The Coastal Star

Secret Garden: Nursery owner educates gardeners on the ease and beauty of going native

Living up to its name, Spanish bayonet is a tough plant with a very sharp point.

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

‘Don’t get poked by that Spanish bayonet,” says Jane Thompson, pointing to a plant aptly named for its spiky foliage. Her timely warning comes as she leads me on a tour of the Indian Trails Native Nursery in Lake Worth.

We begin our tour in the demonstration garden that lets you see how well native plants work in the landscape. The area is divided into outdoor rooms as well as ecosystems, including an above-ground bog garden and a coastal maritime hammock, plus an area of mature plants.

Thompson sells about 60 species of native and Florida-friendly trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers, wildflowers and aquatics to the public at wholesale prices on Saturdays and by appointment. Many of the plants she propagates herself from seeds or cuttings. 

Thompson’s mother died recently and while at her Lakeland home, she collected 1,000 acorns from a path her mother regularly walked. Returning home, she planted them.

When they sprout and grow, she will have Pearl’s Crop named in honor of her mom.

Thompson credits her mother for helping her develop a love of nature. She remembers as a child spending hours with her watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on television. “I loved that program,” Thompson says.

She also remembers growing up near her grandfather’s farm in Gales Ferry, Conn., where she often ate strawberries while weeding the berry patch.

Her grandfather would point his finger at her and tell her to stop eating the crop. She didn’t understand how he knew until she went home and looked in a mirror. Her “crime” was as plain as the smile on her face covered in berry juice.

Although Thompson has had a successful career in computer technology, the birth of her first child led her to want to leave the “cutthroat, dog-eat-dog, climb-the-ladder, white-collar business environment” and work closer to home.

That’s when she cashed in her retirement account and bought an already operating native plant nursery on 10 acres just next door.

“When I started, I knew nothing about native plants. But I didn’t mind hard work,” she says.

And she was excited to find herself “immersed in this wonderful community of native growers who were environmentally conscious folks who embraced me with open arms,” says Thompson.

It took her about two years of hard work and study to become truly native savvy. But today, with the economy back on track, she’s found people are increasingly interested in using native plants — especially trees — in their landscapes.

“There is a large push to re-green and enhance the canopy that’s been devastated by storms and development,” she says.

Natives are beneficial because they require less fertilizer, less water and fewer pesticides — which translates to their costing less money, being easier to maintain and better for the environment than a yard full of exotics such as bougainvillea, hibiscus and showy palms. They also attract many birds, bees and butterflies.

ABOVE: Indian Trails has a demonstration garden that includes coastal tolerant plants such as this blooming spider lily, horizontal coco plum and beach sunflower.  BELOW: The fingernail-size bloom of the native twinflower.  Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Walking from the lush demo garden to the nursery’s sales area, we arrive at a large display of 6-inch pots filled with native wildflowers, with many already attracting butterflies.

Thompson also shows me 3-gallon pots filled with larger shrubs, trees and grasses such as Bahama coffee, pink muhly grass and sweetbay magnolia, which Thompson says is a popular choice.

We keep walking and arrive at a miniature forest of 7- to 30-gallon pots filled with slash pines, live oaks, gumbo limbos, Florida privets and more.

Of course, the slower growing the plant, the harder it is to propagate; and the rarer it is, the more expensive it will be. Thompson urges readers to check her website for price and availability of stock.

After years of seeing landscapes featuring multicolored trinette, ficus bushes and ixora, Thompson is happy that more and more gardeners are discovering the ease and beauty of going native.

Gardening tip

“People are learning that native plants can be used in multiple ways in just about any landscape. If you need a hedge, there’s Jamaican caper. Thatch palms are the perfect tree to fill a corner. Crabwood can be used as a buffer between neighbors. And a thick carpet of sunshine mimosa can replace sod. Even if you have only a small yard or patio, native plants can be used to advantage. Place a native twinflower in a hanging pot or a small crabwood in a large container. You can picture them on a porch.

Jane Thompson, owner of Indian Trails Native Nursery,  Lake Worth

Contact Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley at debhartz@att.net.

If You Go

Where: Indian Trails Native Nursery, 6315 Park Lane W., Lake Worth.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; weekdays by appointment only (strictly enforced); closed Sundays.

Information: 641-9488 or indiantrails.vpweb.com; Check web page for plant availability and wholesale-to-the-public pricing.

What you should know: Owner Jane Thompson supports veterans and children’s gardening projects such as those sponsored by the Scouts and local schools. Contact her for more information.

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