Because of her wildflower gardening, Suzanne Spencer earned the Volunteer of the Year award from the Florida Wildflower Foundation in April and the Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year for Florida in October.
MILTON — More than 70 miles of wildflowers decorate the sides of roads in Santa Rosa County, which is more than any other county in the Panhandle.
This is largely due to Suzanne Spencer and Santa Rosa County Master Gardeners. She has worked with the Roadside Wildflower Program since the county approved it in July 28, 2016.
Because of her wildflower gardening, Spencer earned the Volunteer of the Year award from the Florida Wildflower Foundation in April and the Master Gardener Volunteer of the Year for Florida in October.
Mary Salinas, a residential horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator at the University of Florida/IFAS extension office in Santa Rosa County, praised Spencer’s work.
“She took off with it and really ran with it,” Salinas said. “It has led to the developing of meaningful changes in our county.”
The wildflowers can be seen along five local and six state roads throughout the county. The local roads include Garcon Point Road, Dickerson City Road, Munson Highway, Quintette Road and East Bay Boulevard. Florida Department of Transportation roadways include State Road 87 South, Interstate 10 through Santa Rosa County, U.S. Highway 98 through Naval Live Oaks Reserve on the north side, Avalon Boulevard and State Road 4 through Blackwater River State Forest.
These wildflowers flourish through mowing just alongside the road and not the whole right-of-way.
“Native Florida wildflowers are what we really try to focus on,” Spencer said. “These wildflowers have been naturally existing for many thousands of years. They grow and proliferate.”
Spencer pointed out Munson Highway as an example of the wildflower program’s success. Native sunflowers cover the side of the highway because county mowers no longer cut the grass on the backside of the ditch. Additionally, late season mowing helps to spread the wildflower seeds, Spencer said.
The program also protects threatened and endangered wildflowers, such as the pitcher plant.
The different species attract wildlife and pollinators too, such as Tiger Swallowtails, Monarchs, honey bees, native bees, moths and spiders.
“They’re using these flowers all along our roadside,” Spencer said.
However, taxpayers may appreciate the program the most. Not only does it provide beautiful landscapes, but mowing less saves $1,000 per one mile of roadway annually. That means the county saves about $70,000 a year or $210,000 over the past three years it has participated in the wildflower program.
Don Salter, the Santa Rosa County commission chairman, congratulated Spencer and Salinas on the Roadside Wildflower Program results presented at its Dec. 12 meeting.
“I appreciate everything you’re doing,” Salter said. “My wife and I were driving out on Quintette Road the other day and she said, ’Look at all these pretty flowers.’”