Harbor Style Harbor Style Sept 2017 : Page 57
A garden is a work of art, each one growing more beautiful as summer fades into fall. In Charlotte Harbor, homes and gardens are built for their view – to water, a golf green, park, beautiful streetscape, pasture or nature preserve. Susan Watts and her husband live on a one-third-acre lot off Harbor Boulevard in Port Charlotte. They are new residents, having only moved here two years ago from Washington State. Their home overlooks a tidal water basin on the Elkham canal. Gil MacAdam and his wife moved from the east coast 10 years ago after finding a home with a bucolic rural setting in Fort Ogden. Both Watts and MacAdam were surprisingly motivated and thinking “out of the box” when renovating their landscapes. Each planned to add plants attracting wildlife. Both exhibited an artisan’s skill in choosing the right plants for their particular location. What resulted from their labors were quiet, almost secret garden places – yards designed for better living outdoors. ³ Story by Thomas Becker I Photography by Steve Donaldson H ARBOR STYLE | 57
Tropical Plant Palettes With A View
A garden is a work of art, each one growing more beautiful as summer fades into fall.
In Charlotte Harbor, homes and gardens are built for their view – to water, a golf green, park, beautiful streetscape, pasture or nature preserve. Susan Watts and her husband live on a one-third-acre lot off Harbor Boulevard in Port Charlotte. They are new residents, having only moved here two years ago from Washington State. Their home overlooks a tidal water basin on the Elkham canal.
Gil MacAdam and his wife moved from the east coast 10 years ago after finding a home with a bucolic rural setting in Fort Ogden.
Both Watts and MacAdam were surprisingly motivated and thinking “out of the box” when renovating their landscapes. Each planned to add plants attracting wildlife. Both exhibited an artisan’s skill in choosing the right plants for their particular location. What resulted from their labors were quiet, almost secret garden places – yards designed for better living outdoors.
A Tropical View to the Water
Not all Florida-friendly landscaping™ looks alike! Susan Watts, an engineer-turned-landscape-gardener, took up the challenge after retiring to Florida. Her challenge? Converting an odd-shaped lot and home site into one with no lawn but with great vibes and energy.
The deep-water basin along the yard’s borders has views of dolphin, manatee, osprey and other marine life. The yard’s amazing 150-foot-long curved, water’s edge makes perfect viewing across the water. Bright Adirondack chairs are placed to watch the sun rise and take in nature’s finest plants and animals.
When Watts moved in two years ago, overgrown trees and shrubs needed to be removed or rehabilitated. She kept a thorny, fat-trunked tree with massive thorns, a silk floss tree.
Knowing her gardening knowledge and experience were limited, Watts sought expertise from the Master Gardeners at the county’s extension office. She soon learned that exotic, invasive plants had to go and Florida natives could stay. That meant removing an invasive shrub lining both sides of her yard, strawberry guava.
Watts didn’t want to become a slave to any high maintenance plants in her yard. She began researching Florida-friendly plants that could replace the guava on her property. She decided to use slowgrowing ornamentals, accent plants, groundcovers and a few edibles and to not focus on just hedges for the border.
Watts kept to a promise she made to herself, keep and plant only the hardiest of plants that survive on natural rainfall only. The irrigation in her yard didn’t work nor did she want to hand water regularly.
Once several guava trees were removed, she could see what open space needed to be filled. Two of the largest trees (silk floss and shady lady) would stay, and smaller trees and shrubs would be added in critical areas. She chose blue plumbago, natal plum, Jatropha, variegated ginger, bougainvillea, red powderpuff and several others.
For Watts, a few edible trees and vegetables were tried and added. She built a raised garden bed for growing vegetables, using discarded Trek™ lumber, and started growing pineapples in large containers. Later she added trees like a Valencia Pride mango, lychee and ice cream banana. Sue also took a liking to other specialty plants: succulents, baby sun rose, jade, orchid cactus and dragon fruit.
Without any lawn, she needed to cover more open beds using drought-tolerant groundcovers: flax lily, mondo grass, variegated aloe, kalanchoe, liriope, bromeliads, walking iris, coontie, caladiums, firecracker plant and fountain grass.
