Friday, June 22, 2018

Native landscapes ARE possible in HOA-restricted communities

Dawn at Paynes Prairie...
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a 22,000- acre wilderness that represents the finest of …the Real Florida. Paynes Prairie became the first state preserve in 1971 and was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, one of only 600 designations nationwide. Its distinctive geologic features, rich and productive wildlife habitat, and value to people past, present and future make it an extraordinary place.

A gator lurks near the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata)
near the pier out into the wetlands at Paynes Prairie. 

On June 1, I made the trek down to The Villages with Marjorie Shropshire (my coauthor of "A Step-by-Step Guide to a Florida Native Landscape" and illustrator for most of my other books) to take the tour of native landscapes in The Villages, a huge 55+ HOA deed-restricted community south of Ocala.

The tour began at 7:30 am, so I picked up Marjorie in Gainesville at 6am. We would have been there at the begining time, but we were compelled to stop in Paynes Prairie on our way to experience a nice sunrise #MomentinNature there.

American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) glowed in the morning light at Paynes Prairie.

The Villages

There were 12 landscapes in various locations in the maze of The Villages neighborhoods. 

Steve Turnipseed, President of The Villages Chapter of  The Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), shows off his small but wonderfully landscaped native yard, including this turkey tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) which is widely used in the native yards on this tour as a relatively neat lawn substitute. His was our first stop on the tour and he gave us list of the locations of the other houses--three were right there on his dead-end street. 

While several of the photos below are of Steve's landscape, watch this You Tube video, which includes the before photos and also an overhead drone photos, and this one which records the transformation of a different Villages landscape and the resulting pollinators that have visited since the rewilding of this small yard, which now supplies habitat in the midst of golf courses and way too much lawn acreage nearby. .
An interesting planter filled with dune sunflowers (Helianthus debilis) Note also, that the vertical edges in the neighbor's yard require the mowing guys to come back with a string trimmer to finish off the job. It's more sustainable and climate-wise to not have lawn abutting vertical edges.
Oak-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is a wonderful addition to the landscape because of its huge whitish inflorescences and red fall color. 

A metallic bee pollinating a Starry rosinweed (Silphium asteriscus), a hardy perennial with a long flowering season.  Several of the Villages native landscapes displayed this sign from the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN)

This backyard behind the pool enclosure is filled with Blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella) and other natives. Also, a bat house at the corner of the lot provides habitat for these important landscape predators. 
A grove of sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana). This tree is a good choice for small yards because it's more narrow than the southern magnolia (M. grandiflora), but if you plant it in a damp spot, which it favors, expect thicket-forming suckers around its base.
Blooming Fakahatcheegrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) is quite showy for a grass.  Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) blossoms are not large, but they'll turn into unbelievably purple berries in late summer and this easy-to-grow shrub will feed the birds through the winter.
Most of these Villages landscapes had been professionally designed and installed, which makes it easier, but quite a bit more expensive than if you nativized your landscape on your own--maybe one section at a time. 

These planters in Steve's yard include spaces for growing edibles. 
Many of these landscapes sported plant ID signs, which does make it easier to figure out what we were seeing.  Scrub St. John's-wort (Hypericum tenufolium)
Our last yard, won the FNPS Backyard Butterfly Garden award in 2018. We could see why--there were many more pollinators. Part of the reason for so many more pollinators is that this yard backed up to a buffer zone and then a horse pasture. This was unlike the other yards that were closer to golf courses and highly manged lands.
Marjorie aimed her camera at a butterfly in the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) It was a lady butterfly. How beautiful.

All in all a lovely day that shows that native landscapes are possible even in a highly restrictive HOA neighborhood.  I hope you're adding more natives to your landscape.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


  1. Thank you, Ginny, for capturing a beautiful day in the neighborhood :-) We love the great work The Villages Chapter Florida Native Plant Society is doing and your blog!

  2. Great article, Ginny and Marjorie. Thank you so much for the work you both do.

  3. Interesting article. I have a vacation condo at A1A Condo Park in Melbourne Beach. In 2015 I removed all the grass around my tiny
    Mobile Home and put in all Florida natives myself. The HOA required that I have it maintained once a month so I hired Native Butterfly Flowers to do the monthly maintenance. We have a great working relationship and my yard has inspired another owner to add native plants and the park itself has done community landscaping by the Rec Hall and river with natives.

    1. That's great! One yard at a time can make a real difference especially if others follow suit. :-)

    2. Thank you and keep up your good work!