Inspirations for native landscapes

There are no set rules for how to landscape your yard.  Find what you like in nature and incorporate this into your landscape at home.  This is an exciting time in which people are trying new landscape ideas with wildlife, water use and global warming in mind. 

When visiting natural areas for ideas, notice the spacing of larger trees and the combinations of understory trees, shrubs and ground covers.  You may have to look at several locations before the right one is found to copy in your yard.  Keep in mind that many preserves have invasives or are not managed properly.  Pine forest is often succeeded by oaks in the absence of fire. Just keep your oaks separated from the pines if you are creating a pine flatwoods theme or the oaks will shade out your pines over time.
I personally like the look of tall pines with a low understory of native grasses, wildflowers and groups of shrubs like saw palmetto, myrsine and dahoon holly.  Use these shrubs and low plants to create winding paths and connected open areas.

You may want to plant a coastal hammock near your house for a subtropical look that fits with your neighborhood. Gumbo limbo, paradise tree, mastic, Spanish stopper, wild coffee, marlberry, Jamaica caper and others provide a “tropical” look near the house and front yard that blends in nicely with most manicured neighborhoods.  It is no longer considered unusual to plant slash pine and saw palmetto in the front yard as more people become familiar with these plants. If you are lucky, many native pines, oaks and cypress will be preserved in your neighborhood and you can stay with this theme anywhere on the property.

Do not fall into the trap of copying what you see around you.  You don’t want to plant a foundation planting to hide your basement windows because you don’t have any basement windows.  Small groupings of shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers are all that is needed.  Don’t be afraid to leave bare areas with mulch which will be replaced by leaves from your trees later on.  Brown is not a bad color and even dead palm fronds provide hiding places for birds and other beneficial wildlife.  We square off, hack at, pick at and over-water most of our poor plants until they are ruined.  Think of all the lolly-popped oak trees out there and pines that have died from irrigation water.  Irrigation water raises the pH of the soil and weakens the pines while the hurricanes simply finished them off.  Don’t get me started on this pine beetle nonsense either.

Views are very important but in some cases your view of your view may need a review.  For instance the view of your lake edge can be improved with tall cypress, pines, oaks and maple.  The trunks will frame the view out of your picture window and give you a little privacy as well.  Maybe your neighbors across the lake will return the favor and give you something other than their barbeque grill and trash bins to look at. Does yippy come running out and bark at you from across the lake every time you go out back?

A clear site to the front door is often important.  This helps in crime prevention and makes the late night walk from the car to the front door a lot less scary for some.  This is up to you; some people would rather enclose the front and have the privacy.

When considering wildlife, you may want to have several kinds of shrubs that fruit at different times.  This way your birds will always have food and the moisture that berries provide.  A bird bath with a drip line connected to a timer and hose bib is very important.  The water is refreshed each day and you can be sure to see the birds as they get used to the time of day that this comes on.  Make sure there are shrubs around the bath so that the birds can escape into them from hawks.  Keep your cat indoors.  Cats are native to Africa and it is just not fair to place an efficient, nonnative, unnaturally abundant killer in the yard.  Leave a six foot ring of bare ground around the bath so that the neighbor’s cat can’t hide easily.

The best book that I have found is “American Woodland Garden” by Rick Darke, Timber Press.  This book will show you ways to appreciate the beauty of nature and has been very inspiring to me.  The best compliment that someone can give you on your yard is “Did you landscape this yard or just leave the beautiful native plants that occurred here naturally?”.