(Field Trip Fridays capture interesting, fun, food-related and/or fishing adventures that I like to share with you!)
I’ve lived in southwest Florida for more than 25 years, and home gardening has eluded me most of that time. But recently I’ve started vegetable gardening and learning about the types of plants that thrive in our sometimes ‘challenging’ environment.
According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), native plants are defined as those that “occur naturally in our area. . .those that have evolved over time with the biological and physical factors to their region, such as soil, climate and rainfall.” These plants offer many benefits to our Florida landscapes because they attract wildlife, provide food and shelter to that wildlife, and thrive in regional communities.
To see some, I visited a very special place. Florida Native Plants Nursery, formerly Florida Scrub Growers, was started by Tim Cash in 1982. He was passionate about growing native plants and incorporating them into landscape design. At the time, it was a new concept, but he became recognized as a leader in this preservation ‘movement’ of sorts and his legacy continues via current owners Laurel Schiller and Fran Palmeri, two champions of promoting Florida’s natural environment. Schiller has been an owner and a worker at the 10-acre nursery for the last 30 years. The staff of three women consists of Schiller, Marta Ellis and Schiller’s daughter, Annie, who help folks identify the best plants to incorporate into yards and community spaces, with special emphasis on gardening naturally and expanding wildlife habitat to attract pollinators (i.e., bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds).
I recently visited the nursery and spoke with Annie Schiller. In addition to co-managing the nursery, handling landscape design projects and tackling social media, Annie runs William’s Wildflowers. You can’t miss her cool Airstream trailer near the main entrance – it’s a floral studio where she runs the operation for her southwest Florida clients.
Annie creates beautiful arrangements for weddings and special occasions, using only locally grown plants during Florida’s seasons. Most of the materials she uses are grown at the nursery, but she also likes to seek out other local sources of flowers and foliage. Each hand-selected and seasonal flower palette highlights native flowers and is made in coordination with color and style wishes of her client. Annie handles about 8 weddings per season (September – early Summer) and her finished pieces are absolutely gorgeous (click here to see some).
The nursery itself is ‘green,’ employing organic practices (i.e., no pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic chemicals), even though it’s not officially certified, and the team is proud of their efforts to produce a low carbon footprint. They’re also excited about future projects, including 1) reforesting the pasture (which currently houses 2 sheep, a mule, a donkey, 2 pigs and some chickens) by planting native red cedar and pine trees to provide excellent bird habitat, and 2) increasing cut flower and native plant growing areas, in order to expand the William’s Wildflowers offerings, as well as, retail nursery sales.
Both Annie and her mom believe that what we plant in our gardens matters. “Native plants represent the real Florida, are hardy and easy to grow, help keep our water clean, and are crucial to keeping wildlife alive, including pollinators. They also aid gardeners who are growing edibles by bringing in beneficial insects and pollinators,” said Annie.
Note: if you’d like to see one of their gardens designed to attract pollinators, check out the Butterfly Garden at The Florida House Institute in Sarasota.
Florida Native Plant Nursery is open Thursday thru Sunday and is located at 730 Myakka Road in Sarasota. If you’re considering landscape changes, just getting started on a new design, or simply want to try one native plant in your garden, you’ll love visiting this sweet place filled with great energy and inspiration 🙂