Saturday, February 21, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come

When we first moved into the house in November 2007, we spent most of the first few months focused on the inside and basics - roof, windows, painting, minor repairs, light fixtures, etc. Finally, in March 2008, it was time to tackle the yard. To begin, of course we needed to assess what we had to work with and what we wanted to accomplish.

Our yard is tiny - about one-tenth of an acre. There were a few "gardens" around the front of the house, but the rest was patchy grass and overgrown weeds. On one side, the neighbors had a wooden fence. In the backyard, we had about 15 feet of yard from the edge of the screened-in porch; the remaining 15 feet or so down to the lake belonged to the community and was cared for by the HOA.

So, we didn't have much to start with, but we had very definite visions about what we wanted to create. Our main goal was to take our tiny piece of suburban Tampa and create our own mini wildlife refuge. We couldn't control what our neighbors did, but we could take charge of our own yard. We laid a few ground rules:
  • Use native plants whenever possible. Other "Florida Friendly" plants could be used, but invasive species had to be eliminated if already present.
  • Create a low-maintenance yard that would require minimal care, especially in the ridiculously hot summer months.
  • Avoid chemical fertilizers and pesticides in general, and use organic-based fertilizers and pesticides on an as-needed basis.
  • Garden for wildlife. Create an environment where creatures could find food, shelter, nesting areas, etc. and wouldn't be threatened by poisons or other harsh environmental factors.
As with most projects, we made sketches, laid down a budget (yeah, right!), and enlisted help (Thanks, Mom!). Over the last year, we've made remarkable progress, and today we have a yard that attracts dozens of birds each day, has a thriving butterfly garden in the summer and fall months, requires little watering, fertilizer, or pesticides, and just generally makes us happy.

My goal with this blog is to provide others with the benefit of our knowledge. I plan to show in detail how we turned a little plot of land into a thriving wildlife sanctuary, right here on the edge of a big city. I'll display pictures of our daily visitors and tell you how we bring them to our yard. And I'll share my ongoing successes and failures as I continue to learn what works in My Florida Backyard, so perhaps you can try the same in yours.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning...

Once upon a time, a man and a woman moved from Ohio to Florida to escape the long dreary winters. Unlike many people who do this, this man and woman were in their late 20's, not their late 60's. After living in an apartment for a few years, they decided to buy a house.

When they began looking for a house, they had one major feature in mind: it had to be situated on a lake or pond. Although they would have loved to live on the beach, that's not practical or wise in hurricane country, so they contented themselves with being a dozen miles inland and living on freshwater. Soon, they found a house that seemed just perfect.

Well, OK, not perfect. It needed a new roof, the bathrooms were sadly outdated, the paint scheme was dreadful, the dishwasher was broken, the windows were missing screens and refused to stay propped open, it was directly in the airport flight path... the list goes on. Yet, for this young couple, the house had a redeeming quality that seemed to overshadow all others - a huge screened-in porch overlooking a lake:

And so they bought the house. And the adventure began...