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Gardens now grow where lawns once languished

Drivers entering Original Carrollwood on the stretch of Orange Grove Drive where oranges have long been grown now pass another group of plantings that may be the future look of the neighborhood.

Flower gardens grace a number of yards around one of the sharpest curves in the road.

Peg and Bill Cottrill were among the first homeowners to trade their front lawn for a garden, partly out of self-defense.

"Kids were driving across our lawn as a shortcut around the curve," Mrs. Cottrill said. Her yard now features a dwarf poinciana, rain lilies, periwinkles and other sentimental favorites. The ivy, a gift from her daughter, has spread through part of the garden. She says the garden and at least one well-placed post have succeeded in keeping cars out of the yard.

Neighbor Ahmad Fakhar also used a garden as a deterrent to drivers cutting the corner. He says he hasn't completely solved the problem.

"Every time it rains, somebody spins out around this curve," he said. "Sometimes they wind up in the flowers."

Fakhar says he expanded his garden over the years as parts of his lawn were lost to weeds. "The plants don't need that much water, and I like working in the garden," he said. Most noticeable are the tall orange flowers of the canna lilies, which Fakhar added this year. He says the plants are so prolific, he has begun to give them away to friends.

Tatyana Bazhanov and her husband, Vadim, planted their garden two years ago. She says Peg Cottrill suggested the garden as a deterrent to the drivers who were using their front lawn to make a U-turn on Orange Grove. They were also looking for an alternative to grass because of the drought that has been afflicting Florida.

"When the water restrictions started, we didn't know how we would keep our grass green," Mrs. Bazhanov said. "So we decided to put in a tropical garden with plants that can survive from 30 degrees in winter to 100 degrees in summer."

She said the couple have also found that the garden, which features small palms, bromeliads and juniper bushes, requires much less care than the lawn.

"We had no time to cut grass," she said. "Now we just have to pick some weeds and use a bit of fertilizer and ant killer."

The Orange Grove Drive gardeners all say they relied on a combination of trial and error and local expertise. Landscaper Luke Thornton says they are part of a growing trend. Through his year-old business, Sunshine Landscaping Services, Thornton designs and maintains xeric, or drought-tolerant, yards.

"A lot of folks are looking to do xeriscape," he said. "They don't want to cut the grass in the summer and the drought is killing their lawns the rest of the year."

Thornton says there are hundreds of ways to xeriscape. Even grass can be used if it's the right kind and it is planted properly. Thornton says the most common mistake gardeners make is failing to prepare the ground adequately for planting. In such cases, plants or grass cannot root properly, and weeds take root. "It's not just the plant," he says. "It's how it's done."