Monday, February 20, 2012

Trending Now: Florida-ness!

Call me delusional, but I really believe that people are beginning to understand that designing a yard adapted to Florida's fickle climate and sensitive environment makes sense.

We like to sit on our front porch and admire our beautiful Bay-Friendly Landscape 
The sheer numbers of friends and neighbors who have toured my own Bay-Friendly Landscape in the last two years indicate a growing interest in moving beyond that boring old monoculture of St. Augustine grass toward diverse and hardy landscapes that embrace our "Florida-ness." No matter where we hailed from originally, we are all Floridians now, and things are different here. Let the plastic pink yard flamingos run free!
I love my flamingo yard art!

I've also noticed, sadly, that interest in transforming landscapes often is followed by a dejected "I just don't know where to begin" resignation that often results in total inertia. 

I've been thinking lately about how to bridge this gap between desire and action, and offer these simple steps for all you landscape procrastinators:

  • Take small bites. Tackle one area at a time. Of course, I didn't do this, but I was also prepared to dedicate every weekend for three months to remaking our entire yard. I realize most people can't do that -- and wouldn't want to if they could! Just start by removing one area of turf grass and replacing it with a groundcover, or carving out a nice bed for butterfly plants. My guess is that you'll like it so much you'll want to do more.
  • Get a plan. Do some homework before you go to the nursery and start buying those oh-so-pretty plants you've never seen before that are calling your name. Think about what type of soil you have, whether you have sun or shade, how much watering you want to do, and whether you are willing to constantly replace tender tropicals every time we get a winter freeze.  Then select plants that share similar sun, soil and water needs -- a concept called "Right Plant, Right Place." Look for plants that meet your needs on or
  • Put it on paper. You don't have to be an artist, but it is very helpful to sketch out your landscape beds on paper. Note what plants you want in that area, and how far apart to plant them based on their mature height and width. You can even cut out photos of plants you like (the Internet is a gardener's delight) and group them so you can visualize how they'll look together. If you really think you are completely hopeless at this (I was!), hire a landscape designer or gardening coach. My husband and I did, and we never regretted it. Their fees are more reasonable than you might think, and they will almost always SAVE you money over the long run.  Check out the Be Floridian campaign's landscape design partners at for designers and gardening coaches who specialize in landscapes for True Floridians.
Signs throughout the Bette Walker Discovery Garden describe important
 elements of Florida-Friendly Landscapes
  • Beg, borrow and steal. Gardening is one area where all are condoned. Tour a lot of landscapes and take pictures of elements you like (color combos, planting beds, mulches) and then incorporate those great ideas into your own projects. I highly recommend visiting the Bette Walker Discovery Garden at the Hillsborough County Extension Office to see examples of all nine of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles in action.  Ask for seeds, cuttings or transplants of plants you like from friends' yards. Gardeners live to spread the love! 

  • Attend workshops on Florida-Friendly gardening. Each county extension office offers these, and Master Gardeners trained by Extension experts give a variety of gardening workshops and clinics at libraries and other community venues. In my neighborhood, Master Gardeners give evening workshops on a different topic each month at my branch library. They are short, free and packed with information. If you can spare a Saturday, please attend the "Maintaining Your Florida Yard" workshop co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and Pinellas County Extension on March 24 at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg.

Recognize these guys?
They're giving out good advice at the Discovery Garden.
Alright then, no more excuses! It's almost Spring -- time to get moving on making your yard a little more "Floridian." Please let me know if any of these tips are helpful, and how your landscape makeovers are coming along. YOU CAN DO IT!!!


  1. Thanks for the info! I'm also in the Tampa Bay area and am slowly learning what's best for Florida. This is very helpful!

  2. If it were only that easy. Despite the statutes on the books, our HOA will not allow anything but St. Augustine grass in the front yard.
    I'm adding natives to the backyard though with abandon!

  3. Great article! Looks like we had perfect timing. I mentioned you and your blog in my latest post at Central Florida Gardener.

  4. Jenny, glad to be of help. There are lots of wonderful resources out there to guide you.

    Daisy, under the new laws passed a few years ago your HOA cannot legally mandate ONLY St. Augustine grass in the front yard. They can mandate that a certain percentage (but probably not a majority) be in turf grass, and they can mandate other landscape requirements (such as requiring complete vegetative coverage of your lot, or allowing rain barrels only in back or side yards out of view of the street), but they can't require you to have nothing but water-gobbling grass in your front yard. Have you looked at your deed restrictions? Often HOA boards TELL homeowners things that are not actually written in the covenants or restrictions. In other words, they bluff and bully.

    My next blog post is actually going to be about working with your HOA to implement a Florida-Friendly yard, using tips from gardening coach Pam Brown, who gained approval from her HOA board to remove ALL the grass in her front yard. Maybe her advice will be of some help to you. Good for you on the natives in the back -- insurrection by inches is always positive!

  5. Thank you, Susan, for the plug! I hope your blog gets more people to apply for the Florida Yard certification. It's a great way to proclaim our "Florida-ness."

  6. I love your porch Nanette, and you give wonderful advice. All of us who get the necessity for Florida-friendly or Bay-friendly landscaping thank you!

  7. Thank you, Pam! My next Blog post will be about working with your HOA, featuring the tips you provided and a link to the video we did with you. You are proof that it is possible to work in a positive partnership with your HOA to transfer traditional, turfgrass-dominated yards into gorgeous Florida-Friendly gardens. Your front yard is just lovely.

  8. Really great entry, Nanette. You make some fabulous points and give some invaluable tips. I love the word Florida-ness... I might have to borrow.LOL Seriously I DO think many folks are starting to 'get it' ... including me.

  9. Meems, you "got" it long before I did! You are one of the people who continues to inspire me. I show people pictures of your garden from your Blog all the time as an example of how beautiful a Florida-Friendly garden can be. You put so much thought into design. As someone who had to get professional help in that department, I really appreciate good design now!

  10. We use to live with plants, as how we take good care of ourselves that's how we take care also for plants. They give us air to breath and to live.

  11. Replies
    1. Thanks, Charles! Demonstration gardens are a great place to get ideas and inspiration for our own home landscapes.