President’s Hoot: Our New County Education & Demonstration Native Plant Garden

See how you can transform your grassy yard!  We’ve planted an Education & Demonstration Native Garden at County Commission Building A to help Save our Manatees, Fishes, and Birds!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2022

As part of the PIAS Trees for Life/Plants for Birds project, our vision for this garden is to educate and demonstrate to the public that a native plant garden can be beautiful and functional.  Many folks in their daily lives come to the county complex to attend commission and other meetings, pay taxes, or visit the county health department and extension offices. Now they will see that, by planting native trees and plants, they can play a role in helping solve the crises facing our climate and lagoon.  Besides being beautiful, the native plants provide food for birds and wildlife and help maintain clean water for fishes and manatees.  

Native plants have deep root systems that help them survive on natural rainfall without irrigation.  In Florida, 64 % of our shrinking drinking water supply is used to irrigate non-native turf grass; this jumps to 88% in summer!  In the U.S. native plants do not require mowing, so no 800 million gal. of gas for lawn-care equipment that emits 41 billion lbs. of CO2 and 13 billion lbs. of toxic, carcinogenic air pollutants. Lawn care uses 100 million lbs. of pernicious lawn chemicals & fertilizers at an annual cost of $45 billion.  We hope the demonstration garden will also help educate lawn-maintenance folks on how to maintain native gardens.  By planting with natives, your property’s value may even increase 5-20%. 

Thank you, Indian River County Commissioners, for approving this garden plan. The impetus for it came from County Commissioner Laura Moss.  When Commissioner Moss was on Vero Beach City Council  all the sod was removed around Vero Beach City Hall, and the site today is so beautiful.  We appreciate the help of the County’s Public Works Director, Rich Szpyrka, in working with us and whose Department, at some point, will take over maintenance of the garden who gave me a “Thumbs up and said, “It’s good!”  

Many thanks to our donors Margot Funke, Clean Water Coalition, Indian River Neighborhood Association, Temple Beth Shalom Biblical Garden Project/ Interfaith Community Group of the Treasure Coast in memory of Suzy Feeney, Henry Fischer & Sons, Florida Power & Light, and Audubon Florida. Sebastian River Farms provided the four native trees. Cheryl Ronan of ANOVA provide the recycled-plastic contour bench, which was assembled and installed by our 1st Vice President Bill Halliday and his staff Patrick Robb and Bryan Caskey.  Teresa McCarthy from Site One provided the Permaloc Landscape Edging. Britten Industries provided the wood chips for the path.  Lowe’s provided some of the pine straw at a discount.   

A very special thanks to Stephanie Dunn of Cadence Landscape Architects, one of the best in Florida, who did a terrific job of designing the native garden, directing our volunteers in planting, and assisting with the installation of the path.  She also helped plant many of the plants. 

Our chapter is so lucky to have Board Members Steve Palmquist & Ricky Ray who went to nurseries to get the 272 plants of 21 species and are part of the team of regular PIAS garden volunteers looking after the plants. Plants in the garden are Beautyberry, Beach Verbena, Blue Porterweed, Carolina Wild Petunia, Chapman’s Sweet, Cocoplum,  Goldenrod, Coontie, Elliott’s Lovegrass, Firebush, Florida Gammagrass, Florida Thatch Palm, Frogfruit, Lanceleaf Tickseed, Leavenworth’s Tickseed, Pink Muhly Grass, Rouge Plant, Satin Leaf Coffee, Scarlet Sage Tropical, Scorpion’s Tail Shiny Leaf Coffee, and  Simpson’s  Stopper.

Planting was done by community volunteers including Steve Palmquist, Kathy & Wil Cunningham, Nick Polge, David Polge, Rondie & Lan Reeser, Hadi Shalhoub, Brenda Lee Fuller, Pat Holland, Mara Duke, Laurie Duke, Judy Nafziger, Vin Gemmiti, Richard Silvestri, Chris Englund, Susan & Brad Baker, Don Weddinton, Marla Wormser, Rosemary Quim, Melissa McSulla, Cheryl Dunn, Graham Cox, Mary Wood, Bonnie Bowie, Tonia Lensky, Marion Golfinopoulos, Susan and Wes Lovelace, Terry LaPlante, and Commissioner Laura Moss.

Thank you, Bob Montanaro, our Office Manager, for taking photos and shooting a video showing  the creation of the garden and making the education sign. 

Come and be inspired, come see how you can plant your garden to save our manatees, fishes, and our birds.

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