Regional sustainability

Cabbage Palm

There is a lot to read about sustainability these days, is it possible it is a local phenomena? It has to be. Given that the idea of sustainability is to save time, money and materials by using what is available locally – you have to find out what is around.

The LEED Initiative made popular by US Green Building Council (changing the way we think about building, they say) considers that any plant material grown within 500 miles of where you are building is locally sourced. I have to disagree with that 500 miles from where I am a greenhouse would be required to grow what grows outside here. I have learned a great number of new plants that I had never seen when I lived 500 miles north.

Florida may be different; but everywhere is different. Sunset Books made a great attempt to zonify America and came up with 36 named zones with added special zones for extreme climates?! The USDA seems to have 15 Zones. Who is right? Probably nobody.

So, I thought about what I can get here that is totally local and sustainable. Well, lots of things and these materials make my garden unique to my locale.

I can get great paving material from within 20 miles of my house, this is 3/8″ graded shell. Larger shell called white washed shell is available for more decorative uses.


Shell for surface of driveway

Shell for driveways, walkways, etc.

There is a place within walking distance of my house that makes stepping stones with shell in them:

Shell & Concrete Stepping Stone For Path to mailbox

Shell & Concrete Stepping Stones

Possibly a peculiarity of the area I live in; there are plant sales like garage sales almost every weekend. I rarely pay more than $5.00 for anything and talk about locally sourced. The downside to this is very few people know exactly what it is they are selling – its a Green Bromeliad. On the other hand, it is always a surprise when one of these treasures bloom. One of the joys of gardening.

The Mysterious Green Bromeliad

The Mysterious Green Bromeliad

Here is my latest purchase, a nice Chartruesy Green Bromeliad that supposedly takes full sun. That is the full extent of my knowledge, I can’t wait to see what it does. Gardening teaches patience.

Garden Writing- What are we doing?

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I have been blogging for just about a year and I will have to say enjoying the experience. I have chatted with gardeners from around the world and learned that gardeners are interested in what grows well, everywhere. It always amazes me how the simple act of planting a seedling cuts through all socioeconomic, age and racial lines. Someone from all walks of life is interested in what actually comes up and flowers/fruits or whatever.

During the past year I managed to have one article published in a national magazine and have been disappointed and in some cases appalled by the comments I get from the Editors. I preface this by saying I have been in the design business for thirty years, which is populated by zealous critical people, and yes they can be very snooty.

I am shocked to find that magazine editors are much, much worse than designers.  Rude and snooty. Maybe I am just an old lady. And frankly, not really sure why the editors have this attitude. The major complaint they have with me is that I live in Florida. Ewww, think about it, though, this is the third most populous state in the USA – there are lots of ooky Floridians. My suspicion is they buy magazines.

Really, if you think about almost anywhere you live thirty miles (60km) up the road the gardeners are growing something you can’t. Gardens and design are gardens and design plant material is a tool.

I think what I am writing about is my gardening experience, not that everyone in the world should be planting Heliconias in their front yard. Things are never that simple. I also like to read about what everyone else is growing everywhere else. I love to hear about people adding sustainable ideas to their gardens and sharing the ideas.  There are good ideas in every climate and really from every gardener.

Making gardens is a noble task. Wherever you might be.

i would really love some opinions on this…


Rain Gardens on the Treasure Coast

We have a local environmental blogger here on the Treasure Coast who posted  about Rain Gardens and inspired this.

I have been designing Rain Gardens for about 10 years. It is a great idea for the environment, but aesthetically it is difficult to cope with the fact that unless carefully planned it looks like a big drainage ditch in your front yard. Not a good look.

I decided to put some Rain Gardens around our house after discovering that the areas right around the house were not irrigated and the house had no gutters so the rain collected on the ground around the house and was not really concentrated by gutters into 4 or 5 spots.

The lack of gutters on the roof is relatively common here, this is new to me. I am not quite sure why – maybe Hurricanes blow them off. Anyway, we bought the house without gutters and I always, always hated dealing with getting the gutters cleaned, etc. on our house in Atlanta. I was happy not to have gutters.

Then it rained, like seven inches. Wow, there were pits in the areas under the valleys of the roof where the water came off the roof. Luckily the yard was so gruesome there was no question about redoing the driveway and landscaping. And we live on a Sugar Sand Dune, highly pervious no water stands anywhere. A big ditch was not really necessary.

My father taught Geology at Emory University. He passed on and I inherited his love of rocks, but in a more decorative way. I love stone, boulders and natural materials incorporated into the garden. I brought his rocks to Florida and planned to use them in my gardens. In Florida, I have added seashells and cap rocks in an effort to be more sustainable by using locally available material.

My Rain Gardens are in my front yard in a planter:

Rocks for Splashing

Rocks for Splashing

The valley of the roof drains onto these rocks, the rocks break the speed of water and then it splashes on down the Egg Rock, waters my plants and drains back into the sand. This planter is not irrigated, a bit of a sin in South Florida – it is maintained for the most part by rain. I occasionally water the Plumeria in  winter. The plants are placed out from under the edge of the roof  so they get watered and not beaten by a big rainstorm.

Rain Garden Planter

Rain Garden Planter

This is the whole garden. A Bridal Veil Plumeria is centered on the house flanked by Lemon Blanchiata Bromeliads then FlapJack plants. A Pencil Cactus anchors the corner. The plant selection is mostly succulents or low water tolerant plants. I had to have the Plumeria for aesthetic reasons and suffer through the watering.

Rockcentric Rain Garden

Rockcentric Rain Garden

This is my other Rain Garden. Again the water comes off the corner valley and lands on the large sized Egg Rock and flows over the Black Mexican Pebbles and drains to the driveway. The driveway is made from pervious shell and drains onto a turf area with a french drain beneath it.

The Rocks are from my father’s collection and one piece of coral rock from Jensen Beach. Plants are newly planted -a Tibouchina and a Leafless Bird of Paradise. I am watering these plants to establish them.

A Seashell Driveway

The driveway is in and it is a beauty. I am so excited after all those months of living with the weed pit as my front yard. The existing driveway was pea gravel overrun with weeds. The entire thing had to be scraped away and hauled to the dump.Image After the scraping and removal of the foul pea gravel a gigantic pile of shell and base material appeared. The driveway is constructed by scraping off enough material to have 4-6″ depth to backfill. The base area is graded for water to drain off properly then a base material is placed. The base is crushed shell about 2″ thick followed by 2-3″ layer of the shell for the driving surface. The crushed shell base looks like coarse sand and the shell topping looks like thousands of tiny shells. Because that is what it is. Theoretically,the crushed shell base course tamps down over time and forms a permeable stable layer for the driving surface.

Pile of Shell

Pile of Shell

Shell used for driveways is quarried for the most part on the West Coast of Florida. I believe the shell in my front yard comes from the South side of Lake Okeechobee. This is to a certain extent a word of mouth bit of info. The shell is from a broker who bought it from somebody who bought it from somebody else. Interestingly enough the shell is cheaper than pea gravel because it doesn’t have to be shipped as far from its source. Shell is not supposed to sink into the ground as gravel does, I am going to be interested to see how it holds up… TA DA, the driveway:

The Shell Driveway

The Shell Driveway

Now, onto the green part, Landscaping. Note the repulsive grass/weed groundcover..Ugly. Soon to be gone.