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A Xeriscape Landscape Plan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Landscape Challenge on the Middle River
by Leigh Fulghum, Botanist & Landscape Designer

Having a personal taste for expanses of flowing emerald green lawns bordered with luxuriant trees and shrub beds, it is of little significance when designing landscapes for today's South Florida property owners who have paid top dollar for waterfront views. Expensive lots require bigger improvements, and by the time the house is built and the pool patio and paver contractors clear out, the interior decorator is panting in the wings, and I am typically presented with a small pervious area, a smaller budget, and numerous constraints, to create the dream landscape of a lifetime.

A challenging residential landscape plan on the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, without doubt required drought-tolerant and salt-tolerant plantings which would become established in the rocky fill left over from dredge and fill activities of long ago when the subdivision was platted. Absolutely none of the spectacular 180 degree view of the river could be obscured. The pool deck finished at least 2' or more above grade, leaving in places only a narrow planting strip between the paving and the seawall. Funds were limited by the unseen last minute expenses of "hardscape" remodeling.

Fortunately my savvy clients were educated in both agronomy and engineering so a water conserving Florida native plant landscape plan was met with enthusiasm. Some specific requests were: as little grass area as possible, but enough for a dog someday, low watering requirements, something fragrant by the pool, use of bougainvillea, and solution to the grade problems along the seawall.

My frequently altered work sheet began as a clean and neat rendition, the kind which almost never works in real life. In fact, utilizing a professional survey is to no avail when the architect fudges a plan to make it appear as though there is more greenspace than what ends up on the built site.

Xeriscape Landscape Plan

The north property line was already fenced on the neighbor's side, shadow-box style. This shaded alleyway was kept as gravel and stepping stones with just enough planting as could be seen from the small windows on that elevation of the house.

The finished construction yielded only about 3' between the pool deck and the seawall, including plumbing, while the pool deck elevation finished 2' or more above ground level in places.

Xeriscape Plan


Most of the greenspace seen above ended up covered over in expensive paving materials. The elevation of the pool deck finished a couple of feet above the ground level. A client requirement was that an area of lawn, for perhaps a dog someday, be reserved.


To obscure a telephone pole pitched on the corner of the front yard., the new landscape plan removes the high maintenance, high-nutrient requiring Queen Palms and replaces them with a clump of less demanding and self-cleaning palms such as Veitchia spp. A palm clump in this location also provides height that softens the lines of the two-story residence.
Behind the palms and along the property line is a hedge of cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco) to provide a formal shape that frames the residence. The hedge curves along the cul-de-sac so that from inside the house, headlights from cars turning on the dead end street at night are shielded. On the street side of the hedge in the sandy swale are Beach Sunflowers (Helianthis debilis), also on the entryway to the house. Viewing the front yard from inside the house, the hedge behind the palms forms a solid backdrop for an underplanting of ground orchids (Spathoglottis) in mixed colors.

Next to the entry terrace, it was found that a foot beneath the soil surface was an old concrete patio which could not be removed. Beach Sunflowers can establish over such problem areas which are sandy and too shallow for trees and shrubs, provided the sun is intense.