Knowing the Natives

October 21, 2014 – My friend Phyllis conducts tours of the grounds at the Sanibel city hall, where numerous native plants grow.  The tours are not about city government; they are about what grows well on this fragile barrier island – plants that do not need fertilizer and that can survive droughts.
The tours are free and no reservations are needed.  For property owners, it is a bargain and a joy to listen to the information that Phyllis provides.  In her sweet voice, she tells little stories about each plant.  She needs no notes; she knows it all by heart.
Phyllis is the chair of the city’s vegetation committee.  She devotes much time to this volunteer job.  The committee's members inspect properties that are being developed; they help to ensure that native plants are protected and replaced when necessary.
A firebush bloom.
That committee also does much to educate new property owners as well as longtime residents like me, who have forgotten what they once knew.
When we first owned our Sanibel home, and the one before it, I did much of the gardening and I learned about the native plants.  Then we hired Ray to maintain the jungle we have, and I did not need to know about the plants so much – I simply have relied on Ray for many years.
Now that Tom and I have purchased Cooley Hammock, 3.6 acres of tropical hardwood hammock on which we intend to build a house, I feel that I must learn again about the natives. 
When I decide to learn something, I am serious about it.  On the native plant tour last Saturday, I was the only one taking photographs and making notes.
I just now finished renaming all of those photograph files with their actual plant names (from my notes).  There are about 85 photos, representing about 75 different plants, almost all of which we can grow someplace on Cooley Hammock.
Coontie
I’ve assembled quite a collection of books about Florida plants, too, so all the resources needed for my education are at hand.  When I’m stumped, I can take a leaf sample to the Native Plant Nursery at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and there Jenny Evans can identify it for me.
Plans for building our house on Cooley Hammock are moving ahead ever so slowly.  So much work remains to be done on the architectural plans!  And right now, we’re waiting for soil testing to be done.  This entails drilling and taking cores as samples, and that means the engineers must first get a drilling permit from the county.  When this testing is done, we will know for certain what kind of foundation we can have.  We want concrete.
On Sunday, another house – far away – captured our imaginations for a few hours, thanks to Zillow.com.  That house was built in 1792, in Pacolet, South Carolina, by a man whose grandfather was my husband Tom’s great-great-great-great grandfather.
William T. Nuckolls built his home - called "Wag Stop" -  in 1792 near Pacolet, SC.  The home burned and was rebuilt in the 1850s.  William's grandfather, John Nuckolls, was a patriot who was murdered by the Tories in 1780.  John Nuckolls was my husband Tom's great-great-great-great grandfather.
It is a big old square plantation home, to which an addition was tastefully added in the 1990s to provide a modern kitchen, bathrooms and closets.  The couple who owned it in recent years also restored the old home in the 1990s.  That was a major project.
Once part of an 800-acre farm, the home is now being sold on just 3 acres, including an old smokehouse and barn-like garage.
But we want our big square house on 3 acres to be on Sanibel, so we put aside the thoughts about the South Carolina place (near Tom’s hometown of Gaffney, SC) after reviewing Tom’s genealogy and thinking about how nice it would have been to own that stately home when we were younger.

Now, however, we are Sanibelians, through and through.

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