Here & Now
"Baby steps.” everytime I hear that phrase, a wigged-out Dr. Leo (Richard Dreyfuss) pops into my head, totally losing it with his gentle, loony-tunes patient, Bob (Bill Murray). No matter how many times I’ve seen What About Bob?, it always cracks me up. You know the story: Before his patient drives him totally wacko, the shrink writes a book explaining that you can’t leap from nut case to normal overnight. You must take baby steps.
Case in point: In 1993, eight people imagined a world-class botanical garden springing out of a scrubby wasteland on the wrong side of the tracks. A few folks called them “visionary.” No doubt most were thinking, “loony tunes.” Of course, we know how that turned out. Seventeen years and many baby steps later, the Naples Botanical Garden is Florida’s second largest botanical garden, just paces behind Miami’s 72-year-old Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. And be warned, Fairchild—they’re not finished yet.
Meanwhile, as others are building new resorts and gentrifying Old Naples in the glamorization-of-the-Gulfshore era, this guy named Sid Kalmans buys a 1960s former motor lodge on South U.S. 41. There’s not much land to it, barely more than an acre. But it does have a nice footprint close to Fifth Avenue South and some dense Old Naples foliage, including four fruit-bearing lemon trees. Does he tear it down and build something posh? Nope. He has this crazy idea that a colorful, Caribbean-style boutique inn has a place amid the glamour. So he sets about to liven it up with niceties such as mahogany four-poster beds, artwork and afternoon lemonade service. It clearly doesn’t compete with The Ritz-Carlton—the priciest Lemon Tree Inn room in high season is just $199. But it still has those lemon trees and a sweet gingerbread gazebo where people like to get married or have their morning coffee. Baby steps.
Last November, when the Naples Botanical Garden unveiled its spectacular second phase, there was Sid, along with his general manager, Rob De Castro, lurking about in the new Butterfly House.
Fast forward a few months, and here are Sid and Rob planting their own butterfly garden. Well, kind of. They’re actually fetching stuff and grinning a lot, as Vogue cover model/Everglades adventurer/Travel Channel host Hunter Reno digs up dirt in the Lemon Tree courtyard. The gorgeous Reno, who has lectured at the aforementioned Fairchild garden and creates organic gardens for private Miami homes, has popped over to Naples to tuck unruly clumps of lantana, milkweed, Bahama cassia and other butterfly magnets into roughly 12 square feet of real estate. When she’s out of ground space, she goes vertical. A Dutchman’s pipe vine, with its big heart-shaped leaves and sensuous orchid-like blooms, will snake around and beautify a battle-scarred old sabal palm. “Wait till you see the magnificent blue butterfly that loves this flower,” she says.
All this gets me daydreaming: What if everybody takes baby steps like this? We could be the butterfly capital of the universe!
We’re already on a roll. The Naples Zoo has been attracting butterflies to its backyard wildlife habitat for decades. The brand-new Bonita Nature Place, on the banks of the Imperial River, has two butterfly gardens. There are butterfly gardens in Lee County’s Manatee Park and at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Butterflies love Marco Island’s Tigertail Beach park. And why not? Among the yummiest nectar flowers is the beach-loving lantana.
Have you seen the new Butterfly Estates in Fort Myers? It’s a cluster of restored early-1900s cottages in the downtown River District. The huge glass conservatory claims an average population of more than 1,000 butterflies.
Reno says that butterfly gardens are ideal for the lazy gardener. After all, the plants are mostly weeds, and the butterfly garden is supposed to be wild and messy. You don’t need pesticides—just a handful of hungry ladybugs.
For those of us who have, shall we say, “charmingly rigid” condo covenants, Reno has two words: clay pot. This gets my attention. I could just dump out that withered whatever-it-was sitting sadly on my back steps and pop in a clump of pollinator weeds. Done. Wait for the butterflies.
Even the clay pot-challenged can show solidarity for the cause. For example, you could head straight for Cleopatra’s Barge on Third Street South, where Marilyn Janss’ stunning 18-karat gold butterfly pin, with wings encrusted in 1.34 carats of diamonds, can be yours for just $3,650.
I apologize to my whacked-out friends, family members and random readers (you know who you are) who may be offended by my use of such politically incorrect terms as “shrink” and “loony tunes.” But really, get over it. It’s June. Time to slow down and lighten up.
So let’s embrace our inner milkweed, flaunt our butterfly bling, hug our ladybugs—and savor every moment.
Butterfly Experts are Standing by
Britt Patterson-Weber at Naples Botanical Garden: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Malloy at www.naples-butterfly.com : email@example.com
During National Pollinator Week, June 21–27, The Lemon Tree Inn will release butterflies and ladybugs around the garden to kick-start the population. The clever 2010 “Pollination Package” includes a three-night stay, tickets to the Naples Botanical Garden and a packet of pollinator-friendly flower seeds.