A Formal Garden Renovation in Full Bloom

 Formal Garden area pre-makeover. Photo by author.

If you’ve visited the Formal Garden area of our Exploration Gardens here at UF/IFAS Extension Orange County over the last few months, you’ve probably wondered to yourself… what on earth is going on out here? Whether it was the rapid decline of the lawn, the plastic covering that quickly turned into a makeshift greenhouse, or the installation of a sky-blue fountain—there has certainly been a lot to take in!

In the heart of a once monotonous landscape dominated by Bermuda grass (and its persistent weedy companions), the formal garden renovation has emerged as a beacon of change! This ambitious project aimed not only to revitalize the area aesthetically, but also to embrace Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles, bringing forth a harmonious blend of eco-friendly plants, a living sculptural fountain, and interactive walkways.

Formal Garden area post-makeover. Photo by author.

The Bermuda Grass Exodus To effectively liberate this space from the clutches of Bermuda grass, a strategic approach involving various herbicides, a cover and smother application, and good old-fashioned mechanical removal, was crucial. Initial treatments included two applications of a broad-spectrum, post-emergent herbicide to the entire lawn area. Afterward, this same area was then completely covered in plastic, a crucial step to hinder the germination of any existing Bermuda grass present. This practice is also commonly referred to as soil solarization. Soil solarization aids in managing weed seeds, nematodes, diseases, and insects within the soil by elevating temperatures to levels that are fatal to many of these pests and non-conducive for weed seed germination. More information on soil solarization can be found here.

 Living sculptural fountain. Photo by author.

After covering the area for a period of ~6 weeks, we reluctantly accepted defeat. That is to say, the temperatures were simply not high enough for effective solarization to work. So, we proceeded with mechanical removal. This involved manually uprooting the remaining weakened Bermuda grass (and again… largely associated weeds). Once the mechanical removal was complete, long-term control of the Bermuda grass was reinforced by applying a pre-emergent herbicide. This preventive measure inhibits germination of the weed seed bank that may have been agitated during mechanical removal. Combining post-emergent treatment, cover and smother techniques, mechanical removal, and pre-emergent herbicide application is a comprehensive strategy for managing Bermuda grass and other associated turf weeds, promoting a healthier, more desirable landscape.

Drift® roses. Photo by author.

A Symphony of Form and Function The renovation didn’t stop at reclaiming the greenery; it extended to incorporating captivating elements that we hope will beckon visitors into a world of artistry and horticulture! Thanks to incredibly generous donations from Brantley Nurseries, Green Isle Gardens, Sieffert’s Nursery, Ameriscapes Landscape, Lukas Nursery, and Precast & Gardening Depot—we were able to incorporate several native and other low-maintenance ornamental plants, including Ilex Schillings, drift roses, dwarf azaleas, Darrow’s blueberry, and Simpson’s stopper. Thanks to donations from John Madison Landscaping and Jesse’s Tree Service, walkways were laid with utility mulch from recently cleared oak trees and crushed shell, which were woven into the design, encouraging visitors to immerse themselves in the beauty of the transformed space. Mulching has many benefits, including maintaining soil moisture and temperature and preventing soil erosion and germination of weed seeds. Incorporating pervious pavements like crushed shell or gravel allows rainwater to soak into the ground rather than running into storm drains.

Dwarf Encore® Azaleas. Photo by author.

The installation of a living central fountain, donated by Precast & Gardening Depot, lends an enhanced sensory experience, providing a sky-blue backdrop to the vibrant colors of various ornamentals planted directly into the fountain. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, this renovated formal garden stands as a testament to the feasibility of incorporating sculpture and Florida-friendly principles within homeowners’ association (HOA) guidelines. We hope that the revitalization of this garden space underscores the potential for HOA-friendly landscapes to not only coexist with native and non-invasive ornamentals, but also flourish in a way that elevates the entire community!

Darrow’s blueberry (native). Photo by author.

If you, or someone you know, may be interested in displaying your sculptural artwork here, or throughout other areas of our Exploration Gardens, please reach out to me directly at hkalaman@ufl.edu.


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Posted: March 12, 2024

Category: Blog Community, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, HOME LANDSCAPES, Horticulture, Lawn, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Florida-Friendly Landscapes, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Landscape Sustainability, Mulch, Native Plants, Ornamental Horticulture, Ornamentals, Residential Horticulture, Sustainable Landscapes, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County, Urban Horticulture

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