Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Grateful Gardener

Christmastime always makes me think of the many blessings in my life. This year, especially, I am grateful for the many friends and colleagues who have helped make my landscape makeover a reality. Gardeners are by nature a generous bunch, and I feel so thankful for the help and encouragement I've received from these special people.

Pam, a retired Extension educator who is now sharing her knowledge and passion for plants as a wonderful gardening coach, gave me two of my three rain barrels from her personal "stock." A good friend, Sue, gave me the third.

Carlos, a colleague, gave me some baby coontie plants that he grew himself, along with a chickasaw plum seedling, all of which are thriving in my yard.  I had no idea Carlos was such a gardener until he read about my yard makeover and offered me the plants. His own yard follows Florida-Friendly landscaping principles and looks great!

Kelli gave me a starter supply of spiderwort and tons of moral support. She is another colleague whose gardening prowess was unknown to me until I started on the yard transformation. Now she and I share  garden gossip all the time. Her yard, too, is a colorful mix of native and Florida-friendly plants -- with a little bit of turf too, that looks terrific.

Vicki, a longtime gardener and Neem Tree farmer,  sent me some neem oil as a "varmint deterrent" when I told her about the possum with the Midnight Munchies who dug up my beloved bed of bulbine. I sprayed the neem mixture all around the bed and it seems to have worked, because I haven't seen any ripped-up bulbine since. Vicki, a sucker for butterflies, has also been known to make emergency deliveries of milkweed to help feed the insatiable monarch caterpillars, who are literally non-stop, milkweed-devouring machines.

Master Gardener Virginia Overstreet gives gardening workshops at my local Seminole Heights Branch Library. Not only is she an incredible resource on all aspects of gardening, she also brings free plants harvested from her own yard to her workshops to give away. The blackberry lilies, crinum lilies and lady slippers in my yard are all gifts from Virginia's garden. She has inspired me to grow a few plants of my own from seed to "pass forward."

When Rick and I embarked on our Bay-Friendly Landscape makeover, I knew it would be an adventure, and it definitely has been that! What I didn't realize is that I joined a continually expanding community of people who are committed to making their own little corner of the world both beautiful and sustainable. I now know that when you create a garden, you plant more than flowers and shrubs. You sow the seeds of friendship. Merry Christmas, everyone, and best wishes for a green New Year!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Glorious Colors of Fall

Is there any more rewarding season for a Florida gardener than Fall?

Our natural Christmas tree, the East Palatka holly!
Sure, Spring is the season for birth and renewal, but to me Fall is just as worthy of rejoicing -- for the welcome reprieve it provides after our interminable, energy-sapping summers; for the shorter days that force us to slow our hectic pace just a little; and for the rich cornucopia of color that nature brings to this wonderful time of transition.

Cosmos, one of my favorite flowers
This is the first Fall with our new, bay-friendly yard and what a treat it has been! Our East Palatka holly trees are bursting with red berries, just in time for the holidays. The beautyberry in the front yard is laden with clusters of purple. Our muhly grass is showing off its feathery pink plumes. And many of our butterfly plants are still blooming, including the firebush, hummingbird mint, porterweed, pentas, narrow-leaved sunflowers and the lovely, delicate orange cosmos.

Even the patio pink lemon tree on our deck is full of blossoms that smell heavenly every time I walk past.

Beautyberry, a Florida native
This burst of color and fragrance is accompanied by a temporary farewell to some of my favorites -- plants that are deciduous or otherwise go dormant during the winter. My beloved chaste tree with its upright purple blossoms is now nearly as naked as when we bought it last March. Pretty soon it will look like Charlie Brown's pathetic, spindly Christmas tree! 

The chickasaw plum seedling, which is now about two feet high, is also beginning to lose its leaves after more than tripling in size over the summer.

And the beautiful lady slippers and butterfly wings are gradually disappearing from view completely, prompting me to stick a few plant labels in the ground where they are hiding so I remember where they are.

All of these will return next Spring, to surprise us with a new infusion of color and texture.  But for now, we are still content to gaze at our glorious Fall Foliage as we sit on our deck and enjoy our beautiful, bay-friendly landscape.

