I traded in my shoe addiction for Blue porterweed. Sort of. Let’s just say that with Covid-19, I cut way back on “that kind” of spending. In particular, my obsession with shoes has been placed on hold. Okay, who am I kidding, my obsession with shopping has been placed on hold all together. Once we went on lockdown, I went into survival mode and like many parents out there, I started to lose it for a bit. Most of us stopped sleeping, became compulsive organizers, bakers, and obsessed about how this would affect our children. After a month of angst on fumes, something had to give. 

On my quest to find sanity outside my home of six and three furry babies, I found my garden or I should say, lack thereof. Thanks to a good friend, with the best of green thumbs, I started with cucumbers that never came to be. I watched every video on how to get those suckers to grow, tried everything, including hand-pollination. I am still laughing about that, but the matter of no bees in sight was far from funny. I became obsessed with bringing bees to my garden and eventually ran across a Bound by Beauty blog post that led me to beautiful butterflies and other essential pollinators. The connection was instant. Native plants like Blue porterweed, Scarlet Sage, Heliotropes, Lantanas, Shiny Leaf Wild Coffee, Ageratums and Scorpion Tails became my new therapeutic shopping spree. Endangered ones are a plus.

I became obsessed with the purple flowers of native Blue porterweed.

“My garden needed life and the silver lining of the pandemic allowed for plenty of dedication and obsession.”

Horace's duskywing butterfly on Privet senna

I fell into another world, stripping me of my former “shopaholic” self. It was a call to transformation; and, with the same beautiful showy colors, and “cheeky” names, shopping for natives was an easy sell. My garden needed life and the silver lining of the pandemic allowed for plenty of dedication and obsession. 100% immersed in gardening chats, following every native plant and butterfly social page, watching and reading about the best butterfly garden practices, attending workshops, every detail I could find led the way and when applying the knowledge to my garden - it is so rewarding. Pretty funny considering a year ago, pre-Covid, I would not have been caught dead digging holes in the dirt, having face offs with slugs, hand pollinating flowers or out in the heat ruining the perfect blow dry. Now, all I do is incessantly pine for my garden - in Birkenstocks no less.

A tiny Cassius blue butterfly on native Scorpiontail.

We have a small garden, but now it is filled with so much life you would never know it. I started with a safe collection of natives and before long it was a weekly purchase of babies. Some non-natives slipped in there too. I was hooked. The education is endless and watching the garden change little by little is magic. I did not plant anything in the ground right away. I gave them a chance to grow out a little, see if they were happy in their space. There were many things to consider, nectar plants, host plants, location, season, size…Every square foot of my garden had/has a plan. I was fortunate, our garden was pretty much a clean canvas. It was exciting to design, plan and let the plants settle to their new space. The anticipation built immediately and I was soon checking constantly. Is it possible to check one too many times? 

Today, with a somewhat established garden, Monarchs, Zebras, Julias, Swallowtails, Sulphurs, Gulf Fritillary, Cassius Blues, and Skippers dwell in our garden. Everyday is an adventure for me and my family. It affords us all an escape, a connection with the nature under our noses. It is a gift, a much needed perspective and a top priority for us.  It's funny: growing up I had no interest in gardening.  Saturday mornings were declared lawn day at my house, with an 8 am wake up call that I dreaded.  I would lie in bed and pray for rain under the covers.  Nowadays, I cannot wait to get outside.  How my father chuckles at the change! 


By Liangy Fernandez-Calli and Mary Benton

What a horrifying sight and smell to wake up to.

In recent days, our beautiful Biscayne Bay has been marred by scenes straight out of an apocalyptic movie with thousands of dead fish washing ashore from North Miami to Virginia Key. After multiple water samples and abiotic samples were collected and independently examined by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami Department of Environmental Resources Management, Florida International University, and Miami Waterkeeper, it was determined that the cause lies in a lack of dissolved oxygen (DO) due in part to warm temperatures, coupled with sewage leaks, septic tanks, pet waste, stormwater runoff, pesticides and nutrients found in fertilizers which feed algae that depress oxygen levels.

Unfortunately, this is not new.  For decades, environmentalists have been sounding the alarm to deaf ears.  It is a real problem that has been worsening with time due to lack of awareness, lack of leadership and failure to actively participate in better practices. In other words, it is on us to save our beloved Biscayne Bay and the other waterways around South Florida.

All is not lost. We have an opportunity to help restore and conserve our Biscayne Bay and our surroundings altogether.  In some cases, it is a matter of simply changing our habits.  In others, we need to change our mindsets.  

Pet and Human Waste 

Cramer doesn't want to be part of the problem.

Let's start with the easiest habit to change: pick up after your pet.  We know most of you already do so, since you likely would be persona non grata in your neighborhood if you didn't.  But keeping your pet waste from getting washed into the bay is an additional reason to be a good citizen not only of your neighborhood, but of this planet.

Septic systems are another source of contamination for nearby waterways.  The EPA has some good tips on how to deal with yours, from toilet to drainfield.

Fertilizer Use

If you must use chemical fertilizer, please be mindful and read the label, ensuring that the product is a slow release fertilizer.

Miami Waterkeeper (MWK) is an organization whose mission is to defend, protect, and preserve South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action rooted in sound science and research.  They work to ensure swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for all.  There is compelling scientific evidence for the need for ordinances governing the use of fertilizers, including the following provisions:

Miami Dade County does not have such an ordinance, but there is no reason why you can't go ahead and follow these provisions on your own.  Learn more about the problem and what you can do to be part of the solution.


Composting is an easy way to add nutrient rich soil that benefits your plants and the environment.  Photo by Sipakorn Yamkasikorn from Pexels.

You can make your very own environmentally-friendly fertilizer for free by composting your kitchen and garden scraps.  Why is this important?  When you toss your kitchen waste in the trash can, it ends up in a plastic bag that will never decompose that gets trucked to a landfill where the kitchen scraps will create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change and the global warming that is sickening bodies of water like Biscayne Bay.  The same thing happens if your municipality requires you to bag your leaves, which make wonderful mulch that enriches your soil, conserves moisture, and suppresses weeds.  By composting, you become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.  You will be amazed at the rich soil that will result, that you can spread around on plants that can use a little fertilizer.  Here is a link for more information on how to start composting from the EPA and information that runs the gamut from closed bins to pit composting to open bins, tumblers, piling, and vermicomposting from Fine Gardening.  

Plant Native and Florida-Friendly

This is a called a lawn, but it is really a dead zone that requires herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill lawn pests, and chemical fertilizers to give it that nice green color.  It also requires lots of irrigation in the form of our drinking water.  And let's not forget the polluting power of lawn equipment required to keep this dead zone tidy looking.  This no longer makes sense in a world where fish are dying by the thousands. 

This lovely native groundcover is known variously as Fogfruit, or Frogfruit, or Turkey tangle or Creeping Charlie. It doesn't require any chemicals to maintain it, it provides nectar for hungry bees and butterflies, and it feeds the caterpillars of several butterfly species.  For ideas about other native plants you can use in place of sod, you can search the Florida Native Plant Society website or that of the Institute for Regional Conservation's Natives for your Neighborhood, narrowing your search down by site conditions and other considerations.  You will lower your carbon footprint and reduce the amount of chemical contamination in our aquifer and Biscayne Bay.

 Marjory Stoneman Douglas was ahead of her time. Let's not be behind ours. Photo by Liangy Calli taken at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center on Key Biscayne.


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