Like many Florida stories, this one starts with being stuck in traffic on Interstate 75. It was late February, and I was on my way to Orlando to help kick off the celebration of the Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Program’s 30th anniversary. With traffic at a standstill, I had nothing but time to think about what I was going to say.
I’d been Dean for UF/IFAS Extension for a little more than a year and FFL was one of our signature programs, with a long history of providing research-based education about sustainable horticulture practices to Florida’s communities. There was so much to talk about that it would be hard to confine myself to a fifteen-minute speech. On top of that, if traffic didn’t start moving soon, I was going to be late.
Eventually, I crawled onto the Florida Turnpike and made it to the Orange County Extension office on time. It was a relief to leave the highway and enter Orange County Extension’s beautiful Exploration Gardens, where guests were being led on a tour by Extension faculty and Master Gardener volunteers. I’ve spent most of my teaching career as a specialist in urban forestry — I’m a tree guy, so I felt right at home. As I strolled the flowering trails and sampled strawberries from the edibles garden, I immediately felt all the tensions of my commute melt away.
That’s the healing power of plants!
Among the guests, I was gratified to see FNGLA 2022-23 President Eric Smith, retired CEO Ben Bolusky and current CEO Tal Coley. Eric, Ben, and Tal have been great friends and supporters of FFL.
Florida’s green industry and the state’s environment are mutually dependent upon each other. In the same way, FFL and FNGLA share a mission to inspire Floridians to improve their quality of life and beautify their landscapes in ways which work in harmony with the natural environment. Responding to climate change, water availability and quality, and Florida’s ever-increasing population, together we’re seeking ways to rethink what it means to have a quintessential Florida landscape.
Green Industry BMPs and FFL-Certified Professionals programs have been some of our greatest partnership success stories. Since 2006, more than 75,000 landscape professionals have received GI-BMP training. Our 250 instructors come from UF/IFAS Extension, industry, government agencies and volunteers, teaching courses online and in person, in English and Spanish. Since 2020, the FFL Certified Professional program has issued 171 certificates to people from Extension and green industries in 36 Florida counties.
The results of our mutual efforts have been massive: 340 million gallons of water were saved by homeowners last year through FFL; and nearly 120,000 pounds of nitrogen were prevented from entering our waters. At the same time, Florida’s environmental horticulture industry has been growing by 9 percent each year. Additionally, consumers are engaged in picking the right plants for the right place, fertilizing appropriately, and expanding their horizons with edible landscapes and water-efficient lawns.
More and more people want to experience the feeling of leaving the highway for the peacefulness of a Florida-friendly landscape.
Partners like FNGLA, Florida DEP, local county governments, and homeowners throughout Florida have been the key to FFL’s success. And, together with friends like these, FFL is a 30-year tree just starting to grow to its full potential.
Andra Johnson, Ph.D., is the Dean for UF/IFAS Extension and the Director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service.