Gardening: Take the guesswork out of green gardening

7960596493?profile=originalGeorge Gann, standing in a natural setting of blackbead and saw palmetto,

has created a website and phone app (below) to assist local gardeners.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

7960597076?profile=original

By Christine Davis

    Are you a wannabe gardener, and your thumb isn’t green, but your way of thinking is? Would you like to know the difference between a baygall and a coastal strand? Do you know that “exotic” plants are probably things you shouldn’t have in your garden?
    If you are wondering about any of these things, check out “Natives for Your Neighborhood,” an easy-to-use program at www.regionalconservation.org.
    Created by the Institute for Regional Conservation, a Delray Beach-based nonprofit started by Delray Beach resident George Gann in the 1980s, “Natives for Your Neighborhood” aims to help South Floridians grow gardens that re-create natural habitats specific to their neighborhoods.
    Typing in your ZIP code will generate a list of plants that will thrive in your yard. Click on one, and you will see what it looks like, find out where to buy it, learn what wildlife it attracts and get contact information on landscapers specializing in native plants.
    By planting natives that flourish in your neighborhood, you will reduce water, pesticide and fertilizer usage, while enjoying birds and butterflies. And you will be contributing to the conservation and restoration of South Florida’s natural environment.
    If you have a problem area — say, a low spot that collects water — you can do an advanced search, which will return a list of compatible plants that will grow in that type of environment in your specific ZIP code.
    Pretty cool, huh?
    Many people seem to think so. “Natives for Your Neighborhoods” receives 10,000 page views per week, and beginning gardeners aren’t the only ones who find this site useful. More experienced gardeners and land managers use the site, too.
    While planting with natives may be new to some gardeners, Gann, a descendant of South Florida pioneers, has been working with natives much of his life. He helped out with his family’s business, Gann’s Tropical Greenery and Native Nursery, and helped his parents with a restoration project they undertook on their land.
    “My parents bought some property in Redland near the Monkey Jungle,” he said. “Areas like that had been pine forests, which early settlers had cleared away for citrus, but that market didn’t work out. The property had some remnant pine trees and they went about trying to restore a native forest. They couldn’t restore the pine forest, but they could restore a hardwood hammock.”
    Gann went on to study at University of Colorado, where he earned a bachelor’s degree  in environmental conservation and international affairs. While he was still in college, he co-founded the Institute for Regional Conservation —which, according to the website, “is dedicated to the protection, restoration, and long-term management of biodiversity on a regional basis, and to the prevention of regional extinctions of rare plants, animals and ecosystems.” Gann says this description is right on.
    Ten years later, Gann proposed a new project for his institute, the Floristic Inventory of South Florida, and out of that came the “Natives for Your Neighborhood” program.
    “To encapsulate why I created the Neighborhood program: Through my life experience — I’ve been exposed to growing native plants and have been involved in projects planting native plants — it became clear to me that people needed more information on how to use native plants, be successful in growing them, that their gardens would be aesthetically pleasing, and that they could contribute to biodiversity.”
    Gann personally has conducted extensive field research and managed large multifaceted research and conservation projects. Since 1987, he has published more than 100 articles, technical reports, websites and the book Rare Plants of South Florida: Their History, Conservation and Restoration. He has given more than 100 presentations to both general and technical audiences and has been active in several professional societies, including serving on the board of the Society for Ecological Restoration, The Tropical Audubon Society and the Florida Native Plant Society.  In 2010, he was named director of Manalapan’s Gemini Botanical Garden, a private 16-acre garden with major collections of Caribbean plants, which uses naturalistic design and ecological restoration principles to display its collections.
    To Gann’s way of thinking, all native plants have unique roles to play in the environment and deserve their place in the sun (or shade, as the case may be). “A lot of conservation programs focus on some subset of nature. Our focus is on nature; we want to protect all native plants, not just the ones people are familiar with or think are most beautiful,” he said.
    “We are interested in biodiversity wherever we are working. Plants don’t arrange themselves by politics but by ecological history, as in, ‘this plant lives here, so it’s a good plant to live here in your yard.’”

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