by Dixie Tate
Florida Wildflower Foundation member Kay Yeuell was born in Orange County, and spent his childhood in Florida and Massachusetts. After graduating from Boston University, Yeuell ran a family manufacturing business in the Boston area for 25 years. When he retired in the mid-1980s, Yeuell moved back to Florida with his wife, Linda Lord.
Yeuell recalls, “The state’s economy was booming, and rapid development and urban sprawl were drastically changing the local landscape I had known as a child.” So he got involved in environmental issues. “I started doing water quality sampling for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection while pursuing a degree in environmental studies at Rollins College, and then worked as an environmental manager for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.” Since retiring from that position, Yeuell has racked up thousands of volunteer hours, the most satisfying of which, he says, was working to restore natural lands at the Disney Wilderness Preserve.
Lord, who was born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, a lush tropical rainforest landscape “full of astonishingly large and exotic creatures and plants,” moved to Iowa with her family when she was a child. “All of the family had a strong environmental awareness, especially my great uncle, the naturalist Aldo Leopold, and I grew up immersed in that,” says Lord, a graduate of both Harvard and Boston universities. The move to Florida shifted her focus to environmental issues. She worked for an environmental foundation in Winter Park, and for the past 20-plus years has been a technical editor and writer for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Yeuell and Lord became acquainted with the Florida Wildflower Foundation thanks to fellow Maitland resident and FWF Executive Director Lisa Roberts. The two environmental enthusiasts support the Foundation “because it works to educate and support the efforts of people like us, one self-sustaining yard at a time. We also appreciate the work the Foundation is doing to address the big picture through planting and sustaining native wildflowers along rural roadsides.”
Read more about why they stay involved — as well as insight into their gardening practices and philosophy — in the discussion below:
Linda: Our home landscape is a mix of natives and exotics (the latter mostly well behaved). It is constantly evolving and changing as the amount of shade and other conditions in the garden change. Unfortunately, we have lost a number of trees over the years, including several huge hollies that were attacked by witch’s broom fungus, a couple of large Dutch elms and a cherry laurel tree that reached the end of their life spans, and a grapefruit tree that suffered a fatal decline from citrus greening. We replanted with native trees such as live oaks and winged elm, and added native shrubs, including American beautyberry, firebush, and Walter’s viburnum.
I am always open to planting more natives, but I like plants from other parts of the world — such as amaryllis and caladiums — too much to stop planting them entirely. One area I would like to work on is to plant more native perennials, to encourage even more insects and hummingbirds to visit the garden.
It has been so rewarding to see wildlife come back as the plants have grown. There are many more birds and insects and lizards now. Soil that used to be compacted and apparently lifeless is full of earthworms. We have resident snakes and moles, as well as opossums and raccoons, who seem to like the abundant food supply. The plants mostly take care of themselves, while I spend much of my time pruning them and eliminating competitors. To me, it’s a matter of guiding, not controlling, the changes in the landscape — encouraging and supporting certain species and discouraging others, especially the garden “bullies” that want to take over (which can include both natives and non-natives).
Kay: What is so great about native wildflowers and other native plants is that they fit into their environment with a minimum of external aid and fuss. What is most important is the “minimum external aid” part. Over time, we have cut way back on the amount of grass in both front and back yards, and added drought-tolerant plants instead, with a layer of pine bark mulch to keep the weeds down. We don’t fertilize or use pesticides on our grass either. We do irrigate but not nearly as much as the previous owner.
If you like a plant, go for it, but remember: If it turns out to be aggressive in that location, you have an obligation to control it and also keep a lookout for seedlings that come from less careful neighbors. We are both always on the lookout for invasive exotics. These are noxious vines like skunkvine or wild balsam apple creeping over/under the neighbor’s fence, the air potato tuber or rosary pea carried in by land or air. Torpedo grass is an aquatic menace that mysteriously sprang up from deep underground rhizomes in our upland garden and now slowly creeps into everything. We used to ignore asparagus fern seedlings but once established, they invade other plantings; now we pull them out ruthlessly.
Kay and Linda: Our advice is to always be open to experimentation, and to start small. You don’t have to uproot your whole garden to enjoy native wildflowers and the many bees, butterflies and other animals they attract. Just start with a few plants that you like in a small area, or interplant a few natives with other non-native plants, or put out a couple of garden pots and put wildflowers in those.
Our suburban garden is a work in progress, and it is far from perfect. We have made many mistakes over the years, and killed lots of plants. Overall, though, the garden is thriving and growing and changing. We think of it as a tiny part of a very big picture. And we are convinced that the contributions of many people, each made on a small scale, can make a huge difference over time.