Posts Tagged ‘Valley of Life Project St. Augustine Team Realty’

New Native Plant Garden. Part 1: Tarping For Wildflowers

Monday, August 25th, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Native Florida Wildflower Prep

Native Florida Wildflower Prep

The new St. Augustine Team Florida wildflower project is underway. It was a really hot day but it went really easy.

For this yard I am going to use the wildflowers as a border between a regular yard and a conservation area. It will help define where the yard ends and the forest begins. The area was previously covered with weeds–which didn’t look bad to be honest–but the wildflowers will add a splash of color with the green of the weeds backing them up.

In the last wildflower garden the weeds intermingled with the flowers. Because it was a front yard garden I had to do periodic weeding. This one is a back yard garden so I’m not sure how much weeding I’ll actually do. It depends on how well the wildflowers establish themselves, how well they reseed themselves over the next two summers, and what types of weeds pop up in between.

How I did it:

I went out and bought some survey stakes from Home Depot, and two rolls of 55 gallon contractor garbage bags (for the tarp). Home Depot actually sold 100′ rolls of black tarp for around $100 but the garbage bags only cost $9.97 a roll … quite a savings. I only ended up using one roll of the bags anyway.

Back home I mowed the area where I wanted the wildflower garden. I used the scissors to cut each side of the bags, creating long, 3′ x 8′ black tarps. Other bags I cut to fill in the gaps.

I used the survey flags to pin down the tarps. The bright orange flags will make it easy to see where the tarp is pinned down when I go to remove it.

Now I leave the tarp in place for a month. The local wildflower experts recommend doing this in August when the sun is the hottest. The heat will kill the weeds beneath the tarp. When I remove the tarp I will do some basic tilling and then sow the wildflowers.

The last time I did this I tarped one area in early August (planting in September) and one in September (planting in October). For whatever reason the October version failed even though conditions seemed identical. Since I’m doing this in late August I’m crossing my fingers and plan to double up a bit on the seeding just in case.

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.

The First Native Plant Garden: Terra Forming and Final Edition

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook.

Brown Eyed Susans and Blanket Flower

Brown Eyed Susans and Blanket Flower in the Native Plant Garden

Back in the day there was my front yard, and we called it the Valley of Death because nothing grew there.

So we started planting Florida native and drought resistant plants in 2011, and what a difference a few years makes. We’ve got a thriving butterfly garden and several varieties of plants that grow well and don’t need watered. The front yard really looks good and the dead patches, thought not completely gone, are the minority now.

It’s like one of those science fiction movies where they “terra form” a dead planet into something thriving with life. And then Khan shows up and tries to kill Captain Kirk, but then Spock saves everyone, but I digress…

The biggest surprise is that the scarlet milkweed and porterweed, which are annuals that we planted last year, are all sprouting new growth this spring. The unusually cold winter should have knocked them out but there they are springing from the roots. I accidentally knocked the resurgent porterweed out, not realizing it was one of the plantings, but it’s got a few leaves back, so whew!

New Native Plantings

Last September I planted some Florida native viburnum in front of the garage, the most extreme edge of the front yard. But I failed to water it while still it was still in the containers, and two of the plants died before I could put them in the ground.

This spring I went to the nursery to get more in order to replant them, but I saw the mature form and didn’t like them, so instead I bought dwarf versions of the very local East Palatka (also known as “yaupon”) holly (Taylor’s Rudolph Ilex Vomitoria) and planted them in locations on the side of the house. For the two dead viburnums I planted another version of dwarf holly (Ilex Schellings) that supposedly is ideal for full sun and dry conditions. I would have bought more East Palatka but I bought all the nursery had and Ilex Schellings was the only thing left that would fit the bill.

Lastly, I added a bunch more porterweed (red and blue) because it establishes itself so easily and readily, and blooms all summer. A truly awesome plant.

Blue Porterweed and Wildflowers

Blue Porterweed and Wildflowers

The Final Plantings

The porterweed and the hollies are the final plantings I will do in the Valley. The house is on the market (and is currently under contract), so I won’t be living there any longer.

But we are starting a new project in our new place, with its own unique challenges. And I look forward to telling you about that next … stay tuned!

Click here for a link to all the Native Plant Project stories, including where and what types of wildflowers we bought, where to get them, and how to plant them!

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Contact me at the email up top or email Kate Stevens, my partner and Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.



Native Plants Update, The Butterflies Have Bloomed!

Monday, August 12th, 2013

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and me on Google+.

Jumbotron goes into chrysalis.

Jumbotron goes into chrysalis.

Well, if you read our last post about the Native Plant Project you found out we were feverishly planting Florida native milkweed to feed hungry (monarch butterfly) caterpillars.

