When Joel Jackson wants a little adventure, he just picks up his camera and goes for a field trip — without ever leaving his yard.
“For 30 minutes or 45 minutes, I walk around the house. I see all of these insects and bugs and butterflies. I take pictures of them and I love it,” said Jackson, recent recipient of a Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Award, for residential landscape, in Pasco County.
When Jackson sets out on his explorations, he never knows exactly what he’ll encounter.
One day, as he was capturing an image of a swamp hibiscus, a butterfly flew in and landed on the bloom — right on cue.
On another day, he may observe a lady beetle perching on a Duck Potato plant, or a Monarch caterpillar curled up on a flower bud.
On a really lucky day, he’ll capture a Monarch emerging from its chrysalis.
Chances are good that he’ll see something interesting: His yard is a showcase of flourishing Florida native plants. It’s exactly the kind of landscape that attracts all sorts of birds, bees and butterflies.
His yard also demonstrates what can be achieved — even with a limited use of water and little, or no, use of fertilizer and pesticides.
Jackson, who lives with his wife, Barbara, at 23438 Cherbourg Loop, in Land O’ Lakes, said the secret is learning how to work with the ecosystem.
“When you do go native, you have to have information,” he said.
Jackson has built up his knowledge — through professional and personal pursuits.
He’s a member of the Suncoast Chapter of Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), in Hillsborough County; the Nature Coast Chapter of FNPS, in Pasco County; and, the Tampa Audubon Society.
Before retiring, he worked for decades in grounds maintenance, landscape design and management, park planning and park design, and other roles — shifting between the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County.
He managed two bond issues in Hillsborough County — one for $10 million to develop Lettuce Lake Park, Alderman’s Ford, Upper Tampa Bay and three nature parks; and another for $20 million for park improvements.
He wasn’t introduced to native plants until he was in his 30s.
He said he frequently worked with advisory boards, and a member of one of those boards asked him: “You’re doing native plants, aren’t you?”
“I said: ‘There are native plants?’”
He decided it was time to learn about them.
So, he started visiting native plant nurseries and observing how the plants grew.
Then, he began experimenting in his half-acre yard at home, near the community of Lake Magdalene, in Hillsborough County.
“What made the difference was when I started to realize how important the native plants were to the wildlife,” Jackson said.
After retirement, he and Barbara moved to their current home, which is next to the Cypress Creek Preserve.
During a recent interview, he walked around, talking about some of his native plants, trees and shrubs.
“This tree, here, is a weeping yaupon. It’s a wonderful tree. It has a lot of really neat advantages. It’s a holly. It’s one of five hollies that we have that are local,” he said.
The tree’s leaves, he said, can be used to make tea — which he did, just the day before.
He has a dwarf blueberry plant, too.
“What’s nice about this is that it’s easy to grow. It has a wonderful flavor. It’s a marvelous plant,” Jackson said.
He also has coreopsis, which is the state’s wildflower. And, he has blanketflower that he says is easy to grow.
His Spiderwort, he said, “comes out in the morning, and by night, it’s folded up and gone.”
There’s coontie in his yard, too. That’s “probably the most waterwise plant you can get. It’s a cycad. It’s not a palm,” he said.
A walkway leads from the front of his home to the back. It’s aptly named, Butterfly Crossing — because butterflies can be seen fluttering about in an area loaded with plants that attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
“The firebush has flowers that butterflies like. At the same time, hummingbirds like them,” Jackson said.
The wildlife enthusiast also has nesting boxes for bluebirds, a duck box and a bat box. He has wetlands plants, too.
The lawn out front is lush and healthy.
“It has not been fertilized in years — probably four or five years,” Jackson said. Plus, he said, he uses no pesticides.
He lets nature take its course.
He’s vigilant about conserving water, too.
“We don’t do anything on a routine basis.
“I have a soil sampler that I push down and I check the soil for moisture,” Jackson said. “I don’t irrigate, until I know the soil needs it.”
He also notes that within a single yard, water needs can vary greatly — so it’s important to know your landscape, and its needs.
He said he can go nearly a year and only irrigate three or four times, or perhaps even less.
“In the summertime, we very rarely ever irrigate because we get a lot of rain here in Florida,” he said.
When sharing his passion for native plants, he typically doesn’t begin by talking about the plants.
Instead, he said: “I start off with: ‘Is wildlife important to you?’
“I tell them: ‘If you really like birds, you need to do native plants.’”
Occasionally, he’ll encounter pushback from people who have zero interest in native plants.
But some people are more receptive, and they will give native plants a try.
Jackson said he knows that’s true because he’s received emails, particularly during the pandemic, from people who tell him: “You know, I put some native plants in my yard and I go out there and I can’t believe all of the birds and the butterflies I’m getting.’”
That’s exactly the kind of enthusiasm he’s hoping to inspire.
It’s good for wildlife. It’s good for the environment. And, it’s good for people who want to enjoy their landscapes, he said.
“Your yard can be an exciting place. Native plants bring life to your yard,” Jackson said.
Good Central Florida Native Plants for wildlife
Wildflowers: Beach sunflower, Black-eyed Susan, Partridge pea, Spiderwort, Starry rosinwood, Tickseed, Tropical Sage
Shrubs, vines and grasses: American Beautyberry, Blazing star, Blue-eyed grass, Coral Honeysuckle, Dotted horsemint, Elderberry, Firebush, Florida green eyes, Frostweed, Rouge plant, Saw palmetto, Southern Dewberry, Stokes aster, Walter’s viburnum, wild coffee
Trees: Cabbage palm, Coral bean, Dahoon holly, Red mulberry, Simpson’s Stopper, Yaupon holly
Butterfly larva host plants: Coontie, Frogfruit or Turkey Tangle, live oak, milkweeds, Passion flower (corky stem), Passion flower (purple), Twin flower
Source: Joel Jackson
The Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards program recognizes individuals and businesses that are committed to conserving water resources and protecting the environment by using the best in attractive, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ as well as irrigation systems or techniques that minimize water waste.
The Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards are a partnership between Tampa Bay Water, University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Office, and each county in the region.
Winning landscapes represent the beauty and resiliency of the natural environment.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore bestowed the award for residential landscape to Joel Jackson, of Land O’ Lakes. Pasco County Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick bestowed the award for non-residential landscape to Laura Starkey, of Heartwood Preserve.
To find out more about the awards, visit Awards.tampabaywaterwise.org.
Published July 28, 2021