Brain Dump: Landscaping thoughts for County “town hall”

Trying to organize my thoughts for Jeff Brower’s County-level town hall this evening. My thoughts are long and rambley but I aspire to have a short sweet to-the-point message if I speak. Thank you so much Jeff (our County Council chairman) for organizing these forums!!

If any of the following is useful to you in your own communication with public officials, fellow citizens etc., please feel free to use it.


We are all worried about water quality and water supply. One MAJOR leverage point for water protection is our landscaping norms and practices.

If we are serious about protecting our water supply, waterways, fish, manatees, other wildlife, and recreation, we URGENTLY need to halt our destructive, invasive landscaping practices.

I’m not attacking anyone’s private lawn or garden; I’m talking about what we do and the norms we promote on the OFFICIAL level, in our public spaces, with our tax dollars. (What we normalize sets a visual tone that then tends to naturally spread to homeowners and landscaping companies.)

People will always have differing aesthetic tastes (in landscaping, as in clothing and haircuts). But, what we do on an official level, with our tax dollars, needs to be grounded in scientific knowledge and ecological soundness, as opposed to just promoting a certain “look” that has no such grounding.

We have disrupted the natural water cycle, affecting rainfall patterns and aquifer recharge. We need to shift our landscaping emphasis from a sterile “neatness” to essential functions of heat mitigation, water infiltration, protection of soil, protection of wildlife. And we need to do this as a REGION.

The following simple things will make big improvements:

– Stop the Spray! (our soil and waterways are being poisoned by entities within our city, county, and state govts) (and yet it is an oversimplification to point the finger at these entities; the culprit ultimately is a more diffuse societal phenomenon — I often speak about the power of culturally defined aesthetic norms)

– Leave the Leaves! And stop with the cartoon orange mulch – use the fallen leaves themselves, pine straw, or other natural mulch (people are visual, and what we see in public spaces shapes our perception of what’s a normal healthy landscape)

– Cut Back on Cutting! (grass, palm fronds, other trees & shrubs). Except on areas in active use for ballfields, parking, picnic areas, etc., we should back off on mowing and allow large areas of what is now buzzcut turfgrass to revert to coastal meadow.

– Dim the Brights! (look into gentler lighting; bright-white LEDs can actually impair visibility as well as being disruptive to human sleep patterns, to wildlife, and to beautiful night skies (Dark Sky tourism is a thing!!) )

In terms of native landscaping: There are some nice exceptions such as here at Sunsplash Park, at the Kemp Street beach approach, and at Romano Park up in Ormond, but on the whole: Our public landscaping practices are self-destructive, fiscally insane, and aesthetically unappealing.

On City Island, as just one example, we spray herbicides around trees and on the rocks right next to the river. Creating ugly patches of brown, while poisoning the river. And we pay people to do this!!

Our neighborhoods and public spaces are being assaulted by chemicals and loud, fumey landscaping machinery. There’s a truck that literally goes through my beachside neighborhood spraying the sidewalks with a HOSE, just to kill plants that sprout up in the sidewalk cracks! The plants grow back quickly, but the chemicals go into our waterways and wreak longterm havoc.

Ocean Center’s landscaping is largely an embarrassment, with scalped palm trees and dyed orange mulch, and wide bland carpets of buzzcut turfgrass. (Except, The parking lot immediately behind Ocean Center isn’t bad; the little islands of trees & other vegetation have a natural feel.) Ocean Center is high-profile, needs to set a visual example of authentic landscaping.

Rather than city-by-city, or just county alone, We could really use a REGIONAL coordinated effort. We need a regional consciousness. The bioregional movement, which puts natural boundaries such as forests, wetlands, and watersheds before manmade political boundaries, offers one possible framework for us to use.

Regarding regional consciousness, a bit of a digression from landscaping: Re Ortona and Osceola elementaries: Shame on the county school board for pitting two neighboring cities against each other to create one huge school where half the kids will be forced to endure a long commute. And shame on us, citizens, for buying into this competition mentality where nobody was really the winner. One community loses its close-by school, while another gets a mega-school with an oversized eco footprint that’s going to cause all sorts of problems. Neighboring cities are not rivals; we are neighbors and our fates are bound up with one another. On what planet did we decide that elementary-school kids don’t deserve to go to school near their homes?

In conclusion, to emphasize: We need a regional consciousness, regional approach. And: Prioritize water. Without water, we have nothing else.

Those of you who know me, know that I usually tend to keep my comments positive. But, it gets frustrating to see people being paid and officially sanctioned to trash the natural environment we are fighting so hard to save! I get sick at heart seeing the trucks of the contractors, with their cute little logos that show pictures of the frogs and birds and other wildlife that are being killed by the chemicals we are putting into our waterways.

We all live downstream from somewhere, and we all live upstream from somewhere. We are all connected.

Through our human-centric landscaping practices, we are actually increasing the danger to OURSELVES as well as other life forms.

People. We humans are actually CHANGING THE RAINFALL AND TEMPERATURE PATTERNS. Stop and really let that sink in. If this isn’t insanity I don’t know what is. The extreme weather is a worldwide thing but we have to take charge of our regional part of it. The local water cycle in each place typically accounts for an estimated 40% of rainfall. If worldwide headlines about 120-degree temps in Canada; shellfish cooking in their shells in Vancouver; wildfires all over; the crazy snowpocalypse last year in Texas; a 200-mile tornado path in Kentucky; and so many other things I can’t even keep track of them let alone list them all — If all these headlines don’t wake us up, then we could just look out our own back doors, and talk to our local farmers and fishers and ranchers, and realize it. Individually we are mostly good and sane, but collectively I fear we have gone psychopathic.

I think that a really good focus for a taxpayers’ revolt (besides our continued subsidies for runaway sprawl) would be our intrusive landscaping practices. Like, we could just BACK OFF, and the air & water quality would probably improve overnight, and the manatees and fish would stand a much better chance.

(I hope someday to see our public spaces from parks to median strips covered with lush carpets of fallen leaves, a healthy tree canopy, and/or a multicolored blanket of wildflowers and tall coastal grasses!! Authentic landscaping creates a unique visual “signature” for a place. A visual identity that we don’t have to pay some marketing company to design! This unique visual signature can itself be a tourist draw, along with our waterways and wildlife.)

Photos show examples of a softer more natural approach to landscaping. (Except the final photo, which shows what excessive mowing and leaf removal is doing to the historic Pinewood Cemetery, one of the last remaining stands of oak and palmetto dune forest on the beachside.