The good, the bad, and the ugly in Southwest Florida


A northerner vacationing in Florida—especially a Buffalonian—must be well-fortified against the mock-sympathetic hilarity that will greet him or her when place of origin is revealed. Most of the people who currently live in Naples aren’t from there either, but that doesn’t stop them from being smug about the weather.

We’re used to it though, so during a recent vacation down there, I tolerated the merriment, only occasionally protesting that it doesn’t quite snow year-round where I live.

After all, I should feel lucky to be in this paradise—and I like lying around on the beach sipping margaritas as much as anyone. But once away from the ocean (a sight that never palls), why does paradise have to look so … boring? Most of the landscaping in Naples looks like it was executed by a Marine Corps-trained team armed with electric clippers and directed to “trim first, ask questions later.” A shame really, because many of the flowering shrubs that had been cut into box shapes were currently in bloom.

The closest we got to flora in a more or less natural state was at the local zoo/conservancy (visited under protest); there was also a lovely mangrove preserve (shown above) that we walked through every day on the way to the beach. My favorite example of plant life kept under rigorous control was at the local library, Fernsign
where a luxuriant stand of ferns was being thoroughly groomed, all the better to frame the “No Skateboarding” sign. I did feel sorry for my mother-in-law, whose gardenia was cut back to the ground by an over-zealous maintenance guy while she was up north. She would have had buds otherwise.

It’s interesting to see cultivars that I normally think of as houseplants flourishing in the wild, but sad to see them used in such unimaginative ways. Heck, here in the frozen tundra we do much more creative public and private plantings, even under the duress of our unlivable climate and limited plant palette. You have to take the good with the bad when you’re in paradise, I guess.

Finally, I can’t resist posting an example of sculpture destined, no doubt, for a pricey garden in somebody’s exclusive neighborhood. Other then questioning the scale, I have no comment. Mermaid

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Oh, the smugness of people about where they live. I’ve never forgotten a tour member on some exotic trip I once took asking me where I lived and when I told her she said, “Well, I suppose someone has to live there.” Like Maryland is Bangladesh, you know.

  2. I’ve got in-laws in California. And I am equally amazed when I see things like agapanthus taken for granted. Man, if I could actually stick agapanthus in the ground–there would be hundreds of them in my yard. If I could even get away with callas, I’d install drip irrigation just for them.

    Of course, I’m sure the Californians and Floridians all wonder why our yards are not 100% peony or 100% lilac.

  3. As a Texan living in SE Florida, I visit SW Florida quite often. You missed probably the best place in South Florida, Fakahatchee Strand. Even if you don’t stray from the road for a hike, you’ll see the wilds of Florida. Orchid Thief??? This is the place for checking that out. Alas, I’ve gotta say, if I see any more crotons in anyone’s landscape I’m going to rip them all out and throw them in the Gulf.

  4. That is quite the bronze beauty! I enjoy visiting FL but I cannot imagine gardening there. It is way too hot most of the year. Even the backyard pools are in shade houses!

  5. Yes, I read about the Orchid Thief preserve but was unable to get to it. You know how it is; sometimes the person you’re traveling with is not QUITE as interested in botanical tourism as you are.

    So I confined myself to what one sees during mainstream tooling about. The mangrove preserve was very nice–lots of birds.

  6. No why do you suppose “Most of the landscaping in Naples looks like it was executed by a Marine Corps-trained team armed with electric(sic) gas powered clippers and directed to “trim first, ask questions later”?

    It may have something to do with the age and mindset of the owners living in these homes and condos.

  7. Naples… the land of neighborhood landscaping covenants. Can most of those folks even plant what they want?

    My former in-laws did the suburban Philadelphia to Naples move some years back (part time at first and then full time). I’ve been scores of times and endured plenty of pressure to move there… and resisted. When my wife and I split, she moved straight to Naples.

    That Florida thing is beautiful, but not for me. I’m from S Texas, so it isn’t like I can be snotty (Maryland is GORGEOUS). But I need… well… older stuff around me. All those brand new buildings and brand new gardens freak me out.

    Spoke to my ex this morning in fact and she sorta hinted that maybe I should move down there (??????). It is NOT going to happen.

    But the place is lovely to visit.

    Also, it is TOTALLY midwestern. A guy with whom I sail comes from WI and told me of a Naples telephone directory he has… a directory of Wisconsin people in Naples.

    PLUS the Gulf is so sandbar ridden right about there that the issue for sailors isn’t IF you’ll go aground, but when.

    If I ever get my act together, I’m going back home to Texas. But that won’t happen.


  8. Mea culpa, Chris. C. Electric, gas, it’s all the same to me–I’ve never touched one. They’re noisy; I know that.

    Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever clipped a shrub with anything, not even hand-powered clippers. I just tear stuff off with my hands. Pruners, sure, those I’m familiar with.

    Yes, Clerk, many Wisconsin people there.

  9. I’m as smug as one can get.
    I live and garden in Northern California.
    It’s tough but someone has to live here and suffer with all the endless freeway medians planted with Agapanthus, Ceanothus and Oleander.


  10. Hey now, gardening in Florida is fun! I mean, we’re eating tomatoes in December fresh off the vine while you guys are freezing your butts off 😉 There are some very beautiful Florida gardens out there.

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