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More Florida Friendly yards are taking root in Hernando County

Anne Edgel, 64, stands in front of her Florida Friendly yard at the Wellington at Seven Hills community. Her water bills have dropped since she replaced her lawn. “I love it,” she says.

DAN DEWITT | Times

Anne Edgel, 64, stands in front of her Florida Friendly yard at the Wellington at Seven Hills community. Her water bills have dropped since she replaced her lawn. “I love it,” she says.

Floratam, so fragile in the ground, has hung on to its status as the dominant lawn grass in Florida like the toughest weed.

You've heard why, no doubt. Floratam lawns are a reasonably good imitation of the bright-green, weed-free slabs of grass that retirees remember from up north.

That's only when the Floratam is healthy, of course, which isn't often.

It doesn't have a chance when neglected, and is prone to early death even when it gets its required environmentally toxic doses of fertilizers, pesticides and water pumped from our aquifer.

Due to the double whammy of soil like beach sand and recent hard freezes, some yards in Wellington at Seven Hills have been replaced five times in the past half-dozen years.

And still, until recently, most homeowners in this gated community in southern Hernando preferred Floratam to the mulched beds planted with drought-tolerant clumps of grasses and flowering shrubs called Florida Friendly landscaping.

Some assumed any yard that is easy on the environment would be hard on the eyes, said Bob Budrick, president of one of the homeowners groups in Wellington.

"A lot of people told me, 'We've been Arizona and we don't want the Arizona look.' "

Another Wellington resident, George Massey, told me earlier this year that he hated the first examples of Florida Friendly lawns being planted there.

"It looks like Salvador Dalí gone crazy," he said.

But now that these lawns have been in a while, now that the clumps of grass have filled out and the shrubs blossomed, something strange and encouraging is happening.

People are okay, with Florida Friendly landscaping. Delighted even.

"I love it," said Anne Edgel, 64.

Her water bills have dropped and so has the amount of time she spends working in the yard. And it's met the approval of her pickiest neighbor, Larry, who lives across the street.

"You know how meticulous Larry is," she said to Budrick, who stopped by on a golf cart Wednesday afternoon. "He actually told me that he enjoyed looking out over my yard."

Edgel lives in a neighborhood where lawns had been replaced so often that the subdivision's grounds manager, Dan Dameron, virtually insisted that this be done with Florida Friendly landscaping.

That means Asiatic jasmine as a ground cover, miniature juniper shrubs, clumps of a flowering grass called bulbine and knockout roses, which look as good as traditional varieties but require virtually no watering once established.

John Koryki, who runs the county's Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program, hasn't yet seen the yards and common areas in Wellington that are landscaped with drought-tolerant plants.

But he likes what he hears about the plants being used. Also, he said, the number of drought tolerant yards in Wellington probably puts it far ahead of any other gated community in the county.

When he does visit next week — and if the yards meet the official requirements of Florida Friendly — he plans to encourage Dameron to apply for state awards given out for responsible landscaping.

"We need an award-winning community in Hernando County. We need a showcase. We're in an area with poor soils. We're in an area that has had damaging winters and we have a monoculture of (Floratam)," he said.

"Once people see Florida Friendly and see how good it looks, the resistance will start to disappear."

Which is what's happening in Wellington. Of the 729 yards the community maintains, a stunning 382 needed replacing after last winter. Dameron was able to convince only 134 homeowners to accept Florida Friendly landscaping.

Considering there are 1,100 homes in the subdivisions, you still see large expanses of conventional, thirsty turf grass.

But there's a waiting list for Florida Friendly lawns, Dameron said, and more and more people tell him they can't wait to get rid of their Floratam.

Finally.

More Florida Friendly yards are taking root in Hernando County 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 8:06pm]
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