Natives for Neighbors: Creating a More Beautiful, Resilient, and Sustainable Community

What are Natives for Neighbors?

by Mary Benton and Monica Gross

 

For many students, this is their first interaction with a native plant. Check out the joy on Tamarah’s face!

Bound by Beauty (BbB), in collaboration with middle and high school teachers Monica Gross and Frank Mataska and their students at Doctors Charter School (DCS), BbB’s Network of Neighborhood Nurturies, TreeHuggers LLC, as well as other members of the community, launched Natives for Neighbors as a pilot program in the 2019/2020 school year.  This program is designed to teach students about the role and importance of plant and animal species that are native to South Florida ecosystems, and to help them gain an understanding of both the negative and positive impacts humans can have on these communities.  In studying the problems humans cause such as habitat destruction and pesticide use, students identify concrete actions to help solve them. 

Thanks to Natives for Neighbors, 7th grade DCS students planted over 60 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including 10 donated to the school by Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network, providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects that are essential for the survival of the natural world, including our own survival as humans.  By increasing the number of locally-grown trees and shrubs that sequester carbon, cool our community, filter our groundwater, and protect our food supply by providing habitat for pollinators, students play a direct role in making our community more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable.  

How does the program work?

l-r: Kaiya, Tsenat, Kelsey, Amanda, and Sophia were thrilled to take their plants home.

Native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are either donated by members of BbB’s nurturies, or purchased from area nurseries.  Students identify a location in their yards or communities, and choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. Students learn practical skills such as how to plant and nurture native plants at school, and take those lessons home with them, along with their new plants.  After transplanting the plants in their own gardens, students continue to nurture and observe them, while studying the relationships that these plants have with their living and nonliving environment, and how they form viable solutions to human-caused environmental problems.  According to a follow-up survey nearly half of the students reported seeing an increase in the amount of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects in their gardens from one plant alone! 

Sustainability

Students will learn how to identify, harvest, and nurture seeds and seedlings from their own plants, sharing those seeds with members of the community, Brockway Library’s seed collection, and the seedlings and their planting and nurturing skills with friends and neighbors.  This project will grow organically as more native plants are planted every year, and more seeds and seedlings are available for harvest and sharing.  In addition to increased knowledge among students, there will be a growing interest among neighbors in participating in this collaboration.  Students will create an identification chart of natives to instruct others, and share that and other useful information via the school’s website so as to encourage others in the community to participate. 

Shiny-leaf wild coffee produces berries beloved by birds, and little white flowers that smell like honey and attract all sorts of pollinators. They are very easy to propagate from seedlings.

Every year, the community will achieve increased canopy cover and cooler temperatures that offset global warming as new groups of middle school students plant their natives.  Finally, their work outdoors will have an additional long-lasting impact because student participants will gain a greater appreciation for nature.  Imagine what can be achieved if more area schools joined in their efforts to make more and more native plants thrive in our community!

Saving Butterflies 101 Launched in Miami Shores

We’re launching a movement to join forces with our neighbors to fight for our future by creating a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable community, block by block. Read on to learn how you can be part of it.

Safer

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!

Here is Susan, delivering friendly reminders to our neighbors.

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 found these cute butterfly name tags to help us remember our neighbors’ names.

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?

Darn! We forgot to take a photo of the table with the neighborly offerings, but it looked something like this from another Bound by Beauty gathering. Photo by the fabulous Maria Font.

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!

This is one of my favorite photos, taken by Sage Hoffman, so I use it whenever I can. It embodies the joy we feel when surrounded by butterflies and neighbors!

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.

Rain barrels can be inconspicuous as well as essential during periods of extended drought.

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.

The misery of downed tree limbs…

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.” 

You can read more about this program here: http://boundbybeauty.org/saving-butterflies-101/. We would love to hear what ideas you have to make your own block safer.

With Saving Butterflies 101, we will be fighting for the future of the youngest of our neighbors, sitting unaware on his mother’s lap.

Pollinator Parade at Green Day Miami Shores

Miami Shores police stopping traffic on NE 6th Avenue.

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!

  

 

 

 

 

 

A Lady Waits in the Night (for a Moth)

By Jen Llerena

December 7, 2017

 

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!)

Brassavola nodossa, “Lady of the Night”. Image Credit: American Orchid Society

 

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.)

 

Hugs,

Jen

 

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.