About a year ago, we moved into our new house and immediately began creating the garden we had been dreaming of. When we bought our home, the property had been extremely well-kept, but the previous owners didn’t appear to be overly into gardening or landscaping. There was a lot of turf, two oaks, two palms, a couple of Crotons, and a Hibiscus plant, and that’s about it. As far as structures go, there were fences, a fire pit, and a really nice shed. The only changes we made to the shed were painting and installing new lattices around the bottom, and Kendal built a new, weather-proof ramp for it. We started with a pretty open and blank canvas for the property except for the built-in view of mature oaks and cypress trees, which was and continues to be amazing.
One of the very first things we did yard-wise was pick up wood from Lowe’s and build a variety of garden beds. We actually built and installed the beds before we even moved into the house. Soon after, we had hundreds of pounds of soil delivered, which we then filled the beds with. We planted the beds with a mixture of herbs we brought from our previous house, seeds, and small plants we bought from nurseries. So far, we have grown or are growing: a variety of tomatoes, eggplants, okra, Shishito peppers, orange bell peppers, a variety of radishes, kale, mustard greens, squash, pumpkins, a variety of onions, rosemary, thyme, licorice, basil, peppermint, oregano, etc.
Some of the edibles we grow are in-ground vs being in raised beds. These edibles include Scrub Blueberry (a Florida native!), blackberries, ice cream bananas, muscadine, dragonfruit, American beautyberries, three Loquat trees, and more. Two of the Loquats we have are extra special, as we inherited them from some of our best friends before they moved to Colorado.
A quick word about the banana plants: these plants have grown incredibly fast and while we planted two, we have four additional clones that are also growing incredibly fast. They have been drought-resistant and freeze-resistant. Because of all of this, I deem these trees to be EXCELLENT purchases for anyone who wants to start growing fruit trees on their property.
Our Tea-making Tree
We have a Weeping Yaupon Holly Tree, which we make a delicious green and black tea from (yep, it’s caffeinated). Yaupon trees have been used to make tea by Native Americans, including Seminole and Timucua Peoples, since time immemorial.
Transforming Areas of Turf into a Cottage-style Garden for the Pollinators
I wanted to combine a romantic, whimsical aesthetic (heavily inspired by Dutch designer Piet Oudolf) with functionality. Creating a refuge for pollinators and other wildlife was and is our No. 1 priority. Our property backs up to wetlands, including a Cypress Dome. We didn’t want to plant anything that could negatively impact our property or the ecosystem behind us. This means we planted a lot of native-to-Florida plants and Florida-friendly plants that don’t need much, if any, fertilizer to thrive and don’t require a lot of water once established. To learn more about using Florida-friendly plants, feel free to visit the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program’s website. If you want to learn more about Florida native plants, I recommend visiting the Florida Native Plant Society’s website.
To create this whimsical nature path, we ripped out a bunch of turf and planted: Spotted Bee Balm, Wood Sage, Goldenrod, Muhly Grass, Elliot’s Love Grass, Purple Love Grass, a handful of different Salvias (including native Tropical Sage), American Beautyberry, Firebush, Azaleas, Blazingstars, Asters, native Milkweed, Velvet-leafed Wild Coffee, Simpson’s Stopper, Coral Bean, a Cedar tree, a Bottlebrush tree, and more. This process took the longest, as the plants (besides the trees) were all quite small when we planted them. We were trying to be as economical as possible, so we bought and planted a lot of one-gallon and three-gallon plants. If you had told me that in a mere 12 months those plants would sky rocket to where they are now, though, I wouldn’t have believed you. To me, it feels like the plants have grown so fast and filled out in a far speedier fashion than I would have guessed. While this part of the yard transformation has taken the longest, I still think this part of the garden grew and came together very quickly!
We have chosen to mulch most of our property with pine needles for a number of reasons. For one, we like the look. Additionally, it keeps weeds from growing. It also locks in moisture for the plants. And, it does a great job protecting plants from extreme temps. Furthermore, as it breaks down, it doesn’t create a thick layer like some other mulches can. I personally find it easier to work with than other types of mulch.
Before Photos: August 2020
Progress Photos: May 2021
One-year Anniversary Photos: August 2021
Trees We Have Planted
In the last year, we have planted a Long-leaf Pine, Bottlebrush, Dahoon Holly, Weeping Yaupon Holly, Cedar, Red Maple, three Loquats, and two Ice Cream Bananas.
Our Bottlebrush tree is an all-around favorite by our resident and visiting pollinators. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, among many other pollinators, feed from it daily. Also, Chickadees and Eastern Bluebirds love to hang out in the Weeping Yaupon.
We added trees to our property for a number of reasons, including to create more shade. Trees not only add monetary value to properties but also help keep temperatures down both outside and inside. They can physically block undesirable sunlight from entering your home and create comfortable, shaded spots outdoors. They are also great for enhancing privacy. One thing to always keep in mind when choosing a good spot for a tree is to know where the underground pipes are for your house so that you don’t plant trees around your plumbing and such. This will help avoid tree roots breaking or causing blockages in your plumbing system.
