Nature and Environment
On this page:
◇ The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape by Ginny Stibolt, reviewed by Jonathan Louis Duckworth
◇ Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Contreras, reviewed by D.S. Davies
◇ Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes by Craig N. Huegel, reviewed by Jan Becker
Our most recent environment reviews are on this page. For earlier ones, visit our nonfiction and florida history archive (coming soon!)
The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape by Ginny Stibolt
(University Press of Florida, Paperback, 269 pp., $24.95)
Jonathan Louis Duckworth
The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape
Reviewed by Jonathan Louis Duckworth
Botanist and writer Ginny Stibolt’s “The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape” should interest three kinds of reader: those with an interest in botany, particularly the flora of Florida, gardeners interested in planning a garden that avoids invasive species, and anyone seeking general advice on landscaping, and not just in Florida, as Stibolt attests that her “broad strategies” can be applied anywhere, or as she puts it: “right plant, right place.”
The book contains eleven chapters, an appendix of suggested native plants, and a useful glossary of terms. The first three chapters establish Stibolt’s argument for the efficacy of only-native gardening, while also dispelling myths such as the “no maintenance landscape.” Chapter 3: “Invasive Exotics” describes the economic and environmental costs of Florida’s invasive plants, offers a catalogue of common invasive species and suggested native alternatives (alter-natives, as Stibolt calls them) with which to replace each of them. For instance, Stibolt recommends replacing mimosas with Eastern redbuds or, in tropical South Florida, coco-plums.
Later chapters provide strategies for selecting, planting, and maintaining a garden or landscape of native plants. For example, Chapter 7: “Minding Your Edges,” outlines how gardeners can manage their native gardens/landscapes so as to remain in harmony with neighbors’ lawns, gardens, and farms.
Illustrations (mostly photographs, but some drawings as well) help to sell the charms of a native garden by displaying the natural beauty of Florida plants. While most of the photographs are in black-and-white, a small gallery of color photographs in Chapter 8: “Managing Freedom Lawns, Lawn Replacements, and Meadows” highlights the vivid colors and striking shapes of native flowers and grasses, such as Florida’s state wildflower the yellow tickseed, purple blazing-stars, and the pink hairawn muhly grass, the last of which I’ve always known (without knowing their name) as the beautiful shocks of colorful grass growing along the medians of I-10.
The appendix is split into two sections: the first serves as an alphabetical guide to various native plants and how best to maintain them, while the second details types of mulches and their utilities. Among my personal highlights from the glossary are “propagule” (general definition for a plant part that can grow into a new plant, which would include seeds, spores, and cuttings), “freedom lawn” (a lawn without pesticides, without fertilization, and without over-irrigation, only mowed during the plants’ growing season), and “snag” (a dead tree left standing for the benefit of wildlife such as birds).
With her strategies, advice, and illustrations, Stibolt celebrates the state’s native plants and provides roadmaps for readers to honor Florida’s native ecosystem in their own gardens and landscapes.
Jonathan Louis Duckworth is an MFA student at Florida International University and a reader for Gulf Stream Magazine. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction appears in or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Fourteen Hills, PANK Magazine, Literary Orphans, Cha, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.
Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt and Melissa Contreras
(University Press of Florida, Paperback, 326 pp., $24.95)
Reviewed by D.S. Davies
Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida
Reviewed by D.S. Davies
It is no secret that vegetable gardening in Florida can feel like a haphazard pest-guessing game of who eats what. Certainly, in my experience in South Florida, the truth is that I usually end up eating nothing – the nematodes, insects, birds, raccoons, possums and fungi all get to it before there is any kind of harvest. Because I live on an ocean-access canal, I am especially interested in preventing runoff of fertilizers and other chemicals into our waterways, and am committed to natural, organic management of my yard, yet there are few resources that address organic gardening methods for our fair state.
Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Stiblot and Contreras is a handbook for Florida gardeners who are committed to, or at least interested, in organic gardening methods that will actually work for our horticulturally complicated stated. This is an ambitious topic. Stilbot and Contreras write, “Our state’s seven distinct USDA plant hardiness zones make covering gardening in all of Florida a special challenge. Most vegetable gardening books (organic or not) are of little use in Florida because 'the rules are different here,' and furthermore, the rules in Pensacola are different from those in Miami.” This is something that most Florida gardeners understand, and this book fills a gap in information that we all long for when we pick up generalized gardening books.
The text offers an innovative look at modern organic methods that can be applied to the specific issues generated by Florida’s climate, including issues with soil and sun, two forces that often cull ambitious new gardeners within a season or two, and issues with weeds and pests, which have the potential to quickly ruin a Florida garden.
The text is organized logically and chronologically, offering first a brief overview of what organic gardening is, then a start-to-finish look at the gardening process, from siting and planning a garden, to harvesting crops and preparing the soil for next season’s plantings. The chapter on siting and arranging the garden is particularly helpful. It includes sections on vertical gardening, raised bed gardening, which is a must in Florida, companion planting, intercropping, straw bale, and self-watering container gardening. Helpful illustrations make it easy to visualize the set-ups, and many of these designs can be used in small spaces.
Forty-eight pages of high-quality photographs also illustrate a variety of real gardens, crops, plant varieties, beds and growing areas, as well as organic soil-preparation techniques and companion planting.
