Floridata Article

Instant landscaping?

Before landscaping.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
After losing trees in last year's hurricanes, it was time to start over.

After losing their trees in last year's hurricanes, these folks opted for a complete makeover. The huge advantage to having a landscaping company come in and install it is that it's done in two days. I'll give you some cautions and considerations if you're thinking about installing your own instant landscape.

The contouring

Arrival of the plants. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
All the plants, except for the sod, fit in one load.

Before the new plants arrive, several trucks delivered topsoil and the yard was graded. A ridge installed along the road will provide for more interest and a little privacy, but drainage could be a problem in a gully-washer rainfall. I hope a French drain was installed at the front of house to channel the excess storm water to the lake behind the house.

Plants lined up on right side of the driveway.
Plants lined up on right side of the driveway.

The plants look pretty upon arrival

Because the landscape company is looking for instantaneous beauty, plants that look good at the time of installation are favored.  This may leave some gaps in interest throughout the year. Ask the question about year-round displays. Another potential problem is that trees, shrubs, and perennials may be planted too close together. Ask about the eventual size and growing habits of each plant and plan for the future.

First, the landscape guys spray painted the outlines of the gardens and put the sod in place. They then moved the one existing Sago (Cycas revoluta) to the top of the ridge. This location makes for a better anchor on that corner of the garden. The potted bedding plants were then set in their proposed planting sites. The owner was consulted before they were planted. I like the undulating pattern of the bed, which is much more interesting than a straight edge, but think about the mowing and maintenance. Don't make it too hard to care for.

Here is the plant list:

Landscapers get to work. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Landscapers get to work.

- Liriope (Liriope muscari `Variegata') Asia - As discussed in my French drain article, this hardy evergreen member of the lily family is normally planted as a border.
- Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) Asia - Widely planted around here, this odiferous relative of garlic is said to have been planted in South Africa to keep out the snakes. I've noticed the smell from twenty yards away when walking through the neighborhood.  I have seen snakes in these areas, but I haven't seen any vampires.  Hmm. . .
- Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) Asia - This small tree blooms all summer and has interesting bark to look at in the winter.  I wonder about their placement in the middle of the garden beds rather than as a specimen at the end of the bed or somewhere else. Hacking these trees back to keep them hedge-like is probably not the best use in the landscape. Yes, the common name is spelled "crape,"even though it was so named because the flowers' texture is similar to crepe.  It's not a Myrtle, either. This is why we need scientific names.
- Assorted daylilies ( Hemerocallis spp.) Asia - These plants will do well in the full sun and it looks like they are the ever-blooming type that will develop flowers for more than just a few weeks typical of the standard varieties. They'll become quite dense after a few years.  All parts of the daylily are edible.
- Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) Madagascar - Often called annual Vinca and while it is related to the true periwinkles (Vinca major & V. minor) in cooler climates, this is widely planted for its great colors and long blooming season. Plus, as you can see below, the butterflies like it.
- Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) SE US - These ubiquitous little shrubs are planted everywhere around here, but since this dense, slow-growing holly is a male clone, there are no berries. We have several planted along our front foundation. They are boxwood look-alikes without Boxwood's foul, cat urine odor.

Plants lined up on right side of the driveway.
Plants lined up on right side of the driveway.

- Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) Asia - Widely planted around here and shaped into hedges or gumdrops.  It does have berries that the birds like.
- Yew pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) Asia - These were planted along the front of the house and while they do take to trimming, they can be much taller than a normal hedge.  It's neither a Pine nor a Yew, although it is a gymnosperm like pines. Podocarps have their own family.  
- Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) Asia - a slow growing palm that can eventually reach 40 feet.  One was planted at either corner of the house - too close for the possible future growth, in my opinion.  You cannot keep a palm short, because topping it will kill it. Once these palms grow above the roof line, their hard fronds may damage the roof and fruit and other droppings can make a mess of the gutters. 
- St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) Gulf of Mexico region -  Except for golf courses, do they ever plant any other type of grass in northern Florida?

Notice anything? Yes, except for the grass and the hollies, nothing is native. Several more native species could have been chosen. I realize that the nursery business is difficult, especially with the probable guarantees made for everything to live a year. Safe, reliable, and abundant stock is the prudent business decision, but is is best for your needs or the needs of pollinators and other wildlife?

Palamedes Swallowtail and a Spircebush Swallowtail enjoy the Vinca. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes) and a Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) enjoy the Vinca a month or so after the planting.

It is up to us, as gardeners, to provide diversity

Here's something else to consider. These plants (and a few others) are so widely planted around here that the whole region is losing its diversity.  As native habitat is lost because of development or due to invasive aliens, it it up to us, as gardeners, to provide greenways on our property and diversity in our gardens.

More on possible native plant choices in the next column.

(Update: This landscaping job only lasted a few years before it was dug out and entirely replaced again. This time they installed a pervious driveway and a drainage system, because the instant landscape design directed all excess water into their house!)

Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

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