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.