Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Swiftmud headquarters in Brooksville landscapes a winner


For decades, the mantra of the Southwest Florida Water Management District has been to conserve water using any means possible, including landscaping. That starts at the agency's own front yard.

When Swiftmud's office was built some 15 years ago along U.S. 41, deputy executive director Lou Kavouras said, the thought was: "Why don't we practice what we preach?"

And so, a demonstration xeriscape garden was installed on the 37-acre campus. The garden reached maturity, but xeriscaping didn't quite catch on.

"People had trouble getting rocks and cactus out of their minds," she said.

So, for the past two years, conservation-conscious planners and gardeners on site have transitioned to a more Florida-friendly style that uses native plants that survive and grow with little or no irrigation.

The experiment has been such a success that the site has been certified by the Hernando County Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program as a Florida-friendly yard.

On a recent walking tour of the landscape, Kavouras pointed out the use of Bahia grass for the lawn rather than the thirstier St. Augustine grass.

Gardener Jeff Toth noted beds of Asiatic jasmine, a glossy green ground cover. "It doesn't need to be mowed," he said with satisfaction.

Another of his favorite new installations are spiky clumps of African lilies bearing delicate white to pink blooms that resemble orchids.

Blooming prolifically is a bed of white to pink to purple periwinkles, which die out in winter but come back every spring, he said.

Ferns of various varieties grow so tightly under shade trees that weeds can't find a foothold.

"More plant materials are available (than in a xeriscape)," said Kavouras. "Florida-friendly has a larger plant palette. And more native plants are now available."

Once established, the right plants in the right places thrive especially well under cover of mulch that hinders soil moisture evaporation. Mulched pathways rather than walks of impervious materials let more rainfall into the soil and reduce runoff.

Bricked or paved areas in the landscape aren't all bad, Kavouras added. They, and likewise patios, don't need to be watered. All of these are incorporated on the district's campus.

Toth estimates the landscape redo, which also included planting some trees, cost about $4,000. The transformation will conserve both water and labor, although he couldn't put a dollar figure on the savings.

John Korycki, coordinator for Hernando's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program, certified the district effort, evaluating roughly 50 criteria.

He gave high points for an automatic device that shuts off the low-volume irrigation system when soil moisture is sufficient. More points were awarded for the use of natural mulches from the landscape such as pine needles and leaves and for melaleuca mulch, which is shavings from a trash tree invasive in South Florida.

Korycki advised on native plantings for the project although Toth and cohort Roger Roth did much of the research and design work themselves.

"It's important and a very good thing when people talk the talk and walk the walk of the things they've advocated and used at their headquarters," Korycki said.

Beth Gray can be reached at

Fast facts

To learn more

More information is available from John Korycki, coordinator for Hernando's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program, at (352) 754-4433, and the water district's Web site, water From the Web site, home­owners can order a free book, A Guide to Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

Swiftmud headquarters in Brooksville landscapes a winner 08/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 7:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute


    When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

    During one of the worst droughts in the Tampa Bay region's history, hundreds of houses used more than a gallon of water a minute. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times

  2. PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Baker's talking point about the growth of St. Petersburg's A-rated schools


    Rick Baker has used mailers, forums and social media to relay one big message in his campaign for St. Petersburg mayor: Schools in St. Petersburg saw drastic improvements when he was mayor from 2001 to 2010.

    Rick Baker, candidate for St. Petersburg mayor
  3. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  4. Clearwater suspect due in court after 9 die in sweltering San Antonio truck


    SAN ANTONIO — Nine people are dead and the death toll could rise after emergency crews pulled dozens of people from a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, victims of what officials said was an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  5. Email warning ignored before St. Pete started spewing sewage


    ST. PETERSBURG — A draft report lays blame for the city's sewage crisis squarely on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman and a cascading series of errors that started with the now infamous shuttering of the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility in 2015.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]