Sunday, August 21, 2011

Natives Gone Wild!

When we first embarked on our landscape makeover in January 2010, we wanted to create a yard that would inspire others to step outside the traditional Florida landscape box -- a large expanse of lawn with a border of shrubs around the house, and a palm tree plunked here and there.

Beach sunflower is a colorful summer favorite
Working with landscape designer Lisa Strange we decided on a mix of native and non-native, but Florida-compatible plants. And, of course, as you all know, no grass. I asked Lisa to include plants that anyone could readily find at their local nursery or home improvement store.Thus our landscape features familiar friends like liriope, shell ginger, flax lily and African iris -- all of which I love and recommend highly.

But as time goes on I am drawn more and more to our resilient, adaptable natives. One that was slow to grow on me (pun intended) was the Ocala anise, a shrub we use as a foundational plant along our back fence.  Last year when we planted them, I had to water them literally every day for months. I think I would have ripped them out if not for the the fact that I invested so much sweat equity in getting them in our root-infested back yard to begin with! 

The anise have been amazingly carefree and drought-tolerant this year.I  haven't given them any supplemental water since May and they look very happy. 

Likewise with the coontie. I now realize that there is some point during every year when the coontie looks like it is at death's door, then it just bounces right back.

This summer I have added a few native wildflowers, with the emphasis on "wild." Some have grown so large and so abundantly they appear to be on steroids. The two narrow-leaved sunflowers planted last year have become multiple plants this year -- and they are nearly 9 feet tall! I had to stake most of them up to keep them from toppling over from sheer bulk, and they haven't even bloomed yet.
The distinctive Scorpion Tail

Another champion wildflower this year is the delicate, leafy scorpion tail, with its distinctive curly white "tail." Again, I started with two plants. Those two spread so rapidly and became so large I've had to prune them 3 times already to keep them from literally taking over my butterfly bed.

Mistflower can become invasive, and requires reining in occasionally
Not far behind is the dainty mistflower, with its fuzzy, pale blue blossoms and leaves that look much like a salvia. I purchased one plant last year, it didn't impress me much and then disappeared completely over the winter. To my surprise, it returned this year, with a vengeance. I now have a large beautiful clump of these pastel beauties and will have to keep it under control through pruning and pulling. 

A close look at dotted horsemint
reveals its exquisite beauty
Tropical sage with GIANT
narrow-leaved sunflowers in back
Tropical sage has reached near-invasive status in my yard. It grows to more than 4 feet high and spreads so readily that I am constantly yanking "strays" up and trying to pawn them off to friends, neighbors, total strangers -- anyone, please take them!

I have been noticing lovely dotted horsemint blooming along roadsides and in wild areas, and am hoping the lone horsemint planted this year in my garden will morph into a whole family next summer. I've left it some room to roam in anticipation.

Other natives I have just planted this year include spiderwort, blue-eyed grass, iron weed, greeneyes and elephant's foot.  Most were given to me by friends who are just as enthusiastic about these True Floridian as I am becoming. With many natives so hard to find except at specialty nurseries, sharing extras from your garden is a great way to promote their increased use in residential landscapes.

I'd love to know what native wildflowers have caught your fancy this summer! 


  1. Love the new look of your blog!
    Our native salvia, petunia, bulbine and milkweeds have done wonderfully all summer. Ya gotta love plants that can withstand the heat with no additional watering!

  2. It is a shame that natives are so hard to find in local nurseries. I've been slowly adding some of them to my garden, too: Carolina wild petunia, dotted horsemint, coral bean, rouge plant and some others I can't remember the names of right now.

    The sages are one of my favorites...they really thrive in the heat of summer.

  3. Thanks for noticing the change in the design, Daisy. I figured after seeing everyone's else beautiful blogs, I'd better spruce mine up too!

    Daisy and Susan, there seems to be general agreement that the sages are Marine Corps-tough. My main problem with them is keeping them from a Marine Corps-sized takeover of my yard!

    And I too wish we could find more natives for sale. In Hillsborough County, especially, natives other than coonties, coneflowers, firebush and a few others are so hard to find.
    I am so grateful to my native-loving friends for sharing some of their unusual treasures!

  4. I'm glad you made the comment you did about the coonties looking like they are dying. I've noticed the same thing. In fact, sheer laziness on my part in not replacing a dead looking one is the only thing that allowed me to see that it has come back even greener and better.

    I love the carolina wild petunia. My dotted horsemint is taking over this second year. It really attracts the bees.

  5. NanaK, I too was close to ripping up several pathetic coonties last year when I remembered the nursery guy where I bought them telling me he'd seen them bounce back from ragged brown skeletons. So I waited and, sure enough, they did bounce back! This year, when some started drooping and turning brown I was a lot less concerned.

    Good to know the horsemint will multiply and that is a a favorite of bees.