These caterpillars were funny. They would eat and eat and eat, strip the leaves off an entire plant then head on over to another.  In the meantime they had to avoid a hungry lizard we nicknamed “Fatboy” who liked to hang out nearby.

We called him Fatboy because he looked bloated when he would eat one of the caterpillars.

We got so worried about Fatboy we bought two extra plants and took them inside for two specific caterpillars. One we called “Jumbotron.” He was big–we figured he would be the most likely to make it to chrysalis.

The second was just an egg that I saw a mother monarch lay on one of the milkweed plants. I took the leaf in immediately and put it in water until the pinhead-sized egg hatched four days later. Then we put him on one of the inside plants and watched him grow up. We called him “Baby Boy.”

Then two eggs we didn’t notice hatched on the inside plants so we had two more caterpillars, which we also moved to other protected plants.

Then we went on vacation, and we didn’t get to see any of the butterflies break out in person. But our friend who was watching them did, and got this photo of Baby Boy becoming a butterfly!

Baby Boy emerges from chrysalis.

Baby Boy emerges from chrysalis.

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Just email Kate Stevens, Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.

Native Plant Update: Butterflies and Herbs

Monday, June 17th, 2013

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and me on Google+.

Here’s the latest on our Native Plants project:

Butterfly and Herbs from our native plants project. Images by Sean Hess.

Butterfly and Herbs from our native plants project. Images by Sean Hess.

We planted a butterfly mix of Florida wildflowers last fall, and early this spring a bright yellow flower called tickseed (Coreopsis gladiata) bloomed in abundance.

The tickseed has died off somewhat, looking scraggly though it is still blooming, and some blackeyed susans have popped up as well.

Keeping On The Butterfly Theme

My daughter saw the movie Flight of The Butterflies at IMAX this spring (twice), and at school they had a project where they “grew” butterflies from larvae through chrysalis and then released them.

Since we had a backlog of plants to buy for the native plant garden (I buy a plant for every sale I and my partners make), we bought a bunch of butterfly friendly plants.  Although the idea behind the plant garden was planting perrenials that would stay year after year, the butterfly garden was just too good an idea to pass up. And some of the perrenials have turned into annuals anyway…I did nickname my front yard “the Valley of Death” after all.

So we bought Gayfeather Blazingstar (Liatris tennuilfolia), Porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), and Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias currassvica), all native to Florida according to Southern Horticulture and

We also planted something called Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagetes lommonii). There are some Tagetes native to Florida (and this isn’t one of them), but  my three-year old son picked it out, and hey, it’s doing a heckuva lot better than some other things I planted.

Caterpillars Come, Caterpillars Go

A few weeks after I planted things I noticed one of the scarlet milkweeds was looking pretty poorly and its flowers were gone. A day later nearly all the leaves were gone. I figured the Valley was killing it, but then I looked a little closer and discovered three monarch butterfly caterpillars were eating it!

So the next morning the only thing left was a stick, and the hungry caterpillars were busy gnawing on that. I moved them to the plant that had no caterpillars. They were making short work of that plant too, and a fourth caterpillar had joined them.

So I decided the next day I would go get more milkweed plants, one for each caterpillar.

At this point the last milkweed was a stick, with one of the caterpillars chewing away on the top. Another caterpillar was on the porterweed, trying to eat that, and the third was in the grass heading west towards the wildflowers. The last one disappeared.

I went ahead and bought five (much bigger) milkweeds, but I had to be careful…there were caterpillars on half the plants in the nursery (didn’t want to bring home more competition) and a monarch butterfly busy laying eggs on the others. Which was cool to watch.

I could only find one caterpillar when I got back, so I transplanted it to one of the new plants. The next morning he was gone too.

He and the others probably got ate. Monarch butterflies and caterpillars supposedly don’t taste very good, but as a website on the caterpillars noted, “birds and reptiles have to find that out the hard way.”

Hopefully some of those monarch eggs ended up on one of our plants and we will have caterpillars again soon.

Superheated Air, or, Why the Valley of Death is the Valley of Death

I noticed on one of my bicycle rides last week that I was getting way too hot, and not cooling well, for what should have been an easy effort.  I was riding in the afternoon in the full sun, but even in the 90s and 100s I didn’t think an easy effort should have required dumping water over my head.

So I put a thermometer that also measured humidity in the full sun near the Valley of Death, just to see what was going on…and it turns out I should have been dumping lots of water over my head while out riding in the full sun.

In full sun, mid to late afternoon, the reading was 106 degrees F, at 30 percent humidity. Far from being hot and humid Florida, in full sun it was more like the desert. The superheated air was evaporating anything it touched. Which is why the moisture gets sucked out of the plants and dirt so easily in the Valley.

