Published February 16, 2012

Water is one of south Florida’s greatest natural resources. At times of the year it is in surplus, enabling us to enjoy lush green landscapes and water-dependant recreational opportunities like golfing, fishing, boating, birding and swimming. An available surplus of water during the summer, coupled with ideal growing conditions, drives Florida’s nearly 2 billion dollar agricultural export economy.

At other times of the year water is scarce, stressing urban landscapes, reducing suitable habitat for wildlife and putting a financial strain on the state’s agricultural economy. Seasonal water availability is often compounded by water quality issues, especially nutrient run-off caused by fertilizers and petroleum based pollutants. Without clean coastal waters, Naples would not be known for its beautiful beaches that draw people from across the world and drive our local economy. Naples Botanical Garden strives to be a leader in the wise use of this priceless resource by using best management practices to conserve water and to reduce run-off of nutrient and other pollutants to our natural systems. Water saving designs are used throughout the Garden, including the Naples Garden Club Idea Garden.

Stormwater systems are commonly designed to be hidden from view, a labyrinth of underground pipes acting to quickly remove water from a site without removing pollutants. Retention basins are often sod-lined depressions with little to no ecological value. Stormwater treatment at the Garden is designed as a part of the overall site plan to act as an ecologically valuable and an aesthetically pleasing feature in the landscape. The multi-award winning system incorporates bio-swales, rain gardens, ponds, and the Mary and Stephen B. Smith River of Grass, a tribute to the Everglades. Each stage of the system creates habitat for wildlife and performs a different ecological function.

The design of the Pamela and Robert Cahners and the Rabb Charitable Foundations Rain Garden, Smith River of Grass and parking lot bioswales are based on iconic Florida ecosystems. These large-scale rain gardens, or created wetlands, recharge groundwater and keep stormwater in contact with plants for long periods of time to best remove pollutants. Open bodies of water, including Harvey’s, Deep and West Lakes retain pollutants by allowing particulates to settle. The entire stormwater system uses appropriate Florida native plants, creating both a sense of place and habitat for native wildlife. The effectiveness of the system is currently being monitored by a visiting scientist from China working on her Ph.D.

The typical Florida irrigation system sprays large volumes of water into the air, losing much of the water through evaporation before it reaches the plants. The Garden’s irrigation system is designed to minimize water loss by applying water directly to the soil, near the roots, reducing both runoff and evaporation. The system also features the some of the newest in water saving features. A smart weather station records weather data to determine when plants need irrigation and when rainfall is sufficient to keep them healthy. The system also takes advantage of developments in efficient micro- and drip-irrigation and low-flow irrigation heads that reduce water losses to evaporation and run-off.

For more great examples of ways to incorporate smart irrigation and stormwater management into your home, visit the Naples Garden Club Idea Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden. The Idea Garden includes a residential-sized swale that is dry throughout most of the year and acts as a rain garden during storms. The rain garden uses attractive river-rock as structure to prevent erosion and colorful plants to provide visual interest. The area is sized so that any water entering can permeate into the soil within 24 hours, preventing standing water that can breed mosquitoes. Overflow from the rain garden enters a drain that connects with the rest of the Garden’s stormwater system.

The Idea Garden also takes advantage of the shed’s roof to capture rain water runoff in a rain barrel that can be used for irrigating vegetables. A home rain barrel system can range from a food-grade drum attached to a downspout, to a large-scale and specifically designed cistern structure. Rain gardens and barrels can be attractive and inexpensive solutions in nearly any home to help reduce water use and keep pollutants out of our lakes, rivers and bays. During your next visit to the Garden, be sure to check out the Napes Garden Club Idea Garden for these and other water saving solutions for your home landscape.