A hummingbird moth feeding on a penta. Several of these fascinating moths visited our butterfly garden at dusk early this fall. They look just like miniature hummingbirds!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Final Piece: Composting

Although we all know a garden is never really finished, Rick and I have now completed the final major component of our Bay-Friendly Landscape -- the addition of a compost bin. Now we no longer have to throw our leftover kitchen scraps in the trash -- we are turning them into rich garden compost for my herb and butterfly gardens!

I took one of the Composting workshops offered by the Extension Service recently, and received a free compost bin as well as a thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature of the compost. The workshop was excellent -- I didn't really know much about composting and it definitely allayed my concerns about smells and sanitation. I learned that if your compost bin smells, you are doing something wrong! I also learned that many, many more materials can be composted than I realized, such as dryer lint, coffee filters, shredded newspaper, egg shells, peanut shells, finger- and toenail clippings, even human and pet hair. Imagine my joy at finding a use for all the cat hair around our house!

You cannot compost pet waste, or meats, fats or oils. That's what generates odors, as well as  unwanted critters (such as rats).

The ecological impact of composting is significant. According to the US. Environmental Protection Agency,  yard waste and food scraps together comprise nearly one-quarter of the municipal waste stream. Rick and I have long felt guilty about throwing away vegetable and fruit scraps. Now I just toss them in a compost container on my kitchen counter and then into the bin concealed alongside our detached shed. 

Grass clippings make great, nitrogen-rich compost. But of course we have no grass, so we may need to add blood meal to boost our compost pile's nitrogen content. (You can actually buy blood meal in garden centers.) So far, the pruning and deadheading in our yard has generated quite a bit of yard waste - and I must confess to pilfering some of my neighbor's grass clippings, just to give my compost pile a good starter dose of "green." I don't think the "browns" will be a problem, especially now that autumn is bringing the annual bonanza of falling leaves to our yard.

 We are keeping our compost moist, and turning it every few weeks to keep it aerated. I'll let you know how it goes. This is new to us, so we expect to make a few mistakes. But I can tell you that our compost pile certainly doesn't stink. In fact, it smells sort of earthy -- which I'm thinking is how it should smell.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our Own Personal Nature Documentary!

The newest addition to our front yard is our brand-new "Florida-Friendly Yard" sign. That's right -- we are now an official Certified Florida Yard! The certifications are done through the IFAS Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program, and practically every county in Florida now has an FYN program based out of its Extension Office. I've included a link to the yard recognition program so that you can check to see if your yard qualifies. It's a wonderful way to advertise eco-friendly landscapes.

More good news: Rick and I were recently notified that we won the 2010 Community Water-Wise Award for residential landscapes in the city of Tampa. This award program, sponsored by Tampa Bay Water and the IFAS FY&N Program, recognizes water-thrifty landscapes in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. There are separate categories for homes, businesses, industry and government, and site judging is done by a team of water conservation experts from area utilities and extension offices.  This program usually only receives a handful of entries for each community, so please enter your home next year if you have a water-conserving landscape, rain-harvesting devices like rain barrels or cisterns, or low-flow  irrigation systems like drip hoses or micro-jets. The deadline is June 30 of each year.

We haven't yet received our Water-Wise Award: a beautiful engraved stepping stone. When we do, you can bet I'll post a photo!

Our female Black-and-Yellow Argiope
OK, awards and recognition are great -- can't deny that -- but our biggest reward continues to be our beautiful yard itself, and the many amazing wild creatures it supports. Rick and I aren't sure whether we truly have more wildlife than before, or we're just noticing more critters because we spend so much more time in our yard now, just enjoying it. We prefer to think the new, more diverse landscape is attracting more wildlife. We now have all the essentials -- food, water and places to hide or nest -- and it is paying off. Our yard is like a living nature documentary! I'm even beginning to get over my fear of spiders, thanks in part to this beautiful black-and-yellow argiope who spun her web underneath an eave on our back deck. What a gorgeous creature!

 Passionvine bloom
Gulf fritillary sipping verbena

More Gulf fritillaries have visited our yard than ever before -- in fact, we've never had as many.  Early in the summer we were treated to their acrobatic courtship flights, followed by the appearance of dozens of orange caterpillars on our passionvine. The caterpillars completely stripped our passionvine of all leaves in a few weeks, and we have since brought in two more pots solely to feed caterpillars. I'm still seeing a few fritillaries flitting about, but their mating frenzy has abated considerably and the passionvine growing along our deck railing is starting to recover.

