Tom Hewitt is a garden writer and consultant from West Palm Beach. He can be reached at

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Windows on the Floating World
by Tom Hewitt       #Environment   #Garden Profile   #Waterscaping





“The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.”

—Marjory Stoneman Douglas






Prickly teaselmallow is a rare member of the hibiscus family.

Nobody understood the beauty and importance of Florida’s wetlands better than author and activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She dedicated a large part of her life to restoring the Everglades, and her presence is felt to this day.

There was a time when wetlands were considered by many to be wasted space. Stoneman Douglas changed all that with the publication of her book The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947. We now know that wetlands enhance water quality, control erosion, and provide a home for countless threatened and endangered species. Wood storks and Florida panthers, for example, simply couldn’t survive without them.

Wetlands include coastal tidal salt marshes, mangrove swamps, freshwater marshes, and many other water-related ecosystems. Sadly, Florida has lost some 44 percent of its wetlands since becoming a state. State and federal statutes have been passed over the years to protect them, but encroaching development remains a threat. Because of this, it’s important for all of us understand the significance of Florida’s wetlands and to do what we can to save them. A good place to start is a to visit the new Windows on the Floating World-Blume Tropical Wetland Garden at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. The 13,000-square-foot exhibit is the largest in Mounts’ history. Since opening in June of 2017, it’s already one of the garden’s top attractions.

Clockwise: Two weirs help control water levels in the exhibit. • Curator-Director Rochelle Wolberg refers to the overlook deck as a “perfect niche for quiet reflection.” • The island in Lake Orth forms the backdrop for Windows on the Floating World.

This place is beautifully designed. In fact, its creation was led by Palm Beach County’s Art in Public Places program. It occupies a section of the garden that has long been underutilized. As Mounts curator-director Rochelle Wolberg puts it, “This area was just begging for something like this.”

Every detail was carefully thought out. The 4-foot-wide walkways are composed of polypropylene panels, which allow water, debris, and sunlight to penetrate. This helps give plants the light they need, while protecting them from foot traffic. “Since walkways are so close to the surface,” Wolberg says, “it’s almost like walking on water.”

Pickerelweed is an important component of wetland habitats. • The project is lushly landscaped with dozens of wetland species.

Within the walkways are four “windows,” each planted with aquatic plants in biodegradable containers that can be rotated or changed out with the seasons. The island in Lake Orth forms the backdrop, with a wall of bromeliads and waterfalls cascading over natural stone.

Permeable concrete walkways around the perimeter allow precipitation to pass right through, minimizing runoff and naturally replenishing the exhibit. A recharge pump, along with two weirs (barriers), keeps water at optimal levels for plant growth.

The plants here are the heart of the exhibit. Planted along the upper walkway is the interesting prickly teaselmallow (Wercklea ferox). This rare native of Costa Rica has warty, spiny leaves and reddish buds that open to gold flowers. Like the dozens of other species used in the project, it prefers wet soil.

Water mint (Mentha aquatica) can also be found here. It produces small, lavender pink blooms that attract pollinators. Like all mints, it needs to be restricted in some way.

In addition to purple pickerelweed, pink pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata ‘Pink’) grows here. Pickerelweed is an important player in wetland areas. Its spikes of attractive flowers are loved by bees and butterflies, and its small seeds are a food source for a variety of animals. It’s also good cover for dragonflies and damselflies as they complete their life cycles, and it also helps purify the water by consuming nitrates.

Walkways composed of polypropylene panels allow water and sunlight to penetrate.

Golden canna (Canna flaccida), also colorfully known as bandana-of-the-Everglades, is another pretty native that helps filter and cool the water. Additional color is also provided by the blooms of giant apostle’s iris (Neomarica caerulea ‘Regina’), swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), and swamp hibiscus (H. coccineus). Water bluebell (Ruellia squarrosa) covers an area one side of a walkway.

A favorite spot for visitors is a small landing overlooking Lake Orth, where parents can sit and relax while their children feed the koi. Margaret Blume, longtime Mounts supporter for whom the new garden is named, is excited about the projects future. “There are many words that I hope will be associated with this beautiful, new garden,” she says, “including children, curiosity, creativity, companionship, learning, enjoyment, appreciation, simplicity, and quiet.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas would no doubt agree.


A version of this article appeared in a print edition of  Florida Gardening Volume 23 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.


Posted: 05/01/18   RSS | Print


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