Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was one of my favorite books growing up. His story chronicled the adventures of Rat, Mole, Toad, and Badger. Grahame’s descriptions throughout the book show a romantic image of nature and landscape. A few times throughout the book there are descriptions of the water’s edge. For example, “In silence they landed, and pushed through the blossom and scented herbage and undergrowth that led up to the level ground, till they stood on a little lawn of marvelous green, set round with Nature’s own orchard-trees – crabapples, wild cherry, and sloe.” Another quote describes, “a small island lay anchored, fringed close with willow and silver birch and alder.”
Protect the Water Front
The water’s edge is a unique, yet important part of our environment- especially within our urban environments. The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program’s ninth principle is “Protect the Waterfront”. This principle encourages that all waterbodies have a 10’ no to low maintenance buffer. This is an area of the landscape that is neither mowed, fertilized, or sprayed with pesticides. The plants along the water’s edge provide many services. A few examples include protecting the bank from erosion, providing critical habitat for wildlife, and helping reduce the concerns with non-point source pollution.
Non-point source pollution is any pollutant that enters our waterbodies from unspecified locations. Throughout the entire state, managed landscapes abut directly to water bodies. Improperly applied fertilizers can easily enter our water bodies, which contributes to water quality decline and algal blooms. Creating a no to low maintenance buffer along a water’s edge allows for plants to intercept any nutrient runoff before entering the water.
No to Low Maintenance Buffer
A no-maintenance buffer may not sound aesthetically pleasing, but with proper plant selection, the buffer can significantly improve the aesthetic quality around a waterbody. Specifically considering landscape design strategies, like color, texture, and form, we can plan a wonderful buffer becoming of Grahame’s descriptions. Although, selecting plants for areas along water bodies requires more planning than a regular landscape. We must also consider water depth, fluctuating water depth, and slope of the bank – not just the environmental conditions.
Plants for the Water’s Edge
When selecting plants for your water buffer, consider the water edge zone and the bank slope zone. The water edge zone will be the plants requiring a certain water depth to be successful within the landscape. A few examples of plants within the water edge zone include Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), Duck potato (Sagittaria lancifolia), Fragrant water lily (Nymphaea odorata), and my personal favorite, Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata).
Plants for Bank of Slope
The bank of slope zone includes plants that can do well if inundated with water during periods of high-water. For this area, I recommend selecting plants with a high drought tolerance but can survive periods moist conditions. A few examples include African iris (Dietes iridioides), Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactloides), and Scorpion tale (Heliotropium angiospermum).
Lastly, adding trees along the waterbody can help further protect the sloping bank from erosion. Trees help dissipate energy from water and wind during storm events. Trees that do well along these edges include the Red maple (Acer rubrum), Loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus), and Bald cypress (Taxodium spp.).
Throughout Nassau County we have multiple homeowners and communities begin to adopt these changes. One example is a demonstration started by our previous county extension director, Rebecca Jordi at the Wildlight community. By implementing these changes, we can protect and improve our most valuable resource while creating, as stated by Rat, “something very surprising and splendid and beautiful.”