Growing up in South Florida was fun and carefree. I spent most of my free time in our backyard pool that was surrounded by lush vegetation. Coconuts palms swayed next to a massive orange tree with its juicy fruits, and Christmas palms provided constant supplies of little red seed-rockets. The foliage around our white ranch-style house in Fort Lauderdale was diverse and colorful, and I thought that this setting was completely normal and natural.
Then we moved to Boca. This move was the South Florida equivalent of sending the urbanophile Zsa Zsa Gabor to Green Acres, although our family never really left the city far behind. We ended up commuting up and down I-95 everyday to continue our real life in northern Ft. Lauderdale (the good side of the tracks). Traffic in the early 80s was light, and most destinations were accessible in less than 30 minutes.
But what a difference a half-hour makes. Here is where I discovered natural Florida – the Florida that could not be tamed nor prevented from invading the house. The spiders! The snakes! It was enough to “allow” me to get my first dog, Buffy, whose real purpose was to act as a snake-buffer for my mother.
Mind you, this spot on the Hillsborough Canal was not the Everglades, but it was west of I-95, which is those days was a mix of golf course communities and the jungle (the jungle has since been removed). My dad opted for the jungle, so there were only four other houses within a several mile radius. Our mini-development was called Rio del Mar, meaning River of the Sea. It was also the end of the road.
Although our newly constructed house had a pool in the front yard (and a basement no less, where Buffy slept), I didn’t spend much time in that pool, mainly because I was worn out from training every day with my swim team. Also, there were no other kids in the “neighborhood” to splash around with, so I opted to go exploring in the piney woods with Buffy.
The area was covered with sugar sand, the whitish kind that is terrible for farming but fine and dandy for native plants. Above us soared huge pine trees, and around us the saw palmettos grew like weeds. These plants were one of the best features of our two-acre property, as a large clump of them had been preserved when the lot was carved out of the jungle, and inside this impenetrable thicket lived lots of bunnies and creepy-crawlies.
Most of the other houses in Boca Raton had obliterated the jungle to create endless lawns, but we kept a slice of it. Ironically, two decades later, I had to spend thousands of dollars to recreate a native habitat that from my childhood had been provided by nature, for free. And I love this little yard, too.
So take a lesson from this little story. As much as possible, preserve what God has given us instead of trying to create something better. You can’t. The exotic trees of my first home have long ago died of diseases such as yellowing and citrus canker, or turned out to be destructive invaders, like melaleuca. My new native plants, on the other hand, are flourishing and don’t even need to be watered. City or country, they belong here.