By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley
As you drive, walk or pedal along A1A in Ocean Ridge, take a break in front of the Town Hall. Or, if you have business to conduct at this government center, take a minute in the parking lot.
What’s worth noticing is the small but thriving native garden set like a tropical island in the macadam.
The members of the Ocean Ridge Garden Club’s beautification and conservation committee donated their time, energy and knowledge to landscape this spot.
“When we started, there were only a few straggly shrubs from the initial landscaping. We felt it was time to revisit the spot and fluff it up,” says Julia Walker, co-chair of the committee.
To fully enjoy the garden, take a seat on one of the donated concrete benches by the white informational kiosk that, along with the flagpole, anchors this garden area.
Notice the charming sea turtle mosaic on the side of the kiosk. It was donated by Geoff Pugh, who was mayor of Ocean Ridge when the garden was planted. He was so pleased with the project that he wanted his family to participate.
Work on the garden began in 2011, and it took about a year from planning to planting to getting those plants acclimatized to having the garden turned over to the town for ongoing maintenance.
The people who worked on this garden hoped it would educate newcomers about what could be done with native plants in the landscape. After all, “a native garden has benefits beyond the beauty of the plantings,” says Rita Ginsky, a longtime Garden Club member who worked on the project.
These benefits include the ability to withstand the wind, salt and limited water that affect this oceanside setting. The native plants also require little maintenance and attract local wildlife.
“This was our way of letting people know what our town is all about,” says Barbara Cook, another longtime club member who was instrumental in installing this garden.
To plant the garden, the women consulted with Jane Thompson, owner of Indian Trails Native Nursery west of Lake Worth Beach, who expanded on their knowledge of native flora and then delivered the plants they’d bought.
ABOVE: Two Alexander palms frame the Cape Dutch style entrance to Town Hall. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
Dr. John Wootton, a club member at the time, had been instrumental in the earlier planting of two sabal palms that were carefully chosen for their arched trunks. When planted, they reached toward each other to suggest a heart shape.
To finish this garden centerpiece, the committee members opted to create a natural tableau with seven thatch palms placed between the graceful sabals as well as Alexander palms spaced around the plot. The gardeners not only worked with the town to get the project approved, but also dug the holes for planting and distributed bags of mulch carted to the site in the trunk of one of the member’s cars.
Over a week, they installed long-lived ornamentals such as Fakahatchee grass, 200 dune daisies, dwarf Yaupon hollies, 10 necklace pod plants that would grow into a defining hedge with dune sunflowers and bead-like seed pods, as well as dark green coontie that can attract atala butterflies.
The gardeners worked and sweated to plant in what they expected to be sandy soil. And it didn’t go too badly until they hit coral rock. Then they had to enlist Thompson’s strong back and shovel, which she had sharpened to a blade-like edge for chipping through the substrate.
With the holes dug, the plants in place and mulched, it became Cook’s job to keep them watered throughout the summer as some other club members headed north to escape the heat. That meant “dragging” the hose from the police station and hand-watering the garden, she said.
But she and other club members must have done a good job because since then, regardless of the storms and droughts that hit town, they haven’t lost a single plant, Cook said.
“We hope that anyone who sees this project today will think of Ocean Ridge as a small town that, like this garden, is flourishing,” said Garden Club President Kimberlee Duke Pompeo.
It doesn’t matter if you plant local or exotic plants, they have to be nurtured and acclimatized to their new environment in order to grow. That means you need to generously water the plants every day for about a week after planting.
The next two weeks, you water every other day and, the following week, you skip two days between waterings.
Then, for a generous period of time, you check the plants regularly to be sure they have their water needs met.
— Barbara Cook, member of the Ocean Ridge Garden Club and Florida Federation of Garden Clubs liaison
If You Go
What: Ocean Ridge Garden Club’s Native Garden
Where: Ocean Ridge Town Hall, 6450 N. Ocean Blvd.
Admission: Free for the stopping
For more information: The club has published ‘A Gardening Guide for Living on the Barrier Island.’ The 16-page booklet is available for $2 at Town Hall.
To learn more about the club: Kimberlee Duke Pompeo at kimberleein firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at email@example.com.