Watts’ creativity and ingenuity led her to become a Master Gardener herself in 2016. Her newly found landscape skills and acquired knowledge made for trying more difficult plants: Tillandsia ionantha ‘Hondurus’, an Epidendrum radicans, a ground-rooting orchid, mistletoe cactus and several staghorn ferns.
Replacing walkway materials also had to be done. For a sloping path to the dock, she chose natural looking riverstone pavers made from concrete.
After two garden seasons of hard work, Watts’ garden took amazing shape. It became an open and inviting garden with multiple places to sit and enjoy the view. Garden rooms, of sorts, displayed art deco yard art.
She re-purposed and recycled dozens of weathered pieces and placed them along pathways, including an old urn transformed into an outdoor centerpiece planter and a succulent-filled, 1960s stained glass lampshade.
Before leaving the garden, I notice a handsome, mildly fragrant red rose known as a cracker rose. No cracker lives here, but an artist instead.
A crowning jewel in Watts’ garden is a hand-crafted garden arbor she designed and built herself. The beautiful nine-foot high arbor and trellis creates a stunning view from her kitchen window and diffuses the lawn beyond.
Interior View to Nature
Gil MacAdam describes perfectly what attracted he and his wife to their home: the natural view of open fields and wet forests. The corner lot had many attractive views: a tree-lined street, a golf course and view of 40-acres of open woodland with edge habitat. Trees bordering his lot on three sides became his canvas for planting his landscape for wildlife.
MacAdam, a local educator for birds and plants as well as a golfer, planned to keep open lawn sections and naturalize areas with heavy shade using understory shrubs.
He moved in two years after Hurricane Charley. Trees had huge gaps where large and small limbs were removed. Today, that storm damage in the trees is no longer visible. Swallow-tail kites glide over the tree tops and red-shoulder hawks hunt from inside the canopy.
When you enter the long driveway for MacAdam’s yard, you immediately see and sense the interplay of sun and shade across much of the front lawn. Eye-popping, bright red flowers cover a tall shrub, crape myrtle ‘dynamite’. He loves sharing nature’s finest.
A shady border of mature live and laurel oak trees frame the front property line. Accent trees, palms and groundcovers add more color, including a tabebuia tree, bromeliads, a firebush and pygmy date palm An extended oak tree canopy shade the driveway, noticeably dropping the air temperature five or more degrees.
MacAdam wanted to protect and preserve all of nature’s finest plants and allow them to shelter wildlife. In addition to the gorgeous live and laurel oaks, he added native Chapman’s, turkey, water, myrtle and sand live oak. At one time, all these oak species were found throughout inland Florida. Now gardeners have to search out to find these rare, sometimes scrubby oak trees endemic to sand scrub ridge habitats.
MacAdam envisioned transforming his one-acre piece of land into an attractive refuge for wildlife. Resident and migratory songbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees, dragonflies and, at night, barred owls became common. Now his yard comes alive daily, a stunning example of a certified backyard wildlife sanctuary under the National Wildlife Federation.
Even wood warblers now pass through his yard during the spring and summer migration. The Parula warbler nest in Spanish moss hanging in the oak trees. Carolina wrens nest nearby.
MacAdam calls one area of the yard the “stopper trail.” Deeply shaded, it displays white, red, redberry and Simpsons stoppers along with another critical wildlife feature, dripping water from a four-foot, layered structure containing multiple shallow pools of water.
As we walked further in and out of sunny spots, 20 feet away, we saw a sandhill crane. A symbol of tranquility for many, this fourfoot tall crane enjoys the sun and shade afforded by edge habitat that MacAdam created. Edge habitat is where tree and shrub communities meet.
MacAdam records yard bird sightings in this same area and has done so for more than 10 years. In that time, 50 species have been identified, including the bob white and the true whip-poor-will.
MacAdam has achieved what he had planned, a diverse hardwood habitat containing numerous Florida natives: fiddlewood, short-leaf fig, firebush, marlberry, wild coffee, buttonbush, winged sumac and native ferns. Plants attractive to hummingbirds include dwarf powderpuff, purple and red firespike, and Bahama Swamp-bush.
Lastly, MacAdam collects and teaches groups about the proper planting and care for two other South Florida plants. Both are shade lovers and found in the right yard places, bromeliads and stag horn ferns.