Monarch caterpillars in a tug-of-war
 over a milkweed leaf
Now we are watching a late-summer batch of monarch butterflies emerging from their gold-rimmed chrysalis cases. Just two weeks ago, we counted 15 of the beautiful little cases, hidden among the shadowbox panels of our fence or dangling from a leaf or branch. The newly emerged adults are gorgeous -- wet-winged and vividly colored and quite unsteady at first in their new bodies. Once they've stretched and dried their wings in the sunlight, and have made a few short test flights, off they go - inevitably to return a week or two later to sip nectar from our flowers and lay eggs on our milkweed plants. The caterpillars that will hatch shortly from these eggs are likely to produce the final adult monarchs of the year, and we are rooting for at least or two of these monarchs to make the winter migration to Mexico. We read that it is only the last generation of monarchs each year that survives long enough to migrate, winter over in a semi-hibernation in Mexico and return in the Spring to begin the cycle anew.

Rick keeps looking at the monarchs and wondering how they even know to go to Mexico in the first place, since none of them have ever been before. Do they follow a magnetic field? Are they born with this knowledge imbedded in their genetic code? Even scientists don't know how the monarchs make their amazing journey. We're just glad they have found our yard, so we can share their incredible odyssey.
Monarch laying eggs on our milkweed

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where It All Came From

As promised, here is a list of where we acquired everything for our landscape makeover fro all who have asked:

Landscape Design

Plant-Wise Landscapes (Lisa Strange)

In our opinion, hiring a professional landscape designer with experience in Florida-Friendly Landscaping is the single most important investment you can make. Like so many of you who have contacted me, Rick and I wanted to do the right thing with our landscape but we just weren't sure how to go about it. Lisa's knowledge and eye for design gave us a landscape we can be truly proud to show off, as well as one that benefits the environment. 

Mulch, Shell, Pea Gravel and Weed Mat

Cypress Creek Landscape Supply in North Tampa


Native Plants, Trees and Shrubs
Tree-Mart (Tampa)
Twigs n' Leaves Native Nursery (St. Petersburg)
Wilcox Nursery (Largo)

Non-Native, Florida-Friendly Plants, Trees and Shrubs

The Home Depot (North Florida Avenue, Tampa)
Kerby's Nursery (Seffner)
Manny's By The Bay (W. Hillsborough Ave.,Tampa)
Tree-Mart (Tampa)

Wholesale Nurseries (can only purchase from these if you are working with a landscaper or landscape designer who has an account with them)

Myers Wholesale Nursery (Thonotosassa)
Robert's Wholesale Nursery (Seffner)


 As you can see, we spread our money around! I tried to spend money on businesses within my own neighborhood (such as Manny's) as much as possible, but I also had to roam far and wide to find some of the plants in our design. I love plants and I especially love shopping for plants, so I looked at the search as a botanical treasure hunt

Common plants like liriope and African iris are available at every mainstream nursery. This year, I was pleased to see bulbine and Flax lily also widely available at these general nurseries, and pleasantly surprised to find a few native coonties at my neighborhood Home Depot. But, in general, I had to go to nurseries specializing in native plants  to get those trees, shrubs and groundcovers. Maybe that will change if more of us ask our local Big Box nurseries to carry beautiful natives like beautyberry and muhly grass.

I'm going to continue with this blog, so I can keep you updated on our landscape as it matures. I'll also be honest about any problems or special challenges we encounter as time goes on. And I'll report on the success of our yard over time as a wildlife habitat. 

Please don't hesitate to ask questions about what we did or how we did it. We love sharing our experiences, and we hope that you too will share your yard makeover adventures with us.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Front Yard Finale!

