Esplanade Curb Appeal
By Thomas Becker
Landscape design is an “art” form that changes as plants grow and people use a space. Good curb appeal begins with the wise use of street trees, well-trimmed shrubbery, manicured lawns and cottage home Florida colors.
Curb appeal comes easy to W. Retta Esplanade, a street bordering the Punta Gorda Historic District. Its anchored by the Peace River, three linear parks and the Harbor Walk pathway. Several large trees and majestic Florida Royal palms beautifully engage the street name, ‘esplanade’ meaning an open, level space for the public to walk.
Within several blocks on Esplanade, lovely historic Florida homes have views above the trees to Charlotte Harbor. Several are well over 100 years old both Victorian mansions and Florida cottage style homes with names like the Sandlin House and A. C. Freeman Home.
With historic preservation as a priority, more trees, palms street’s lights and special paving treatment at the main intersection to Gilchrist Park all add more classic, historic design to this street bordering the Peace River.
Looking straight down the boulevard from Route 41, a huge 100+ year old majestic banyan tree temporarily blocks your view of Esplanade and its park-rich waterfront.
Banyans are ‘old’, multi-trunked, Indian fig trees. Ficus benghalensis is native to Benghai, India. A dozen or more types of Ficus species are found in Southwest Florida. Two native species, Wild-Banyan (Ficus citrifolia) and Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea) are also tropical trees and shrubs.
The banyan on Esplanade grew to more than 70 feet tall and spreads even wider. The tree’s signature massive branch canopy is best described as ‘extreme.’ Underground, its roots are invasive and easily overwhelm nearby trees and shrubs and crack pavement, water pipes and drains.
Banyans have huge branches birthing aerial roots which descend and root to open ground. These surface roots seek water and find it below from pipe breaks and drain leaks. Others on the surface run along border walls.
The Esplanade banyan covers both sides of the street. Walkers can cool off before trekking further. Just beyond this massive tree looms what one letter writer called ‘Mayberry re-visited.’ The streetscape opens to tall palms, historic homes and brick covered side streets.
Catch a sunset from behind dozens of gray-trunked royal palms lining both sides of the street. Horticulturist confess Punta Gorda should be this chill sensitive palms most Northern planting on the west coast of Florida.
Royal palms are only cold hardy down to about 28°F. putting it on the proverbial frost-line for planting any island tropical.
This palms historic usage on Esplanade is supported by their salt water tolerance and hurricane wind resistance. and lofty, pinnate leaves that seemingly float above the street. Their tall stature, up to 70 feet have huge, 2 feet in diameter, light gray and smooth swollen trunks.
Considered an ‘ideal’ native tree for landscaping historic streets and parks, Royal Palms enhance the curb appeal of each home they border. A few stately homes have beautiful wrap around porches, shiny metal roofs and widow’s walks.
Look closely at the base of a royal palm leaf. Each leaf is tightly overlapping and ending within a green, five-foot high region above the trunk. This area is known as the palm’s crown shaft.
Royal palms are ‘‘self-cleaning’. Their oldest green leaves naturally drop off without having to hire someone to prune them off. This clean break region on the trunk means a lot less maintenance for the palm’s owners but making their 50 lb. leaves a hazard of sorts when they drop.
I witnessed a royal palm leaf dropping to the sidewalk immediately in front of me. The force of the 50 lb. frond hitting the sidewalk stopped me in my tracks and sounded like gun shot. Fortunately, this palm only sheds one green leaf per month.
Finally, several other tropical palms and trees accent Esplanade. Several border both the street and the meandering Harbor Walk path.
Wildlife abound in the native tree canopies. Two different version of the Florida cabbage palms inhabit the park. Some with smooth trunks and others with their boots still attached and growing golden polypody ferns. Another native, the short, stocky-looking Florida thatch palm fit well into small front yards.
In the park are Cathedral Live Oaks™ patented in the late 1990’s and Key West Mahogany trees. Both have round, shade-bearing canopies. Smaller native trees include the orange-flowering Geiger tree, green buttonwood, silver buttonwoods, sea grape, firebush and cocoplum.