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before landscaping - photo by Stibolt
After losing trees in last year's hurricanes, it's time to start over.

Instant landscaping?
By Ginny Stibolt

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.

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

The contouring

Before the new plants arrive, 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 on the right side of the drive.  Photo by Stibolt
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—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:

Lanscapers get to work.  Photo by Stibolt
Landscapers sink each plant in its designated spot.

· 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.
· Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) Asia - These ubiquitous little shrubs are planted everywhere around here, but unlike many hollies, the berries are insignificant.  I have several planted along our front foundation.  They are Boxwood look-alikes with much faster growth and without the Boxwood's foul, cat urine odor.

After the planting.  Photo by Stibolt
After mulching the job is pretty much complete.

· 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 roofline, 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?  Yep, nothing, except for the grass, is native.  Several 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? 

Palamedes Swallowtail and a Spircebush Swallowtail enjoy the Vinca - Photo by 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 entirely replaced again. This time they installed a pervious driveway and a drainage system--the instant landscape design directed all excess water into their house!)


Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in planting zone 8/9. She's wrote, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," published by University Press of Florida that was released in 2009. Now she's written "Organic Methods for Growing Vegetables in Florida" with Melissa Contreras in Miami. The new book will be release in Feb 2013. You may contact her or read extra details on her articles and other information posted on her website: www.greengardeningmatters.com.

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