After laboring for 2 1/2 months on our back yard makeover, we completed the entire front yard in just 3 weeks! This whirlwind pace wasn't a result of any superhuman effort on our part, but simply because the front yard is much smaller and had only a few tree roots to slow us down. You cannot imagine the relief we felt when we began planting and our shovels actually went down into the soil WITH NO RESISTANCE. Let me tell you , I was practically dancing. In fact, I was so energized by this unexpected miracle that I singlehandedly planted nearly every plant in the front yard in one day. We laid them out according to Lisa's design, and I went to it like a possessed Ms. Greenjeans. The rapidly rising heat and humidity certainly provided extra motivation for me to finish quickly.

Rick was not idle. While I planted, he measured our pathways and auxiliary parking area and installed edging, shell and pea gravel. We have discovered during this project that we each have unique skills. My talents are better suited to planting and overall design/aesthetic decisions. He excels at math, measuring and putting things together. Together we make a successful home improvement team.

Unlike our back yard, the front has only one pathway and we chose pea gravel for that to make it less visible. It intersects with a large auxiliary parking area covered with washed shell which gives us a parking space for visitors, further prevents any rain runoff from leaving our property, and buffers our planted beds from the dust and dirt of the road.

The rest of the yard is a combination of native and non-native plants, with many shrubs that will eventually grow large enough to really take up some space. Lisa put several plants with reddish foliage or berries in our front yard to complement the brick red trim on our bungalow. That's another benefit of having a landscape designer -- I never would have thought to color-coordinate my home and yard!

Following is a list of the plants we used. I have noted plants I am especially impressed with or think are especially attractive with a "Love It!" remark. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We're on TV!

We were pleased to host Leigh Spann of Channel 8 for a yard tour last week. The segment will air Wednesday, May 26 twice between 5-7 a.m. and maybe again during the 5:30 p.m. slot (for those who aren't early birds).

Leigh and her cameraman were at our house for about an hour, interviewing me, Rick and our landscape designer, Lisa Strange. We love showing off our beautiful Bay-Friendly Backyard and hope that the publicity will inspire others to "Do Something Different" with their landscape. 

In other yard makeover news, we actually finished our front yard landscape last weekend, after two very long days of work in the heat. Still, compared with the backyard, which took about 10 weekends of labor, the front yard was like a downhill sled ride! Start to finish, including edging the borders and pathways, creating an auxiliary parking area of shell, cleaning up and trimming our existing hedge, and planting and mulching some 50 new plants, we were done in just two weekends! Now if we can just get some rain....

Stay tuned for photos and a video tour of the front yard. In the meantime, we are taking a much-needed break and going on vacation for a week starting this Friday. Whew -- we need to go fishing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Introducing our new Bay-Friendly Backyard!

Drum roll please... Yes, we are done with the backyard, after nearly three months of hard work. Was it worth it? Oh yeah! Look at the photos and tell us what you think.

In trying to adequately describe the new backyard, two words come to mind: interesting and peaceful. The diversity of plants, with their varied textures, scents and colors, makes our yard so much more interesting. We enjoy just looking at everything. And the shady walkways surrounded by these gorgeous plants give us such a feeling of peace. Rick and I have been sitting in the yard every night and just admiring it. I told him last night that this is the first time in my home ownership memory that I have ever been able to look at my landscape and not see it as just a list of chores waiting to be done -- you know, weeding, edging and mowing. This yard enhances our quality of life, instead of interfering with it.

In Florida, one billion gallons of water is used every day just to water St. Augustine grass. It was that eye-opening statistic that started us on this landscape makeover back in February. I am so proud that we decided to buck the norm and Do Something Different! We can now say we are truly practicing what we preach, in our own little way and in our own little world.
 Our urban wild critters seem to enjoy the transformed yard too. We have seen our resident black racer on a regular basis, and the backyard birds are coming in a steady stream to our feeder and birdbath. The supply of "customers" to our butterfly garden is increasing every day, and last weekend we spotted our first swallowtails.  

Of course, we still have the front yard to make over, and Lisa has given us another beautiful landscape plan for that. But for just a few days, I think Rick and I have earned the chance to sit back, drink a cool beverage, and admire the results of our labors.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dare We Say It? We're Almost Done!

We have completed all the planting in the backyard -- more than 120 individual plants.  I singlehandedly planted 34 shrubs and groundcovers in one day a week ago and am very glad I got that task completed before the humidity descended on us last weekend. It seems like our gorgeous Spring has fast-forwarded straight to August!

