Nature is in full bloom this summer at Palm Harbor Museum! Funded by a Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTU) special projects grant from Pinellas County, a “living landscape” is taking shape on the museum’s grounds. And while beautifying the land is certainly a benefit of the project, its intent is to also fulfill another mission—the reintroduction of native Florida shrubs, trees, and wildflowers that will complement the existing historic specimen plants. Through the introduction of more Florida nature in combination with a wealth of local history, the museum hopes to instill in visitors a “sense of place and community pride,” while also encouraging them to consider incorporating native plants in their own gardens and home landscapes.
To kick off the living landscape project, staff and volunteers trimmed trees and removed non-native palms and shrubs. Non-native plant species are those that do not occur naturally in an area. They are often introduced by people, either accidentally or deliberately. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, native plants have many advantages over non-native plants.
For instance, they are adapted to their environment, so they are resistant to local weather and require less water once they have been established. They have a greater defense against indigenous insects and plant disease, so they need little or no artificial fertilizer and pesticides. They are usually not invasive—that is, they will not cause harm to other native plants or hinder their growth. And they create a natural habitat and a source of food for native animals and insects like birds and butterflies.
Bob Fortner, president of Palm Harbor Historical Society, agrees native plants are best. “Before we began the project,” he said, “we had a lot of invasive non-native palms here. We never saw birds or insects in or around them. They didn’t support native wildlife.”
The first Planting Days for the museum project were June 24th and July 9th. Plants were generously donated by Dr. Craig Huegel, founding member of the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and former state Education Chair, and Hawthorn Hill Wildflowers. The museum acquired additional plants from Sweet Bay Nursery. Community and museum volunteers, along with members of Keep Pinellas Beautiful, Florida Master Gardeners, Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, and GFWC North Pinellas Women’s Club, began planting in the areas bordering Belcher Road and the back entrance ramp. New native plants were also added to the Veterans Memorial near the museum’s entrance. (right)
As these new native plants grow and mature, visitors can expect to enjoy features that include a bird thicket, butterfly garden, heritage rose garden, wildflower garden, pollinator overlook, and muhly grass meadow. Terry Fortner, the project’s manager, is developing informational signage that will explain to visitors how early humans and subsequent settlers to North Pinellas made use of these native plants, as well as the benefits of native plants and the significance of historic specimens.
One such historic specimen plant is the guava tree, like the one Ida Hartley used to make preserves that supplemented her family’s income. Ida and her family lived in the historic Hartley House from the time it was built, between 1914 and 1919, until their deaths in the 1950s. The building is now home to the museum. Although guava trees likely originated in southern Mexico and Central America, the seeds sprouted in South Florida in the 1800s and began spreading across the state.
The museum has tentative plans for another volunteer workday in August, organized by Keep Pinellas Beautiful. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for December. Keep an eye on their website for announcements: https://www.palmharbormuseum.com.
Palm Harbor Museum welcomes assistance with hand-watering the new plants; they need tending daily to take root and establish. The staff also invites visitors and community members to pull weeds, pick up debris, or help in any way they can. If you would like to participate in this project, call and leave a message at 727-724-3054 or email PalmHarborMuseum@outlook.com. Other volunteer opportunities are available, as well.
You can find the Palm Harbor Museum at Belcher and Curlew Road. It is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10 AM – 2 PM, and admission is free, although donations are welcome. Located in the historic Hartley House, built between 1914 and 1919, the property was also the site of a factory that made ladders for citrus growers. The museum’s exhibits promote self-guided learning and discovery, but docents are available to answer questions and share knowledge that will enhance your visit. Group tours are also available.
Sources for story can be found by visiting: Palm Harbor Museum website: https://www.palmharbormuseum.com/, Bill Fortner, president of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, and the United States Department of Agriculture: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/. Photos are courtesy of the Palm Harbor Musuem. Some photos are added as a representation of the native plants planned as the museum continues to grow and plant! Story written by Dianna Gravemen exclusively for Destination Tampa Bay™