After the sun fell past the trees towards sunset, the reading went to 90 F at 50 percent. In the morning, just past dawn, it was 73 F at 90 percent (the Florida I know and love).

I always thought it was just an issue of sterile soil, but its not, it’s extended exposure to the sun.

What is Thriving In the Valley

Society garlic and gaillardia (Gaillardia puchella, aka “blanket flower”) are bombproof. They survive and thrive.

The fernlike Florida native Coontie is surviving, but doesn’t seem like it has grown much, if at all, since we planted it last year.

The red fountain grass (fountain grass rubrum) is essentially a perrenial that is an annual. It’s shot up a few shoots each year to let us know it’s alive, but otherwise it’s just a hunk of dead brown grass.

The gayfeather blazingstar is failing fast, even though it’s supposed to love direct sunlight and gets plenty of water from me. Part of the wildflower mix we planted last fall includes gayfeather, but it hasn’t sprouted yet.

One of the things I discovered about the wildflower mixes we planted (a beach mix in fall 2011, a butterfly mix in fall 2012) is that all the seeds aren’t for all conditions. Some of the wildflower seeds do well in full sun, some are for wetter areas. So the mixes are designed to grow wherever they are planted, but all flowers may not grow in all areas.

The scarlet milkweed you already know about.

The copper canyon daisy is doing just fine, but it is not a native.

Herbs in the Shadow of the Valley of Death

I love to cook and the recipes I like sometimes call for fresh herbs. So I planted some.

I pulled out some planters, my daughter and I planted different seeds in each one, we watered them, and then covered them with clear plastic (like a greenhouse). Pretty soon we had bunches and bunches of little herbs growing.

We put the planters in the shadows under the overhang of the eaves to keep it from getting the blast of full sunlight, or hard hits from heavy rains.

Now we have fresh basil, Italian parsley, and oregano growing. We also have some lavender and spearmint, just for fun, but not for cooking.

My daughter planted some pepper, cucumber, and radish seeds she got on a field trip to Home Depot, and we transplanted those to a better area in the more plant friendly back yard.

Let us get you planted in a new home so you too can become a Florida “native!” Hire St. Augustine Team Realty! Just email Kate Stevens, Broker Associate, or call (904) 377-2276.


Update On Our Native / Drought Resistant Plants Project

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and me on Google+.

Moving Society Garlic with the kids.

Moving Society Garlic with the kids.

We moved some plants this weekend.

When we originally started this we drew out a planting plan on graph paper on where things would go.

We put the Florida native wildflowers in the front (because they usually stay close to the ground), and put the society garlic behind them, because the garlic usually grows taller.

Well, the wildflowers took off! Some of them got as high as two feet, blocking the garlic from view. So we moved the garlic to the front.

Here’s what we did:

I transplanted a single garlic in the center, and then my daughter measured 8 inches out from that plant on each side to mark where we would put the next one. We did this until we ran out of plants.

One of the things we discovered when we were transplanting the garlic was how weed roots and centipede grass roots would try and intertwine with the garlic. The centipede grows pretty worthless above ground but it has no problem messing with the garlic, which p*ssed me off.

So we covered the ground around the garlic with newspaper, and wetted it, to keep the weeds and centipede grass out.

Then we pulled the radio flyer to the back yard and raked a few wagon loads of pine straw to cover the newspaper. I had my son help spread the pine straw.

Voila! We were done.

Right now we have a backlog of 10 plants that need to go in, so I think we’re going to round up some type of native butterfly attractor, and maybe some crotons to add some color.

We will keep you posted!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you are looking for your commute to the beach in St. Augustine! Email us at or call Broker Associate (Sales) Kate Stevens at (904) 377-2276.

An Update on Our Native Plants Project

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

In our last update back in May, only the Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) was blooming from our fall wildflower planting.

What a difference a few months makes!

In mid to late summer the bright yellow blooms of Yellow Coneflower and Black Eye Susan started popping up…the Black Eyes still remain vibrant (the coneflowers only lasted through August).

Right now many of the Gaillardia are still blooming though many of them are also going to seed.

In the “dead area” from our second wildflower planting only a single Black Eye Susan bloomed.  So we tarped the area over again in August (except for the one flower), and recently reseeded it.  We made a cool graphic of our wildflower seedings which we included with this post.

The wildflowers, from a Florida native beach wildflower mix, surprised us in that they grew so tall.  We expected them to stay low and hug the ground like they do in the dunes.  I’m not sure why they grew so tall here.