What’s missing from the guide are visual aids or charts that help classify the wealth of information, such as a seasonal crop guide that addresses Florida’s growing regions. Also, it is difficult to learn the difference between pests and natural pest killers without illustrations. There is a chapter on ecosystem gardening which addresses implementing positive practices, such as attracting and keeping natural pest killers, but novice gardeners may not know the difference between a pest and a beneficial insect without an illustration. As well, I found myself looking for specific, user-friendly lists of organic pest management and organic fertilizer, especially since Florida gardening seems to be so plagued by a great variety of pests. My go-to reference for natural fertilizers and organic pest management has always been Rodale’s All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, which has charts and drawings of root and leaf symptoms as well as a helpful chart of common home organic fertilizers.
Most of the information in this handbook seems to apply to many, if not all of Florida's variety of hardiness zones. However, due to Florida’s varying differences in growing conditions and weather, I felt the need for specific gardening tips for different climates. It would be especially helpful to have more information specifically for gardeners in zones 10 and 11, which includes most of Palm Beach County, on down through the Keys, as these zones are rarely addressed in general gardening books, leaving readers hungry for specific zone information.
Despite these few minor shortcomings, this book is an important resource. Until recently I believed there were more obstacles than opportunities in Florida vegetable gardening, but Stibolt and Contreras have given me hope that the opposite may be true, even way down here in Zone 10, where the nematodes seem to have their own cultural presence. In a place like Florida, with so many growing obstacles, this organic gardening guidebook is especially valuable.
D.S. Davies was raised in Fort Lauderdale. She is the recipient of the 2013 Betty Gabehart prize for nonfiction. She has been published in Real South Magazine and currently lives in the real South—Zone 10.
Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes by Craig N. Huegel
(University Press of Florida, Paperback, 327 pp., $29.95)
Reviewed by Jan Becker
Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes
Reviewed by Jan Becker
Florida is a land of transplants. Even our state flower, the orange blossom, was imported by the Spanish. In Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes, ecologist Craig N. Huegel, the co-founder of the Urban Wildlife Program at the University of Florida, offers a guidebook for gardeners who wish to recreate a native landscape. Huegel writes, "We have tried to make this place something it isn't and ignored virtually everything it is. In doing so, we have destroyed the sense of place that makes us unique and created a bizarre caricataure of nothing." There is a growing movement among ecologically-minded gadeners to use native plants in landscaping because they will support the native fauna of that region. The problem with determining what is native to Florida and what is non-native is that for the past 500 years people have been introducing plants to Florida and the first arrivals from Spain kept poor records of what they found here.
The book is organized by three herbaceous plant types: ferns, grasses, and wildflowers. Easy to read, it includes vivid, colorful photographs, though not every plant described in the book has a corresponding image. Huegel explains how to obtain plants for your landscape from where they naturally occur, and how to propagate them once you have stock. Taking plants from the wild in Florida is a complicated issue, though. A number of laws protect native plants. While it is possible to obtain a permit to gather plants on public land, Huegel discourages this practice. Many of our native plants are endangered, and removing them from where they naturally thrive for home gardening is often harmful to the delicate native ecosystem. Huegel suggests instead that the best resource may be your local small-scale gardening center.
It's important to consider the climate zones within Florida. Plants that do well in the subtropical zone of southern Florida may not withstand the more temperate weather of the Panhandle region and vice versa. Even seeds for plants that are native to Florida can fail to thrive if obtained from a commercial greenhouse in the north. Huegel does not organize the plants by where they grow within the state, though that information is included for the reader within each plant description. Also included are the types of soil each plant prefers. One chapter explains some of the approaches to planning a native plant landscape.
Native wildflowers tend to be understated. These are not the showy hothouse flowers bred to be breathtaking, though there are a few notable exceptions like the Pine Lily, a brazen brick-red but temperamental flower that produces one four-inch bloom a year—if it blooms at all. Another notable flower is the Sunshine Mimosa, a creeping ground cover so common throughout Florida that it is easily overlooked, despite the pink powder-puff flowers honeybees and butterflies find irresistible. Two thirds of the plant types included in this book do not flower but are useful for preventing soil erosion and for providing groundcover. These plants may not thrill the neighbors, but should attract native birds and butterflies hungry for homespun nectar or seed.
Native Wildflowers and Other Ground Covers for Florida Landscapes is a useful resource for a very specific type of gardner. Where traditional gardens have beds that must be weeded and mulched, with plants that grow in neat rows, a natural landscape typically requires allocation of a greater amound of space and may not be as colorful or as tidy. Once established, a native landscape requires less maintenance and irrigation than a traditional garden. This is an ideal choice for the gardener who lives in an area with watering restrictions or for someone who doesn't enjoy mowing the lawn. This book may not be a good resource for an urban gardener who is limited to a container garden, or for someone who lives in a condo with landcaping restrictions. The book is not intended as a field guide for naturalists who wish to identify native plants, but it does include in the appendix recommendations for field guides, along with a list of other resources for information on native plants.
Jan Becker is an MFA candidate at Florida International University. She is the nonfiction editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. After having resided in many different climate zones in the contiguous United States and Hawaii, she now lives in Pompano Beach, FL (Zone 9). Her writing has appeared in Sliver of Stone Magazine.