This is one in a series of occasional reports about South Florida gardens.
Neat one-story houses with nice green lawns, a few shrubs under the windows and some palms shading the backyards. That’s pretty much what you see when you drive through the Kings Grant East area in western Miami-Dade County.
That’s until you arrive at the home of Bill Shores, a man who fell in love with the Florida Keys while visiting friends many years ago.
Because the Keys have undergone so much development and loss of wildlife habitat, he decided to turn his builder’s half acre into a wildlife sanctuary. Here, nature’s creatures are attracted by his native plants.
“I have plants in my blood and it’s become my specialty to collect rare and endangered species that benefit wildlife,” says Shores, who grew up on a farm in the Midwest.
Depending on the time of year, there might be robins, purple martins, painted buntings, cardinals, redstarts, hummingbirds, orioles, mockingbirds or even a hawk or two in his trees. He’s seen possums, raccoons, lizards, of course, and even a turtle. Frogs lay their eggs in a water garden that’s filled by rain running off the roof of his house.
And don’t miss the butterflies — monarchs; julias; zebra longwings; atalas; black, giant and pipe vine swallowtails; admirals; sulphurs; cassius blues. The list goes on.
“I probably raise a couple of thousand butterflies a year,” he says, assuring us that he’s not exaggerating.
He bought his home just after Hurricane Andrew devastated this area near Country Walk. The house next door was gone and the one across the street had no roof. “And there were piles and piles and piles and piles and piles of garbage everywhere,” he says.
The house he purchased had its storm damage repaired so it could be sold. But there weren’t many trees or plants in the yard. “The hurricane had taken care of them,” says Shores.
What was left outside was mostly grass, but Shores didn’t even want that. So he tore it all out. “The neighbors thought I was crazy,” he laughs.
He began his garden by planting native shrubs and small trees along the lot line.
“I wanted to create a natural fence of forest,” he says. Although he wanted to hide his neighbors’ fences, houses and cars, he didn’t want to block the sun.
His plant choices included torchwoods that are native to coastal hammocks in the Keys. The trees get their name and distinct aroma from the resin they contain that also makes them burn quickly.
“It’s unfortunate, but very few people have these,” says Shores who hopes that someday they will attract the rare and endangered Schaus swallowtail butterfly that considers this tree a food source.
He also chose native wild olives because their tiny black fruits attract birds. “People also can eat some of these native fruits,” he says.
He planted rare milk bark trees that get their name from their white bark that’s reminiscent of a birch tree. He’d seen them growing in the Keys.
And he filled out the fence with plenty of wild coffee with its red berries, satinwood, spicewood, randia, wild lime, joewood, stoppers, maidenbush, cinnamon bark, big and little strong barks, limber capers with flowers that look like white fireworks and a native hibiscus with tiny red flowers that look like Chinese hats. “They like sun so they grow along the roadside in the Keys,” he says.