We thought that the wildflowers would be lower than the Society Garlic, which is planted behind them.  But since they are so tall I think in the spring we’ll move the garlic to the front of the wildflower bed, and maybe mulch the garlic with oak leaves to keep the weeds out (such as they are in the Valley).

Everything we planted this year and last has survived with the exception of one Fountain Grass plant.  In the spring we thought one of the garlic plants had died but it’s still there, hanging on and trying to get bigger.

The Fountain Grass we planted in early summer really benefitted from the bountiful rains we had this summer.  Where last year’s crop had trouble getting established even with frequent watering, this year’s plants really seemed to thrive and even get bigger.

We’ll keep you updated as things progress!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you want some help growing into a new home in St. Augustine!  Email or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

Native Plants Project Update

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Last year we started a native plants project.  Here’s the most recent news on how it’s going.

To recap, since St. Augustine Team Realty opened in 2009  I’ve been making a donation to tree a planting organization with every sale that myself or my partners Ron and Kate closed.  The donations were going out of state to places like American Forests and the American Chestnut Foundation, which are both 4-star rated, but I really wanted to bring that money back to St. Augustine.

My yard was too barren even for the desert in Star Wars.

A location too barren even for Star Wars.

So I had an idea.

The most sterile soil in St. Augustine is in my own front yard, which I nicknamed “The Valley of Death.”  Even weeds have trouble growing in this sun blasted piece of earth.  It is such a forbidding place that scouts for the original Star Wars movie looked at it as a possible location for Tatooine.  It didn’t make the cut because it was too lifeless.

So I decided to start using the tree planting promo money to start a project in The Valley of Death–planting Florida native and drought resistant plants–to see if they could survive.

I started planting in June 2011, as sales allowed, with a few different varieties to see if they would take hold.  This was partly to keep the money local, but I also thought our customers and potential customers might see the project as a further benefit of using St. Augustine Team Realty.

After attending some native plant classes at the county ag center, I decided to plant Tender Fountain Grass “rubrum,” Society Garlic, Penta (an annual), and seeded Florida native wildflowers like Gallardia (Blanket Flower) and Black Eyed Susan in two separate batches.

It didn’t help that the county is/was experiencing a drought.  Drought is part of the normal cycle here, but this one has been especially long and especially rough.  The county has been short as much as 18 inches of rainfall for the year, and in some of the surrounding areas (like Jacksonville and Gainesville) it’s been even worse, with a deficit of 25 inches.  It is and was a hard time for planting.

The results?

Well, Society Garlic appears to be bomb proof…it’s thriving.  Now that I’ve planted it and know what it looks like I see it all around town in the professional landscaping beds.

Of the three Fountain Grass plantings only two survived, and the survivors looked pretty scraggly.  But they are at least hanging in there and with the recent heavy (and regular) rains the past few weeks they’ve really started to take off.  The important thing is that they survived and established their roots…hopefully they’ll start thriving.

The first wildflower seeding has been spectacular, though only Gallardia has shown up in abundance.  The second seeding, planted in November (30 days after the first seeding) and adjacent to the first, appears to have failed.  This is really odd…same location, conditions, etc., and the only difference was 30 days, which shouldn’t have mattered much with the really mild winter we had.  But we’ll watch it all summer and see what happens.

Recently we’ve been blessed with heavy rains which Tropical Storm Beryl kicked off in May.  I took the opportunity to do some more planting.

The new addition has been a Florida native called Coontie.  It looks a bit like a fern but it grows up and out a bit like a sago palm.  I also added some more Pentas for color, some more Society Garlic, and some Fountain Grass…just because I didn’t think it got a fair shot in the extreme planting conditions of last summer.

Below is a list of what I’ve done so far.  I’ll keep you updated on how it goes!

Property SalePlanting
1200 ArdmoreFountain Grass ‘Rubrum’
1820 WoodstoneFountain Grass ‘Rubrum’
2204 Blackstone WayFountain Grass ‘Rubrum’failed
601 Santa TeresaSociety Garlic
224 Brantley (buyer)Society Garlic
224 Brantley (seller)Society Garlic
414 PrinceSociety Garlic
501 Cabernet (seller)Society Garlic
501 Cabernet (buyer)Wildflower Planting 1
112 Gargonza PlaceWildflower Planting 2failed?
1575 Timber TraceCoontie / Penta
5169 MedorasCoontie / Penta
372 New EnglandFountain Grass ‘Rubrum’
4475 US 1 South 202/203Fountain Grass ‘Rubrum’
6170 A1A SouthSociety Garlic

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty for Realtors that will help your real estate needs flower!  Email or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

Gallardia (Blanket Flower) growing from our first wildflower seeding here in St. Augustine, Florida.

Gallardia from our first wildflower seeding.