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Going native creates backyard sanctuary

ST. PETERSBURG — Good design doesn't just happen. It takes knowledge, careful planning, measurements, technical expertise and artistic flair. Richard Beaupre knows this well. The 47-year-old St. Petersburg resident designs long-span bridges for URS Corp., an international engineering, construction and technical services firm with an office in Tampa. • His attention to detail and thoughtful planning is evident at his Pinellas Point home, which is featured on the Florida Native Plant Society's garden tour this weekend.

When it was built in 1958, the house had an expansive water view that since has been blocked by condominiums. What hasn't changed are the home's large windows and open floor plan that bring the outdoors in, hallmarks of mid-century modern architecture. And with the landscape design Beaupre added, the home feels miles away from cars, buses, neighbors and other distractions. With crushed shell walkways, limestone accent rocks, sun-bleached conch shells and a wide assortment of Florida native plants, it's the kind of landscape that makes perfect sense for the environment and the 50-year-old white and turquoise house.

When Beaupre bought the house six years ago, things were considerably different.

"When I started the yard, it was a blank slate. There were a few trees, shrubs and lawn," recalls Beaupre, who moved from Tampa to be closer to the beaches and downtown St. Petersburg. He kept several of the property's original plants, including a mature purple jacaranda tree, two citrus trees and a Canary Island date palm. But the lawn had to go. "I got tired of mowing it," he admits.

Except for a tree service that installed several large native sabal palms, Beaupre and his partner, Tom Heitzman, did all the design and new landscape work themselves. It helps that Heitzman, 51, is a professional horticulturist who specializes in native plant landscape design and owns Sweet Bay Nursery across the Skyway Bridge in Parrish, a 24-acre farm that grows Florida native plants for the wholesale trade.

Beaupre used computer design software to lay out garden beds and walkways for the 180- by 100-foot corner lot, then they placed a garden hose on the ground based on the bedding shapes. They marked the walkways and bed lines with spray paint. Turf was killed using two applications of herbicide, then the dead plant material was worked into the soil.

The driveway and walkways were filled using 36 yards of crushed shell, spread 2 1/2 inches deep to discourage weeds. Walkways were lined with 12 yards of large limestone rocks, and planting beds were top dressed with 45 yards of recycled mulch. Add the hundreds of natives that the pair planted themselves, and Beaupre estimates the total landscape effort cost about $10,000 — quite a deal considering the size of the property and the volume of plant and hardscape material.

And it's an investment that pays off from inside, too. Beaupre's glass-enclosed sunroom overlooks a colorful native butterfly garden. The landscape is so lush that when Beaupre and Heitzman have their morning coffee in the sunroom, the only activity they see out that window are the butterflies and birds. The view from the kitchen sink window is of a stunning wild yellow alamanda vine growing on a booted sabal palm.

Beaupre's love of 1950s modern is evident throughout the home, from the vintage rattan seating in the sunroom that he bought at a Tampa retro shop, to the original turquoise kitchen oven. The entry floor is original tan flagstone, which is carried outside to the courtyard, where Beaupre and Heitzman frequently dine at a vintage wrought-iron table that stays cool under a fabric shade sail suspended at the roofline (check out these inexpensive, sleek shades at www.coolaroo.com).

The home's retro architecture and the natural landscaping remind Beaupre of homescapes he has seen in Palm Springs, Calif., where mid-century modern architecture is popular and rainfall scant. "They can't grow grass there either," he quips.

Now there's a wide assortment of native plants chosen not only for their ability to withstand whatever Mother Nature throws their way, but to provide food and shelter for wildlife, color, fragrance, privacy and long-term sustainability. Still, like most landscapes, it's a work in progress.

"The only perfect landscapes aren't created by man," insists Beaupre, although visitors to his garden today might not agree.

. Fast facts

Make your yard

a native wonder

You can transform your conventional landscape into a more private, environment- and wildlife-friendly place by installing Florida native plants and using these tips from Richard Beaupre and Tom Heitzman:

• Place garden beds along the property perimeter instead of next to the house.

• Use a three-layer approach: low-growing plants at the street line, then a buffer of tall shrubs and trees, then another layer of low-height plants.

• Look out your windows before you landscape to make sure you're creating great views.

• Keep plants away from your home's foundation. You'll improve air flow and discourage pests, says Heitzman. Lay pebbles or crushed shell instead.

• Start with small plants. Nurseries charge by container size, so Beaupre bought mostly 1-gallon plants, which cost less and are easier to plant.

• Use plants that provide food for wildlife. There are numerous flowering and fruit-producing natives that feed birds, butterflies and bees, which are essential for pollination. "If you have the right plants, you don't need feeders," says Heitzman.

• Know what your goal is. Initially Beaupre was driven by environmental concerns, while Heitzman's goal was to create a "sense of place". Whatever your reasons for transforming your landscape, Heitzman offers this advice: "Think big and don't be afraid to make mistakes."

. If you go

Florida Native Plant Society-Pinellas Chapter's Second Annual Native Plant Landscape Tour

The tour features more than a dozen residential landscapes transformed into native plant habitats that are environmentally and wildlife friendly. Today's tour from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. features eight homes in south Pinellas. Tickets are $5 and are available at Art du Monde, 2109 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, from 7:30 to 9 a.m.

On Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., six properties in north Pinellas are featured. Tickets are $5 and are available at Nice Green & Beautiful Landscaping, 2001 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tour booklet with maps and property addresses will be provided both days. Both events are free for FNPS members.

Going native creates backyard sanctuary 09/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 25, 2008 6:21pm]

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