Gardening enthusiast Sherry Coussens remembers the debris and downed fencing as she peered around at the wrath inflicted by Hurricane Irma on her Islamorada property. With devastation, however, brought an opportunity to bring back a stronger, more resilient garden that still maintained that comforting, tropical feel she had and loved.

Coussens was crushed upon returning home having admired her treasured garden. But she quickly realized what was an opportune time in making the best of a situation to revamp her garden. With eight palms and more than 60 different plants on her MM 90 property today, Coussens garden creation is something to behold.

“I just thought, OK, now’s my chance to redo the garden, strip it and start from scratch and put in salt and drought tolerant plants that I could neglect if I left,” Coussens said. “I wanted to put in plants that I knew would come back in the event of a hurricane or storm.”

As Coussens’ husband and son stripped and cleared a debris-ridden property, she sat back and began to envision her reinvigorated tropical paradise. A master gardener, Coussens would gaze through books to intertwine ideas for the right natives with iguana-proof and drought-tolerant plants.

“I walked around the property and wrote down what I wanted with the palms. I wrote down the native plants I was going to look for at the nursery. In my head, I could see exactly where everything was,” she said.

The planting was a slow, methodical process as Coussens would stand back from her garden to place the royals in that perfect position, while layering native buccaneers and silver thatch. Today, Coussens said her plants are full, mature and more beautiful than ever.

“It doesn’t look like the same property at all,” she said. “It’s so comforting to be out there and walking through it. It’s to that point where it’s absolutely perfect.

“Everything is basically sustaining itself,” she continued. “On the left hand side of the property where it’s really lush, we have no watering there. We have the variegated ginger, which sometimes when it gets really hot we have to water. But for most part, you leave it alone.”


Her tips on creating a resilient, inviting garden? Coussens recommends placing natives, like red sisters or Thai plants, which are pretty sustainable during storms, and mixing them in with non-natives that are drought tolerant.

“It takes some homework; you have to go and take a look at what you like and see if it’s suitable for your ground type,” she said.

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Jim McCarthy believes in community reporting, giving back and life on the water. A workout fanatic, diver and a bogey-golfer, Jim loves chicken wings, Marvel movies and sports.