Posted by: floridanature | April 29, 2009

Earth Day Comes to my Backyard

I opened my backyard to my neighbors last week. The occasion was Earth Day, which sported a bunch of activities everywhere. It was particularly notable in Sanford, since in the past the Orwellian spinmeisters wouldn’t even allow the term “Earth Day” to be used—instead, hiding inside cliches like “Spring Fest”, et. al.

pond being built

pond being built

Just up the street, there’s a large open green space that our neighborhood park committee had saved from, first, being turned into a garish, concrete-covered public safety complex—and then later, from being chipped away in commercial sales that would benefit the city. And so on Earth Day, the nearby “18th Street Park” hosted hundreds of folks curious about all manner of nature.

A national magazine asked me to write about how I felt about Earth Day a few years ago. I took the reactive stance: Like Christmas, where people force themselves to be kind and giving for a few days, Earth Day was also in danger of being a token celebration. One where you professed your greenness for a day or so, and then went back to exhaling, burning, and otherwise generating large amounts of carbon.

I’m over that now, and figure that if folks are going to plant a tree they otherwise would not have planted, well, that’s a good thing.

Likewise for my backyard, which has gradually been turned into an enfenced sanctuary where almost anything can happen, just like out in the woods or on the river. I agreed to be part of a tour of neighborhood gardens, as long as I could describe my space as the “un-garden”, and so I did. Prior to the tour, I worked hard to knock out a few projects that I’ve been thinking of for a while: With neighbor Dennis Sneed, I retrieved several hundred bricks—many of which were big, solid, and old—from a guy’s backyard. After I paid him for the blocks, he tossed into several hundred pounds of slab like stone, and Dennis graciously helped me load that, too.


The stone turned into a dandy patio for my old outdoor table and chairs from Sewell Road, thanks to my friend Yvette, who helped me set the stone in the ground. I mulched some of the paths, and creating a new one leading to the neat old birdbath I brought with me from Sewell Road as well; I carefully scrapped it and painted it white, and then found the statue of the naked little boy holding a duck, and put it in the dip of the bowl. I dug around in the garage and pulled out several long pieces of lathing, neat old wood once used inside of shipping containers. They, too, had made the trip from the old Sewell farmhouse with me, and I had always looked forward to finding a way to use them. Finally, it dawned on me that, if cleaned, sanded, and varnished, the rich golden-brown grain would pop out, and—if properly cut—would make a dandy trellis.

A small sprig of a passion flower I once brought back from the woods had, by now, turned into a stunning vine, and was busy crawling its way up some bamboo reeds, bursting with its wonderful purple flowers, a blossom so ornate it seems more like a dream shard than a real native plant. The vine and the new trellis were a perfect match.


Elsewhere, I spiffed up the pond with its flowing water fountain, and culled out some of the floating hyacinths. When I did, I noticed at least four massive tadpoles lumbering about. They were laid by bullfrogs, herps that somehow found their way inside the fence to the pond. Maybe they heard or smelled the running water; maybe, a southern leopard frog who had earlier graduated from the pond whispered the knowledge of it to them.

My friend Julie brought me by some neat little grasses that bloomed with bright red flowers, and a “walking African iris” that added some more color. The confederate jasmine was in full bloom; as were the blue flowers of the spiderwort, a plant that came into its own after I stopped cutting the ridiculous St. Augustine grass. Lantana was popping out new blossoms, as were the white morning glories, all realizing themselves in a place that had once been given over to a coifed lawn. And so, the butterflies were starting to come, the queen and tiger swallowtails, the zebra longwings, even a couple of monarchs. *

Karina Veaudry, a friend who is a landscape architect, created a striking design for the yard; although I didn’t have time to integrate it before the ‘tour’, I at least learned from some of her great ideas about native plants.

And finally, Sharon Muldoon, a plein air artist came out during that Saturday, and sitting in the corner near the citrus tree, turned out several wonderful pastels capturing the moment and time. In all, it was a great show of community spirit, of the sort you used to see in small towns all across the country, back before corporations and corrupt politicians begin wedging upcale, walled subdivisions into an otherwise stunning Florida countryside. Neighboorness is what it’s all about, a life quality you can’t pull off the shelf, a behavior that can only evolve naturally, custom made for each real life circumstance. It’s about caring, the antithesis of sprawl and the isolation it breeds. eden-078

And so the enfenced sanctuary seemed a happy space—I could no longer call it a “yard”. I finished it off by erecting a small sign from the National Wildlife Federation that had certified this space as an official “wildlife habitat” for its availability of food and shelter for critters. And I asked Mike Barr at Keep Seminole Beautiful if he had some packets of wildflower seeds I might hand out to folks traipsing through. He generously provided about 100 packets of black-eyed susan, and folks really seemed to enjoy getting them when they came to visit. The wildflowers were sort of iconic: it was more than the aesthetic, having to do with simply letting things be—scant water, no chemicals, etc. It was a native that was here before we arrived, and would be here after we’re gone.

I let the little family of black racers know it might be a good day to lay low, since even most wildflower fanciers might not get the snake thing. But, when I assembled an inventory of plants and animals that lived or visited the space, I added them to the list since it would be unfair not to. In all, the space was relaxing; the water flowing, the cardinals and Carolina wrens hiding in the foliage like holiday ornaments, the butterflies drifting through like large shards of parade confetti. *


Shep is buried out here, near the pond, his tiny grave marked with a perfect stick, of the sort he loved to chase. I hope his spirit enjoys this little world within a world as much as I do.



  1. Nice Passion Flower photo. Hiking recently at Brooker Creek Preserve I came across a wild field of Passion Flower. The plant was dominating the landscape. Good job with the backyard.

  2. Are you by chance familiar with Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County? Sadly the county has plans to develop 2,000 acres of the preserve. I have recently wrote a blog about this preserve. I hope nothing ever happens to Wekiva.

  3. Hi Puc-Thanks for the comment. Yes, I had given a presentation a while back at that nature center. Too bad about the loss of that land. The Wekiva park land is protected via public ownership, but there’s plenty of key chunks of corridor still unprotected. Like everything else natural in Florida, it will always face challenges, I’m afraid.

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