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Tour of Gardens showcases native flora

You won’t see a traditional lush green lawn when you arrive at Mark and Linda Powell’s SouthWood home – and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

They have combined their passion for ecology and native landscaping to create a peaceful oasis without leaving a large carbon footprint and are sharing their accomplishment during Saturday’s Friends of Maclay Gardens 23rd Annual Tour of Gardens.

“We’re thrilled to have them on the tour this year,” said Gary Griffin, Friends of Maclay Gardens president. “They have done so much with native landscaping and are so willing to share their knowledge and experience with others.”

The Powell’s 2/3-acre corner lot is fronted by the Central Park and Lakes conservation area and graced with four majestic live oaks. Instead of a lawn, pine-straw laden beds provide a background for a variety of native plants, including black-eyed Susan, American beautyberry, purple coneflowers, saw palmetto, oak leaf hydrangea and coral honeysuckle.

“I’ve always liked slow-growing native plants, no matter where we’ve lived. To me what was here to begin with is what should be here now,” Mark said. “Native plants can thrive in the conditions you have. You don’t need to add fertilizers that end up contaminating the water system.”

A low area became a rain garden, containing bluestem palmetto, saw palmetto, fakahatchee grass, Piedmont azalea, sand cord grass, blue-eyed grass, muhly grass, and golden ragwort, mulched with pine straw.  The rain garden turns into a pond after a heavy rain, but the sandy soil allows the water to percolate toward the Floridan Aquifer after just a few hours.

“When we were planning to build in SouthWood, they showed us a pattern book that had recommended styles for homes, including Craftsman designs, like our house,” Mark said. “But in the back of the book, there were landscaping suggestions including using native plants and recreating meadows.”

But for those who think a natural yard will look plain or boring, think again. The Powells worked with landscape designer David Copps to create a diverse and beautiful plan.

“He (David) made sure something would be blooming in every season,” Linda said. “We have a lot of pine straw, and I find I appreciate color. I’m drawn to the butterfly gardens. The wonderful pops of color make me feel really happy.”

The natural beauty has drawn others in, including one happy couple who used their front yard as an impromptu backdrop for their wedding photos.

“Since ours is the first home you see driving in on the south side of the lake, we wanted to add an inviting focal point for the community,” Mark said.

The Powells share the home with their 16-year-old son, Riley, two cats and a dog. The family moved to Tallahassee from Miami in 2008 and moved to SouthWood in 2010. Mark grew to love Tallahassee while he attended Florida State University for both his undergraduate and PhD degrees. Thanks to the computer age, they had the luxury of continuing their Miami jobs while living in the city of canopy roads.

It’s no surprise their home is engineered to mitigate harm to the environment.

Mark attributes his passion for ecology to his lifelong love of sailing and career in science. He worked for NOAA in Miami at the Hurricane Research Division for 36 years and now leads the RMS (Risk Management Solutions) office in Tallahassee. RMS is the global leader in natural catastrophe risk modeling for the insurance industry and his office focuses on analysis and forecasting of hurricanes. Linda recently retired from Florida International University where she was a data scientist working with the Everglades restoration program.

“To keep down noise and eliminate fossil-fueled lawn maintenance pollution, we use electric yard tools to mow and edge the lawn and swale areas and sweep the walks,” Mark said.  “In addition to powering most of the home’s electrical needs, an 11 kW solar PV system helps charge batteries for a lawn mower, weed whacker and leaf blower.”

They also have a rainwater harvesting system that collects runoff from over half the roof area and funnels it into an 1,100-gallon cistern.  The cistern overflow is directed to the rain garden.  They use a seven-zone micro-irrigation system that is also fed by the cistern, with city water as a backup for the really dry times.

The Powells commitment to the environment doesn’t stop with the landscaping.  Their home received LEED Platinum certification in 2011.

“We wanted to do all we could to lessen our carbon footprint,” Mark said. “We have a solar hot water heater and do all we can to conserve energy.”

In the backyard, they do have a small area of centipede sod — just enough for a game of catch or Frisbee.

The backdrop to the lawn is a sunny “sand hill circle,” dedicated to the long leaf pines and wiregrass that were once plentiful in the area. Yaupon hollies, magnolias, Southern red cedar, Chickasaw plum, high bush blueberries, sweet viburnum and oak leaf hydrangea provide a hedgerow for privacy screening and food for wildlife. Butterfly gardens and potted orchids provide bursts of color.

Bluestem palmettos, ferns, and a bed of native wildflowers help define the outdoor entertainment area which includes a pavilion, pergola, waterfall wall, fire pit, and an Endless pool with an expansive cumaru deck.

The Powells are very hands on when it comes to the garden. They have some seasonal help from Native Nurseries, but take care of the week-in and week-out tasks themselves. There’s biweekly weeding of nut sedge grass, and thorny blackberry and smilax vines, selective dead-heading of old flower and ironweed stems and annual clipping of the native muhly, sandcord and purpletop grasses.

After the years and months spent establishing and maintaining their landscape, Linda is ready to start reaping the rewards:

“I’m looking for a nice hammock for the deck, and I’m going to get down to enjoying my retirement now.”

IF YOU GO

What: Friends of Maclay Gardens 23rd annual Tour of Gardens

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m Saturday

How:  The day starts at 9 a.m. with a continental breakfast and silent auction at Maclay Gardens. Participants will then get maps and directions for a self-paced and self-driven tour of eight area gardens where docents from the Leon County Master Gardener program will be on hand to answer questions.

Where: Starts at Maclay Gardens, 3540 Thomasville Road.

Cost: Advance tickets, $30; day of event, $35; $5.00 discount for AAA members and Friends of Maclay Garden. Tickets can be purchased online at http://friendsofmaclaygardens.org/tour-of-gardens/ or at Esposito’s Garden Center, Native Nurseries, Tallahassee Nurseries, Wild Birds Unlimited, and the Ranger station located at the entrance of the State Park – cash or check only at these Locations.

For more information: 850-487-4556; http://friendsofmaclaygardens.org/tour-of-gardens/

FOMG’S MISSION

From colorful brochures to directional signs on the Lake Overstreet Trails, nonprofit Friends of Maclay Gardens provides year-round financial and volunteer assistance to the state park.

This year FOMC is making significant contributions to an extensive redesign of the park’s irrigation system so it will function more efficiently. The group also has funded comprehensive wayfinding signs on the Lake Overstreet Trails and provides amenities and equipment for the park on an ongoing basis when the park budget falls short.

“That’s our mission,” FOMG President Gary Griffin said. “We’re here because we love this unique park and all it has to offer to our community. We want to see it flourish and thrive for generations to come.”

Article source: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/life/home-garden/2017/05/18/tour-gardens-showcases-native-flora/101806348/