We spend a great deal of time in our garden, and based on our observations, some wildlife favorites are: Spotted Bee Balm, Wood Sage, Salvias, Passiflora (incarnata, I think), Bottlebrush Tree, native Milkweed, Scrub Blueberry, Velvet-leafed Wild Coffee, and Goldenrod. If you want to read more in-depth about how to attract pollinators like Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bumblebees, and butterflies to your property, check out my article, Attracting Pollinators to Your Florida Garden.
Wildlife Houses & Accessories
We have a Bluebird house, Chickadee house, Red-bellied Woodpecker house (that Kendal built!), a bat house, two pollinator hotels, two bird baths, and three bird feeders. Most are actively used except for the Chickadee house (haven’t seen any signs of a nest in there yet). We have bats on our property, but I am not 100% sure if they actually live in the bat house regularly or not.
Bluebirds didn’t start using their house until we planted the Weeping Yaupon Holly by it. I think they like that extra protection and place to perch to closely watch the house. This last Spring was my first time seeing baby Bluebirds, and wow they are so, so, SO cute.
I say “challenges” in quotes because it’s nothing we are struggling with – deer just love certain plants we have. We always say that we garden for wildlife, so it’s nothing we get upset or frustrated about. With that being said, our Oakleaf Hydrangea, Pineland Hibiscus, Hot Cinnamon Hibiscus, and certain vegetables pretty much are just in the garden for the deer to eat. They will give these plants a break long enough for new leaves to grow and then will eat the leaves down to the stems. What *is* hilarious about their choice of plants (as they have many to choose from), is that they really enjoy the pricier plants. The Oakleaf Hydrangea and Pineland Hibiscus are two of the more expensive plants on our property (aside from the larger trees). Go figure! The deer will also snack on some of the sunflowers in our sunflower patch and eat from the bird feeder.
We chose to buy this property because of its proximity to a large preserve AND the cypress dome behind us, so we know and expect wildlife to be in our yard. We welcome them, and do not consider them pests. We probably won’t worry about trying to add more Oakleaf Hydrangeas or pricier Hibiscuses to the property, though.
Wildlife We Have Seen on or from Our Property:
Red-shouldered Hawks, White-tailed deer (including a spotted fawn), Male Painted Bunting, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice (titmouses?), Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Jays, Carolina Wrens, Ground Thrashers, Downy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Palm Warblers, Pine Warblers, Prairie Warblers, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Wood Storks, Juvenile Little Blue Herons, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Phoebes, Blue-headed Vireos, Bobolinks, American Crows, Ground Doves, Juvenile American Alligator, Chipping Sparrows, House Finches, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Sandhill Cranes, Swallow-tailed Kites , Black Vultures, Great Crested Flycatchers , Wolf Spiders, Green Lynx Spiders, Raccoons, Bumblebees, Carpenter Bees, Potter Wasps, Mason Wasps, Mud Dauber Wasps, Metallic Sweat Bees, Honey Bees, Bats, Southern Black Racers, Green Anoles, Southeastern Five-lined Skinks, Sherman’s Fox Squirrels, Mexican Gray Squirrels, Jumping Spiders, Rainbow Scarab Beetles, Monarch Caterpillars & Butterflies , Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars & Butterflies, Zebra Longwing Butterflies, Black Swallowtail Butterflies, Common Buckeye Butterflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies, Countless other butterflies, Countless dragonflies, Countless damselflies, Countless moths, Countless other insects, ETC.
The most noticeably dominant wildlife on and around our property are American Crows. When together, they are a bit bully-ish. They even beat up a juvenile gator until the gator claimed defeat and went back into the swamp. It was a wild dispute to witness.
Our Seasonal Sunflower Patch
We’ve had a blast experimenting with different types of Sunflowers. The pollinators, squirrels, and deer love them. (And so do we!)
So, What’s Next for the Garden?
In addition to keeping our raised beds going and tending to our existing in-ground plants and trees, we plan on continuing to remove turf and replace it with native and other Florida-Friendly plants. There are patches where we are growing Sunshine Mimosa and experimenting with different ground covers. We will likely never fully remove ALL turf, as some of the turf on our property is low-maintenance and fairly drought-tolerant. We don’t have to irrigate it or use fertilizer.
At the end of the day, the grasses and sedges that will remain on our property are not requiring extra resources and are serving as a pervious space to absorb rainwater, which will reduce stormwater runoff. This is advantageous over having thick layers of rock or impervious spaces like cement, tons of traditional pavers, or fake turf.
We are also in the middle of adding Sea Grapes on one side of the backyard where we keep the kayaks and such. Additionally, we are in the middle of creating the Cottage Garden look on one of the front sides of our house. I imagine we will probably also install additional rain barrels on the property. We pretty much always have garden projects in the works, so there will certainly be more to come.
Get in Touch
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to talk about gardening and wildlife!