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Florida Landscape Daily Chronicle

March 2016 Posts:


>A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (1 and 2)

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping (3-6 )

A Not Totally Accurate Map Indicating Land usage in 1940's Florida (7)

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3/06/2016 by Leigh M. Fulghum, Botanist

A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

1. Introduction

Up until the late 1950's, professionally designed landscaping was reserved for only the most elite plats in South Florida. Middle class neighborhoods relied on local small hardware and garden centers, or a smattering of nurserymen, for advice on what to plant and how to take care of it in South Florida's bewildering sandy soils.

Residential development had spread not many miles inland from the coastal to former pine flatwoods sites, not yet extending into cypress lands and the everglades. If you were in a non-waterfront plat, the soil was pineland sand, while neighborhoods constructed with canals or on the Intracoastal, were filled with silica sand dredged to create the waterfronts.

Either way, it was a poor soil to deal with, and only those residents who moved here from the great garden states had the knowledge to create and maintain a beautiful lawn. They were close-lipped about it too- to be known as creating and keeping the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood was once a coveted badge of gentility and distinction.

Those of us from pioneer families had no great knowledge of gardening, due to the formidable heat and insects, for three generations we had failed. We learned landscaping according to what was passed neighbor to neighbor and around the family, in the form of cuttings, tips, and folklore.

Florida has long been a tangle of foreign or "exotic" plants since the early Spanish settlements, and many people settling here after the 1925 boom propagated and collected these into their yards. During The Great Depression, industrialists like David Fairchild and Arthur McKee with time on their hands as plant-collecting hobbyists, introduced a second wave of plant oddities from around the world.

By the 1950's, we had then, the beautifully planted and maintained lawns of the northern gardeners, the jungle gardens of those who wished to create around themselves a tropical paradise, and the lawns of those with little interest in landscaping at all. The basic lawn of the disinterested was planted with coconuts, areca palms, citrus, avocado, mango, pine, ficus, Surinam cherry, red hibiscus, orange ixora, and crotons, some quite sparsely.

When I was four we moved to a 1940's house whose yard was all of the above. It was not the most beautful lawn in the neighborhood, that belonged to the head of the school cafeteria, but it was a double lot loaded with traditional and unusual plants; it was there crawling along the foundation of the house, behind the Japanese honeysuckle, ixora, and crotons, I became transfixed by the plant world, and wholly absorbed by the challenge of gardening in Florida.



A Short History of South Florida Residential Landscaping

2. Irrigation Still a Problem

The passage of time has changed the equipment and materials, but sprinkler problems then and now are still the talk of the table when it comes to lawn maintenance.

The old systems were metal pipe, metal above ground heads with variable radii, and rainbirds. Solid and simple, these heavier metal sprinkler heads spewed hearty coverage which actually hit the ground before evaporating. The systems were, in fact excellent. Though no amount of ingenuity, pleading, or logic could keep the lawn men from mowing off the heads as though they were mere weeds.

This was well before the use of rider mowers in communities. (Lawn men operated with standard power mower sizes, hand edgers, leaf rakes, and hedge clippers). How the lawn men were able to constantly shave off metal sprinkler heads without going through a set of new mower blades a day is a mystery.

Ma bought a special set of colored plastic tall drink cups to help the lawn men. You never knew when they would show up. At the sound of the first pull of the mower cord, she ran out of the house, racing across the lawn capping each and every metal misthead with a tall colored plastic cup. It was a brilliant plan. We waited inside till the lawn men departed to celebrate a maintenance day with no broken sprinklers for Pa to fix.

Sure enough, in several cases, the cups had been mowed over into mangled debris, taking the sprinklers heads off too. I'll never forget the sight of one mowed pink cup in particular.

Thus the advent of today's "pop-up" irrigation, which is beyond the ravages of the mower blade, but there is no long term guarantee all heads will pop-up in each zone of a cycle each and every time the cycle runs. Some pop-up fixtures are amazingly costly, but that does not guarantee they will always work. Switching to PVC pipe to accommodate this present method of irrigating Florida lawns introduced myriad problems with brittleness, easy cracking and breaking, and increased weakness with increased repairs.

In 100 years of settlement, South Florida has yet to develop an efficient, easy to install, durable method of irrigation, is the bottom line.

Most every problem with maintaining a uniformly healthy lawn, whether for a single residence or large development, originates with irrigation, either too much or too little. This is caused by too much overlap in poorly drained areas, which then become invaded with dollar weed, or by clogged or dysfunctional pop-ups, causing brown-out or areas where turf grass dies and is succeeded by weeds.

When I consult with residents or community landscape committees I emphasize the importance of thorough checks through each zone of the irrigation system if landscape problems are evident. This means manually checking a zone, walking it, noting heads that are bubbling or not popping-up, if there is complete coverage of landscape areas, and whether heads have become turned to irrigate driveways or the street instead of the lawn.

If you are a homeowner using a commercial maintenance service, the only satisfactory way to do this is to do it yourself. Run a check when signs of wilting and browning are evident, or if dollar weed appears.

As for communities, the landscape committee ought to take this on as well. The property owner has to take the reigns and tell the service people what needs to be done, not the other way around. Too many times I have heard from landscape committees that the general maintenance man or landscape mantenance service said they did a manual check of the irrigation, yet I see the same faulty aspects of the system where plants or lawn have died in suspicious areas which I pointed out months earlier.

The fact is, the bigger the property, the bigger the job it is to maintain the irrigation system. It can be a department unto itself, depending on the water requirements of the site. Hiring an outside service to maintain the irrigation system still requires vigilance by the landscape committee which should have a baseline study of its own on the status of the community irrigation system. This can be used with regards to any contracts given either for system repairs, or for landscape maintenance and new installations.




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