We put in a very productive weekend despite the heat. I planted the last of the new plants, and finished mulching the beds with pine bark, while Rick completed installation of the edging. The FINAL task, occurring this week, is bringing in washed shell for our pathways. Then we will truly be done with the backyard, and ready to move to the front.

Many of the plants have been in their new homes for more than a month now, and they seem to be settling in and expanding. The lovely bulbine plants are spreading already and blooming constantly, attracting a steady supply of bees to the delicate orange and yellow blossoms. And the little shade-loving iris that I transplanted from the backyard to the side of the house are also producing gorgeous flowers -- white blossoms with blue centers. I have been having a great time getting up close and personal with them with my macro lens on my camera.

We already have butterfly customers in the butterfly garden, and this morning I counted three monarch caterpillars munching away on the plants. Spotted our first Gulf fritillary too.

Saturday morning, we enjoyed watching a sleek black racer and a beautiful glass lizard checking out our plant beds. We've uncovered several glass lizards hiding in the leaf litter during our yard makeover. These fascinating animals are legless like snakes, but have a lizardlike head and really are considered lizards. They are called "glass" lizards because their tails break off if grabbed by a predator, so they can escape. The tail will eventually regrow.


Rick and I are so pleased with the way the yard looks. In trying to find the best word to describe our new yard, I keep coming back to "interesting." Our landscape is so much more interesting with the incredible variety of plants we have now.  And it is truly becoming the peaceful oasis we hoped it would be, so peaceful that even the "Foreman," our cat Belle, has been napping on the job.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Starting to Shape Up

We now have two complete sections of our backyard planted, mulched and finished with border edging. We can really see how beautiful our completed landscape will be. Sunday's steady rains made our plants very happy. It also replenished our ran barrels, which were nearly empty.

We still need a few more coontie, and a bunch of giant liriope (which we are using as an inexpensive, easy-care groundcover) but all other backyard plants have been purchased. We still need to plant the 12 anise bushes that will border our wood fence, and we still need to install a few more muhly grasses. The roots continue to make planting very slow going, but now we have the end in sight -- at least for the backyard. Our front yard is much smaller and does not have so many tree roots so it should be a breeze compared to this!

I also have my butterfly garden planted alond the side of our back deck, and the milkweed just hosted the first monarch of the season! I'm still looking for purple coneflower and few other butterfly plants but the bed looks colorful and, hopefully, enticing to the "winged wonders."

By the way, Rick says that anytime a product is touted as "EZ to Install," it actually means just the opposite. Such is the case with this snap-together edging we bought. We need 150 feet of edging just for the backyard so we purchased this product because it didn't cost a fortune. The picture on the product wrapper shows a tiny little woman putting the edging together without even breaking a sweat. Hah! Rick had to dig a trench (through roots, of course) just to get the stuff installed at an even depth, then snap it together ( usually multiple times before he could keep it in place), then pound it into the ground with a rubber mallet. Nothing ever seems to be as easy as we hope, but it does look good and it will definitely keep our mulch from floating out of the beds into the walkways.

Speaking of mulch, we tried to get melaleuca mulch because we loved the idea of finding a positive use for a highly invasive plant, but the nearest supplier of any bulk quantities was in Ft. Myers, and the delivery charge was a bit excessive. I guess this is because there really isn't that much melaleuca in the Tampa Bay area -- though there is gobs of it further south, from Lee County into the Everglades. So we settled on medium-size pine bark mulch as a nice-looking, fairly durable and reasonably priced alternative. There is now a small "Mulch Mountain" in our front yard that we are gradually whittling away.

One member of our family, our cat Belle, is extremely interested in our yard makeover and feels that it is her duty to supervise our progress. Belle stays right with us as we work, hiding amid the muhly grass, and napping in the newly installed mulch. She seems completely fascinated by the yard transformation.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can anyone spare some Advil?

I have a feeling that the next time my husband hears me say "Hey, I have a great idea," he's going to leave skid marks on the floor trying to run for cover.

We got the landscape plan for our backyard and went on a plant-buying spending spree last weekend. We purchased all three of the trees in the design (two East Palatka hollies and one weeping yaupon holly), along with three coonties, and about a dozen each of muhly grass, flax lily and bulbine, a hardy little clumping groundcover with dainty orange and yellow blossoms.

