Erica Klopf was raised on a boat off Naples City Dock until she was 6, and she spent much of her childhood on the floor of The Naples Ship Store, which her parents launched in the ’80s. During undergrad at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she pursued environmental studies and art, Erica complemented her maritime know-how with earthy pursuits and designed the half-acre, student-run food forest on campus. “It’s this neat collection of edible plants managed by students,” she says.
She worked as part of the horticulture staff for Naples Botanical Garden before launching her company, Florida Edible Landscaping. While Erica can design any type of garden, her specialty is bountiful, edible plots, where you can walk out your door and pick herbs, veggies and fruit to cook or eat directly off the branch. “I had to go rogue and start my own business right away because there was no edible landscaping company to work for,” she says.
She designed the seed-to-table garden at the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s golf club and the Community Cooperative’s garden in Fort Myers. Residential clients turn to her for pretty backyards packed with superfood plants and native vegetation. Erica focuses on clients’ goals. “Do they want a food forest, a grove design, veggies, tropical fruits or a mix? What are the keywords that keep coming up? Traditional, Florida-style, English-, California-inspired?” she asks.
Edibles can be woven into just about any type of landscape—she builds traditional, English-style gardens with tropical plants that respond well to pruning, allspice and berry bushes for hedging, and fruit trees trained to grow latticed, flat against the wall. For a modern look, she may employ fruit trees that grow in clean forms, like a wall of bananas or neatly lined mango trees, mixed with verdant, shapely Monstera. Erica gravitates toward contemporary coastal gardens with sea oats, thatch palms and Elliott’s lovegrass—plants that recall the ocean with their tan and blue hues.
She likes plants that work double-duty for aesthetics and nutrition, like caffeinated yaupon holly, a dense shrub Erica likes for edging driveways or fruit-producing Monstera. To create cohesion, the designer groups plants of similar colors, patterns, textures and leaf size (imagine roses growing with Barbados cherry trees).
Plans are designed remotely, with Erica building 3D models of the land to get a feel for the home’s architecture, locations of the doors and windows, siting of the trees, thriving plant species, and a hint of the neighborhood. After extensive consulting with the homeowners, she draws the plans for installers to bring to life. Erica’s quick to recommend Fort Myers-based landscapers Ecovision. “We share the same ethics and mission,” she says. “[Owner Tim Watkins and I] are both plant dorks; we can pretty much ID any plant between the two of us.’
Planting for health is a primary driver in her work. Erica’s gardens flourish with superfoods like antioxidant-rich gac fruit and noni fruit, which is said to aid joint health. She touts chasteberry’s power as a hormone regulator and different types of magnesium-rich leaves, which can help with blood pressure. In her quarter-acre Naples garden, Erica and her boyfriend, herbalist Greg Wilkerson, grow soursop, holy basil and ashwagandha, which he dehydrates to make healing tinctures.
Ask her about mangoes, and she’ll rattle off facts about 40 different varieties—from the locally prevalent Carrie mango to the carrot-juice-tasting Gedong gincu, originally bred for a Southeast Asian princess, to the relatively new M-4, which debuted about six years ago and tastes like coconut cream. She loves the vastly varied flavor profiles mangoes can take on and how they’re perfectly suited to produce bountiful crops in Southwest Florida.
Erica gleans knowledge working as a sales associate for Bokeelia nursery FruitScapes. “Tropical fruit is sexy,” she says. “I could talk about mangoes all day.”
When designing, she’s mindful to consider the relationship between the plants, animals and the overall microecosystem (whether it be a pine forest, marsh or a Naples Golden Gate Estates backyard) to figure out how to work in tandem with nature. “You have to slow down and look at what would naturally be going on there if there were no humans,” Erica says. Her primary palette is native plants and she weaves in other subtropical species that are restorative to the environment. Edibles help promote biodiversity and foster healthy ecosystems for birds, bees and butterflies. “I believe we can reverse the environmental collapse and modify climate regionally,” she says.
She’s constantly toiling in her “lab”—her Naples yard—where she’s cultivated more than 200 plant species, including yes, mangoes, but also avocados, bananas, canistels, cachucha peppers, rice and edible hibiscus, mullein and Abraham Darby roses. She keeps a wide range to offer clients the best of what works for Southwest Florida. “I’m trying to select a perennial kale that thrives in the tropics, and I’m growing out perennial okra that will live 15 years,” Erica says.
The beauty of the blooms pours into her artwork, with watercolors of plants and flowers, and colorful, large-scale, living mandalas made out of greenery, like passion flowers, elderberry and moringa. She’s intent on sharing the transportive and transcendent power of plants with others through her blog, newsletter and books. With every garden planted, Erica knows she’s contributing to the long term. “The work I do now lays a foundation for solutions that I can see the effects of during my lifetime and create abundant gardens that will outlive me,” she says.