The Coastal Star

Secret Garden: Transform your yard into an oasis with native plants

Garden tour to be source of landscaping ideas

By Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley

Residents looking for new ideas to attract more birds and butterflies to their yards and snowbirds interested in landscaping that doesn’t need much maintenance while they are up north might want to attend the annual Native Plant Garden Tour.

The Nov. 11 tour is sponsored by the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

“We want to encourage people to plant Florida natives because only they support our native insects and those insects support birds,” explained society member Susan Lerner, who says proceeds will benefit her group’s educational programs.

The tour will stop at six destinations west of Military Trail, north of Woolbright Road and south of Northlake Boulevard in Palm Beach County. That facilitates driving from one location to the next.

Since March, Lerner has been on the lookout for gardens that are planted in about 80 percent native flora and made up of at least 40 native species.

“If a person has only a couple of cabbage palms and some cocoplum hedges, we don’t qualify that as a native garden,” said Lerner, who for this tour selected large gardens, including one that covers 5 acres.

These properties qualify not only because of what they have but also by what they eschew, which are invasive plants as defined by Palm Beach County and the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. And if any of these invasives are present, they will be labeled as such.

For the first time on this tour, Lerner’s own half-acre garden in West Palm Beach will be on view. “When I moved in about 10 years ago, the place was pretty typical with a swimming pool, exotic and invasive plants around the perimeter of the property and surrounding the house as well as the mandatory lawn of grass and weeds,” she said.

Her first step was to call Carl Terwilliger, the owner of Meadow Beauty Nursery in Lake Worth. She hired him to inventory the natives already on the property. He found only about a half-dozen mature cabbage palms and a couple of slash palms among the Brazilian pepper, mother-in-law tongues, wedelia, tuberous sword fern and other invasives and exotics.

“Next I started thinning things out; there was tons of removal work to do,” she said. That included hundreds of feet of Chalcas paniculata, which has a sweet-smelling flower at the same time it serves as a vector plant for citrus greening.

When she was ready to start planting, Lerner began with fruit trees even though they are not natives. “In my garden, I wanted there to be food for me and all the critters. It’s a garden in which everybody gets to eat,” she said.

She also studied the property’s feng shui and found the “love” corner, where she planted a Haden mango in honor of her deceased parents, who claimed this variety as their favorite. “It seemed like the nice thing to do. And energy-wise, it was a good thing,” she said.

Her mangoes are particularly interesting because that Haden is grafted with a Mahachanok, so she gets two types of mangoes from the same tree.

When you visit, you’ll be able to view a basket with bananas and fruit from three twice-grafted mango trees, jaboticaba, mamey sapote and abiu, which produces a peach-sized golden-yellow fruit.

You’ll also see how native shrubs, flowers and trees can be used for landscaping. And you’ll discover how she converted that 15,000-gallon swimming pool into a pond complete with goldfish and water lilies.

Lerner believes that humans, instead of taking over the land and using it only for their own purposes, should share the earth with all living things.

“It’s all about stewardship,” she said. And that’s why she plants natives and wants to share their advantages with you on this garden tour.

Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at

If You Go

What: Native Plant Garden Tour

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 11 

Cost: $10 paid in cash or check at your first stop; free for Florida Native Plant Society members and children 13 and under. Where: Garden stops are in Boynton Beach, Wellington, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach. Visit for more information, including tour stop addresses.

Plant giveaway and book sale

     The first 250 people to visit the tour stop at Susan Lerner’s home in West Palm Beach will receive two free native plants: a fogfruit groundcover that hosts three types of butterflies as well as a Simpson’s stopper, a shrub or small tree that supports birds and pollinators (one pair of plants per household).

    Here too you can purchase the catalog from “Renewal: Going Native,” a recent exhibition and sale of native plant photography at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre.

Photography contest

     You can enter nature photos taken during the tour. It’s free to enter and the winner will receive memberships in the society and the Photographic Centre, in West Palm Beach. The winning photo will hang at the center if a print is provided. The winner and five runners-up will appear in the society’s monthly newsletter.

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