Matilda, our truck, was completely full. But, when we got home and laid out all the plants where they are supposed to go according to the design, it was somewhat disheartening. They barely made a dent in our now bare desert of a backyard!

On top of that, it is taking a lot longer to plant everything than we anticipated. Not only do we have to slice openings in the weed mat fabric that we laid over our entire backyard, we also have to cut through a never-ending supply of roots. It seems like we can't stick our shovels more than two inches in the ground without encountering a root that has to be bypassed or cut in order to plant. It took nearly one hour to plant each of the three trees. Some of the smaller, 1-gallon plants are taking 15 minutes or more apiece. We put in about 17 hours on the yard from Good Friday through Easter Sunday. At this rate, we'll be retired by the time we finish the entire yard!

Despite the discouragement, we have planted enough to see how beautiful our new landscape will eventually be. Even with only about 20% of the backyard plants installed, we can now visualize the finished design of meandering pathways surrounded by densely clustered groundcovers, flower-filled shrubs and our small native holly trees. We will get it done, and then we will enjoy a  nice long sit on our soon-to-be purchased garden bench near the bird feeders.

Monday, March 29, 2010

We are now Grass-Free!

We were reaching for the Advil after this past weekend, which included some serious earth-moving and plant relocation. But we are proud and happy to report that our yard is now GRASS-FREE!  In fact, it is pretty much void of all vegetation, having scraped the grass and weeds away with our new best friend, the MT52 Mini-Bobcat.

We rented the Bobcat on Saturday, and Rick did a masterful job of scraping away our grass and leveling out our yard to prevent water from pooling in our entryway. Masterful except for the little boo-boo of cutting our Verizon fiber optic cable, thereby killing our TV, Internet and telephone service. In all fairness, the cable was only buried about 4 inches deep. Still I couldn't resist the opportunity to remind my husband (a Risk and Safety Manager) of the admonition to "Call Before You Dig."

The very nice Verizon repair technician who repaired our cable Sunday afternoon said that those little accidents happen all the time, and we weren't even charged for the repair!

 Rick became quite proficient in using the mini-Bobcat, as you can see from the video clip I attached to this post, and it only took about half a day to completely scrape and level our yard. Several neighbors stopped by to observe. I think the men were jealous of Rick and his Bobcat.

Our yard is completely naked now (one neighbor described it as "Armageddon") but we are now almost ready to begin planting new plants in our backyard. I expect to have the design for our backyard landscape this week. All we have to do then is to roll out ground-covering weed mat, spray paint where our walkways will be and then begin buying and installing plants! We have 15 cubic yards of mulch being delivered on Wednesday and it will have to go in our front yard. The pile will be there for several weeks while we plant, so we feel very fortunate to live in a neighborhood where people will tolerate a temporary Mulch Mountain in someone's yard. I did manage to transplant lots of African iris from the front and back yards to either side of the house,and Mother Nature was kind enough to water them well on Sunday.

Speaking of water, our other major accomplishment this weekend was in finishing our rain barrels and completing our gutter installation. I spray painted the barrels and we had the gutter installer cut and angle the downspouts so they empty directly into our rain barrels. Sunday's downpours were a test drive and they worked beautifully. In fact, our rain barrels filled up and overflowed, just like they are supposed to do. I will use the barrels to supply water to my transplants this week and, soon, to our new landscape plants. It was a good weekend!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Now THIS is some serious Spring Cleaning!

My faithful 11-year-old Tacoma, Matilda, has been getting a workout! She has now carried three loads of old plants from our yard to Tampa's yard waste facility. The haul includes philodendrons, Boston ferns and one entire load of bromeliads. I loved the bromeliads, and they are great shade plants, but their ability to hold standing water also makes them major mosquito nurseries. For the last few years, Rick and I have found it nearly impossible to enjoy sitting on our deck because of the little blood-suckers, so we're hoping our new landscape will be much less "itchy." Solving our drainage issues with guttering, downspouts and rain barrels should help keep the skeeters at bay too.

Our landscape designer, Plant-Wise Landscapes (, is nearly done with our new plan. Can't wait to see it!!

