A Tiny Pineland Project 

History Captured in a Coral Gables Garden 

I always marvel at the black and white photos of Coral Gables’ past. What would a walk around our neighborhoods have looked like back in the early 1900s? Merrick standing somewhere outside reviewing his site plans, horse drawn carriages, and workers building tirelessly. One thing we know for certain is that the trees and landscaping the city is known for did not exist. Today’s grass lawns, exotic plants, and trimmed hedges would be absent. In their place would lie a robust pineland habitat nurturing its own distinct flora. 

“This was pineland. No doubt about it” says Keith Waddington, a twenty-five-year Gables resident reflecting on what greenery was here in 1923 when his home was being built. With a Ph.D. in Biology and having worked in the University of Miami’s Biology Department, he also studied plant pollinator interactions throughout Everglades National Park. Two years ago, as the pandemic hit, he sought to replicate the old landscape in his own garden. “I set it up as an educational endeavor, hoping that people would be able to appreciate the old-time vegetation,” he says. “It is species rich.” 

A Tiny Pineland Project - Beautyberry
Tropical Sage

The first step was to clear out his front and back yards, followed by planting seeds for native species. (As a comical ode to his front lawn’s departure, he placed a piece of it in a bird bath, where it remains today.) Keith now boasts a garden that is 90 percent native plants, including more than 30 Pine Rockland species, most of it now self-propagating. 

As I toured his home, I could see the early stages of the past he sought to recapture. In the process I learned that hardwood hammocks are a mix of tropical and tempered trees, like gumbo limbo, oaks, mahogany, etc. There was so much I had not previously encountered – like what I called a “bad hair day” pine – or as Keith calls it, “a toilet brush kind of thing” pine – the very hard Slash Pine or “Dade-County Pine.” This was used for construction of 1920s Old Spanish homes, which left it virtually wiped out by the 1930s. Indeed, only 2 percent of the original pinelands remain in Miami-Dade County. But you only need a small portion of your yard to incorporate these native plants into your garden. “Once they get going, they will really shoot up,” says Keith. He also recommends getting started with these four plants which are easy to obtain and grow: 

1. Corky Stem Passion Flower Vine– A must have for a butterfly garden.
2. Firebush – With nectar that attracts hummingbirds as well as butterflies. 
3. Coontie– Which hosts the larvae of the beautiful Atala butterfly.
4. Beautyberry – Which has clusters of purple/pink fruits. 

A Tiny Pineland Project 
Skyblue Clustervine
A Tiny Pineland Project 
Coral Honeysuckle
Keith Waddington
Keith Waddington in the Garden of his 1923 Gables Home.

His personal favorite pineland species, based on ease and attractiveness in the garden, include: 

1. Tropical Sage– Which has incredible red flowers (pictured).
2. Chapman’s Wild Sensitive Plant– With bright yellows flowers almost all year.
3. Skyblue Clustervine– Keith’s favorite, with flowers as blue as the sky (pictured).
4. Coralbean– A bush/tree that attracts hummingbirds with red flowers.
5. Coral Honeysuckle– A vine also with red flowers (pictured).
The most common question asked Keith is where he shops for his plants. His go-to place is Steve Woodmansee’s Pro Native Consulting in the Redlands at pronativeconsulting.com or 786-488-3101. Keith also suggests visiting Long Pine Key or Everglades National Park, joining his NextDoor group “Landscaping with South Florida Species/Natives,” and getting involved through Fairchild’s Connect to Protect program. Guests are welcome to tour the front yard of his home at 1116 Alberca Street and to click on the QR code displayed on a pine trunk there for more history and plant information.