Thomas Becker is a lifelong gardener and extension educator in horticulture and Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. He teaches workshops and classes for the University of Florida/ IFAS/ Charlotte County Extension Service. To ask a gardening question, email him at email@example.com
Feature Plants for Sun
• Aechmea blanchetiana is a large feature bromeliad for open and sunny, coastal yards. Its glossy green leaves bronze to orange or red with increasing direct sunlight. Flowers are tall, branched, feathery, yellow and red spiked.
• Florida Cracker Rose is a Louis Phillippe shrub rose, a reliable old garden variety used in South Florida. Surprisingly very easy to grow, it is impervious to pest problems like black spot and other rose diseases.
• Giant Star Potato Tree (Solanum macranthum) is a wonderful tropical addition to any Florida garden. It is a small, tropical tree, 12-15 feet high and 10-12 feet wide that blooms most of the year.
• Short-leaf Fig (Ficus citrifolia) is a handsome, well-behaved native ficus. Trees produce a straight trunk, have few aerial roots and abundant small fruit borne all year.
Note: Full sun is 6 to 8 hours a day or more of direct sun, preferably in the morning instead of the very hot afternoon.
Building a Stylish Arbor
by Master Gardener, Sue Watts
Designed to fit a small, 8 x 8 x 4-foot footprint, I set out to build an attractive pergola made to last in our Florida environment, capable of withstanding the weather, intense sun, humidity, driving rains, hurricane wind and the eventual heavy weight of a woody vine.
First, I searched online (Pinterest) for pergola ideas and then developed a preliminary design and material list. Materials and plants had to come from local sources.
The original horizontal supporting lintel 2 x 6 inches was beefed up to 2 x 8 inches, eliminating several top braces. Treated lumber helped prevent rain weathering and decay. Four by four foot metal post anchors kept wood posts from rotting.
To increase its beauty and function, I finished the ends of the lintels and rafters using simple crescent cuts and added decorative metal panels as side trellises. Temporary wood lattice panels added additional privacy until the fast-growing cocoplum hedge reached 9-feet high.
I laid a sandstone flagstone over sand leading to the arbor. Cracks between flagstones were filled with polymeric sand to prevent erosion and weeds.
I planted a vigorous and twining sun-loving, vine to cover the arbor. The rare Double Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica ‘Flora-Plena’) displays a long-lasting flower cluster with white and red, fragrant, tubular flowers changing colors with age. Butterfly-attracting plants were also planted, including evolvulus, butterfly bush, coontie and marlberry.
Feature Plants for Shade
• Azalea formosa a large, eye-catching, evergreen shrub when in bloom, valued for mass planting under mature oak trees, especially east of Interstate Hwy. 75. It is a Southern garden variety with large magenta blooms opening January through March. Note: Azaleas are not well adapted to coastal areas on “in-fill” sites with highly alkaline soil conditions.
• Bahama swamp-bush (Pavonia bahamensis) is a rarely used evergreen shrub in the mallow family. When in bloom, the flower’s nectar sacs attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
• Hohenbergia correia-araujoi is a sought after and rare bromeliad discovered in 1979. Grown as an epiphyte or in soil, it has large, spectacular banded and copper brown leaves and a flower stalk with a pink stem with silver-tipped flower clusters.
• Dwarf Red Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is a popular specimen shrub, growing in part sun and shade. It reaches 5 feet tall and wide, and its silky green leaflets emerge a beautiful coppery color. Fluffy, big puffs of mildly fragrant, red flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, wasps, butterflies and hummingbirds.
• Staghorn Ferns - Purchase ones growing in moss or mounted on plaques. The most common species is Platycerium bifurcatum. It withstands winter temperatures as low as 30 degrees for a short time. Others, like veitchii, superbum, grande, hillii and alcicorne, require air temperatures greater than 50 degrees. (Learn more about staghorn ferns on November 9, 2017 when MacAdam speaks to the Port Charlotte Garden Club. Meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Charlotte.)
• White Stopper (Eugenia axillaris) along with its cousins (red, redberry, Simpson’s stopper) are all attractive, South Florida tropicals in the myrtle family. Use stoppers as large or small shrubs. Another naturalizing and shadeloving native shrub to use with stoppers is Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides).
Note: A plant preferring shade should receive less than 1-2 hours of morning direct sun daily. The more dappled the shade the better. No direct sun is often preferred.
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