We do know what one of our new plants will be -- a native fiddlewood tree. Since we had to remove the golden dewdrop that was planted too close to our shed, we asked Lisa to suggest another small tree we could plant to serve as a "scouting station" for the many birds that visit our backyard feeders. We noticed over the years that the first stop many of our backyard birds made was to the dewdrop. They'd perch there to check out the feeder and, if it looked safe, then fly to the feeder to eat. Often, they'd return to the dewdrop to eat their seeds. So, we needed another small tree for the birds, and Lisa suggested a fiddlewood. Plus this tree produces both berries and nectar, so the tree itself will be a food source for our urban wildlife.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

There Has To Be A Plan

OK, so before I get too far into this, I have a small confession to make. We have hired a professional landscape designer to come up with a blueprint for our new landscape. No, we aren't rich. We have a small yard so the cost was actually reasonable, and we need help. Lots of it. I have all the design sense of a blind cave shrimp and my husband would frankly rather have his fingernails removed without anesthesia than do any yard work to begin with, so there you have it.

Here is what our front and back yard looked like last summer, before the Nuclear Winter of 2010. We had weed-infested St. Augustine grass barely hanging on because we refused to use Weed n' Feed, and a lot of pretty plants -- HAD being the operative word, since they died this winter. But they weren't planted with any theme or scheme, and most were planted in the wrong places (shade-loving plants in the sun, etc). Invasive Boston Fern gobbled up one side of our yard and I was constantly beating back invasive Mexican petunia on the other. The golden dewdrop I planted one foot from our backyard shed as a tiny seedling got a lot bigger and taller than I anticipated, and had to lean to the right at nearly a 90-degree angle to grow. I also planted gorgeous native Walter's Viburnum shrubs along our driveway, again without really researching their mature size. The two viburnums grew so big and so close to the driveway edge that we have trouble even opening our car doors to get in or out. Now you see why we need a professional.

The designer we chose is very familiar with Florida-Friendly landscapes. She didn't flinch when we told her we wanted NO grass in our new 'do. Neither did our neighbors here in wonderful, tolerant South Seminole Heights, an urban neighborhood of old homes and eclectic homeowners near downtown Tampa. I also liked the designer's holistic approach. After visiting our property twice, she's made recommendations for guttering to solve our water flow problems, with the gutters tying into rain barrels. She's also talked us into a second gate for our new privacy fence so we could move our kayaks to the unused side of our yard where we can actually get at them much more easily than their previous home behind the shed. Duh! Sometimes it just takes a fresh eye to point out the obvious.

So we will have a wonderful, professional design soon. But we're determined to install it ourselves. In the meantime, we are under orders to remove virtually everything currently growing in our yard. Whew -- it's a lot of work.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome to the Bay-Friendly Landscaping Blog!

Greetings Fellow Gardeners!

My name is Nanette O'Hara. As the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, I am always promoting eco-friendly landscaping that helps reduce stormwater runoff into Tampa Bay. I've tried on my own to incorporate "bay-friendly" landscape principles in my own yard, those taught by the excellent Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program coordinated by the IFAS Extension Service. But I never quite achieved the look or the environmental benefits I hoped for. And our existing landscape was still requiring much more attention than my husband and I want to devote to yard work!

This winter, like so many of you, I lost a substantial portion of my landscape to freeze damage. Sure, I knew most of it would come back eventually, but I'm not that patient! Plus, I realized there would never be a better time to dive into a total yard makeover than this Spring. I would need to buy a whole lot of new landscape plants anyway, so why not buy the RIGHT plants for the RIGHT place?

It was much easier to talk my husband, Rick, into this than I anticipated. We decided right away that our new landscape would have NO grass, so I merely dangled in front of him the lure of never mowing again (We are both avid fisherfolk, thus the fishing metaphors, and we would much rather be fishing than mowing and edging the lawn.) His eyes lit up at the prospect of "No Mowing, Mo' Fishing" and I knew I had reeled him in.

Then it just made sense, given what I do for a living, to share this yard makeover experience. Through this blog, I hope to learn from you, laugh with you, and maybe inspire you to follow my lead and give "Bay-Friendly Landscaping" a try yourself.