle it.

 

 

Fogfruit is beautiful and useful in so many ways. And to think that some people consider this to be a lawn weed and douse it in herbicide to eradicate it.

 

 Phyla nodiflora is so amazing that it has four common names: fogfruit or frogfruit or turkey tangle or creeping Charlie.  It is a wonderful little versatile plant that grows to about 3 inches in the sun (taller in the shade) and spreads through runners, so it also makes a wonderful ground cover in low traffic areas.  The pretty little flowers are white and purple, bloom all year round, and attract all sorts of pollinators, including native bees (native bees do not look like honeybees and are typically smaller or larger) and small butterfly species.  In addition to being a wonderful nectar plant, it is a host plant for four — yes four! — species of butterflies, who lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat. 

 

We find yellow flowers add such a cheerful presence in the garden.

Privet Senna (Senna ligustrina), also known as privet wild sensitive plant, privet senna is a perennial shrub with stunning, showy butter yellow blooms. Sulphur butterflies, including the stunning orange barred sulphur (Phoebis philea), lay their eggs on this plant so their caterpillars can eat the leaves. Solitary native bees also love the beautiful blooms and help pollinate the plant, and we love any plant that feeds native bees.  This plant loves full sun, however it is a short day plant, so a sunny spot that gets shade during part of the day is just perfect! It is a fast grower and will be reach 4-8 feet in height and approx 4 feet wide within 1-2 seasons. It graciously produces seed pods with seeds that germinate easily so it is a wonderful choice for propagation and sharing with friends and neighbors.

 

We love the color of the flowers!

Teabush, aka Woolly Teabush/Woolly Pyramid Flower/ or Broomwood (Melochia Tomentosa) is a tall flowering shrub that enjoys full sun. It can grow to a height of 12-14 feet and 4-6 feet wide but can be maintained at a smaller profile with regular pruning if so desired.  This shrub has lovely abundant small purple flowers that lean toward a light magenta. It’s leaves are a soft greyish green. The Teabush is a bee magnet and is also frequented by a variety of butterflies who sip its nectar. Ladybugs and dragonflies also visit this garden beauty. 

These are just a few of the plants that delight us.  You can find them in native nurseries, or take advantage of Steve Woodmansee’s deliveries to our area.  His next delivery is this coming Saturday, November 14.  The deadline for placing an order is tomorrow, November 10.  You can email him at steve@pronative.com to get on his mailing list and to place an order.  To read about more plants we recommend, check out these posts: Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby BirdsAttract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge; and Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden.

Attract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to Your Garden with a Hedgepodge

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? 

“Benefiting the environment sounds like a good plan to us”, say these Red-masked Parakeets.  “We’d give it two thumbs up if we had thumbs!  Heck, we’d give it four thumbs up, but then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”   Photo by Michael Faisal Green

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.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you have the right plants, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for insects and seeds in your hedgepodge. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

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.

Zebra butterflies getting ready to roost for the night in a hedgepodge.  Yes, roosting Zebras are a thing.  They lay their eggs on Corkystem.
Julia butterfly chilling in a garden that provides plenty of nectar and host plants.  She just finished laying her eggs on Corkystem.  Note the thicket in the back.  Birds like to hunt insects there.
A pair of Gulf fritillary butterflies mating next to a future butterfly consuming the leaves of a Corkystem passionvine.

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.  

“We do produce a lot of caterpillar frass, but it enriches the soil”, say the Zebra caterpillars.
Corkystem passionvine berries make a yummy snack for birds.  They digest the pulp and poop out the seeds, creating lots of new Corkystem seedlings.  If they pop up where you don’t want them, you can easily dig them up and re-plant them near your hedge.  Don’t forget to water them until they recover from the transplant.
Last but not least with this remarkable native vine, the diminutive flowers attract bees.  Photo from Wild South Florida.

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.

Bees and butterflies like Zebras and Atalas love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.
Wild coffee fruit is devoured by birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds.  I know, the berries look delicious, but the taste to a human palate is rather bland.  I’d leave them for the birds.  And, no, they don’t contain caffeine either.

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.

These make a very merry birdie feast.
The flowers attract lots of 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.

Hummingbirds and others sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit.
Here’s the beautiful little female Black-throated Blue Warbler. In addition to eating the fruit of the Little strongback, she likes bathing a lot, so you might want to consider installing a bird bath or other water feature.  Photo by Michael Faisal Green.
Here is her mate who. when he’s not hunting insects, likes berries and baths too.  Photo also by Michael Faisal Green.

The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge.  Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.

These white flowers have nectar that attracts a number of butterflies, including the imperiled Schaus’ swallowtail.

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.

Also known as Bayberry, Birds love the seeds and find cover among the leaves.

Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast. 

Also known as colicwood, Florida myrsine has white flowers, black fruit, and attractive leaves.

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.

Kirsten Hines photographed this sweet little Prairie Warbler looking for food in a Florida privet.

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:

Each one of us who owns a bit of land can make a huge difference in conserving our ecosystem by planting native plants and stopping the use of toxic chemicals in the landscape, thereby creating a more resilient and sustainable world.  You too can be part of the solution!

 

   

 

  

 

 

        

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bound by Beauty meets Miami Shores Friendly Villagers

monarch-tower-by-geoff-leeBound by Beauty gave a talk at the monthly luncheon of the Friendly Villagers about the importance of butterfly gardening. We discussed the main elements of creating a garden, as well as the powerfully positive transformational effect of being surrounded by butterflies, their caterpillars, and their chrysalises. It is a wonderful thing to protect our pollinators and, therefore, our food source. The Monarch tower made by and kindly loaned to BbB by neighbor Geoff Lee, bejeweled with gorgeous jade and gold Monarch chrysalises, was a big hit.