North Florida Tropical Landscaping

Hannah Mitchell

February 22, 2021

North Florida Tropical Landscaping:Incorporating tropical plants into traditional North Florida landscape design.

Today we're interviewing Jonathan at LawnMore about one of their landscaping projects involving North Florida tropical design. LawnMore loves taking traditional design and incorporating tropical plants that will bring vibrancy and beauty and will thrive in North Florida.

Tell me a bit about yourself as a professional landscaper. What are your company's goals regarding landscaping?

I started LawnMore doing lawn maintenance and had a lot of interest in landscape design. Over the years, I've taken different opportunities to study and practice design, and we've been able to grow in the scale of what we're able to do as a company. There's been some trial and error, but we mostly have successful installations. I would say our process is always customer-focused; we really strive to listen to our clients, to create a design that is custom-tailored to their preferences and is creative and enjoyable. We try to make the landscape design fit what's potentially possible for their North Florida home, but also their personality, preferences, and style.

North Florida landscape design with tropical elements with a house

How does the actual design process work?

Our first step in design is to have a meeting with our client where we walk through their property and get an understanding of what it is they're wanting to accomplish with the project.

We'll take pictures, measure, and take with us a survey of their property if they have one. Then we'll begin a dialogue with the client, sharing plant material we think they may enjoy, and asking them to look for themselves and tell us what plants they prefer. We encourage them to take pictures of surrounding plants they like, or look on Pinterest to see pictures of different types of landscaping. Then they'll curate a series of pictures and links of things they like and share those with us, and we use those plant concepts to begin working on an actual design. For design work, we use three-dimensional landscape software that takes the photographs we have of the client's property and allows us to remove the existing plants from the image and overlay it with the proposed design.

In that process, we'll typically create one, sometimes several variations, of what would be possible and what we'd suggest for the area. Then we'll have a landscape preview, where we meet with the client, review our proposed design, and make any changes they desire, such as the location or color of plants. From there we discuss the cost of the project and make any more changes that may be necessary to fit their budget. The thing that's really special about the software that we use is rather than a two-dimensional blueprint that is difficult to comprehend, this visual layout is a picture you can look at and hold, looking at your existing landscape and looking at the design, and you know what it's going to look like when we're done.

Landscape design with Hawaiian Ti, mulched beds, textured grasses

How did you decide what plants to use in this project and ensure the client liked those plants?

In general, we encourage people to take pictures when they're walking around their neighborhood, or when they're at work and they see a plant that really strikes their eye. For this landscape, the client was particularly knowledgeable about flora and fauna that does well in Gainesville.

They wanted a North Florida tropical landscape, and as a geologist, one feature they wanted to have was beautiful, ornate lime rocks throughout the landscape, which you can see some of in the landscape pictures. So we created a design that was going to envelop those rocks but not overtake them, coordinating with the existing landscaping and meeting the desires the client had, such as more color in the yard. Once we assessed the possibilities and options, the question for the client was,  "Okay, this is what's possible, now which things do you like?" We were able to come up with a list of plants that would do really well, and the client was able to collaborate.

What issues do you find clients have faced with different landscaping installations in the past?

Here, the client had already been through a number of designers and had experienced, for the most part, a lack of creativity and a lack of foresight as to how their plants would do over time. For that reason, they were actually having their landscape redesigned for a third time when we came to do the project. They'd been in their home for over 20 years, but the recent removal of some trees required a change in the landscaping. The new light from the cleared trees made it easy to create a beautiful landscape with lots of texture and color, as they wanted to move in the direction of a North Florida tropical landscape.

We were able to bring in palms, Hawaiian ties that give a burgundy color, and decorative grasses lending texture and depth of feel to the landscape. We incorporated new landscape in the front yard to match the back, while working with the existing landscaping they had that fit the rest of the neighborhood.

When you install these new plants and landscaping features, how do you utilize them to create a design that is cohesive with preexisting landscaping and surroundings?

It's really a case-by-case basis dependent on the health and vitality of the existing landscaping. As often as possible, we want to keep what landscaping is mature and improve it with newer plantings.

Tropical elements in a landscape design with large north florida trees

With this design, in the front yard we were able to keep a number of the azalea bushes that they already had, which fit the North Florida motif of the rest of their neighborhood. But we also removed some of their other plants that were either past their prime and struggling with the amount of sun they were now getting, or just more prickly and not as pretty. Typically, what we're dealing with for the majority of our clients is landscaping put in by a builder. It's lower quality and the design aesthetic is not very robust. For that reason, we often are in a position of needing to do a complete overhaul, but whenever we can, we still save what existing landscape material the client has. We create a design that will utilize those plants and fit the aesthetic the client has.

What was a big challenge in this project and how did you find a solution?

This project was definitely a challenge because of the number of problems the client had in the past with landscaping installations. Our number one concern was finding landscape material that would survive and keep the client happy. The client's backyard had very poor soil, since the area had a lot of clay, which is very difficult for growing certain plants. Just amending the soil, as past landscapers had attempted, doesn't take into account the development of the root structure for plants down the road. That's why the client's plants in previous installations did well for about two years and then started to decline. We actually took soil samples to the University of Florida at IFAS to have them tested, so we could figure out what the issues were with the soil and how we could amend the soil, or plant accordingly.

While it limited some of what we were able to do, it gave us a clear path towards the direction of using more decorative grasses, such as Muhly grass and Fakahatchee grass, and also bringing in some palm trees to emphasize the North Florida tropical aesthetic. The idea with all these plants is they can handle the acidity in the yard's soil, as well as handle the  "wet foot" they would have because of the clay. We were able to not only meet the client's desire for something that would be beautiful and creative but also this landscape has now been installed for over two years and is still thriving!

North florida landscape design with pool, Hawaiin Ti, and plant beds

How do you work with clients after projects are finished to maintain their lawns?

All of our landscape designs come with a warranty that is a bit more robust for clients who keep us on monthly maintenance. The encouragement we have for anyone that has LawnMore do a landscape install is that they would consider having LawnMore take care of the ongoing maintenance concerns for the yard, to ensure that we're able to properly maintain the plant material we install. We can also alert clients to prospective funguses that may arrive in the plant material, which is very common, especially in Florida. Plants often thrive and then suddenly decline, so having ongoing maintenance is a good preventative measure to ensure those plants thrive as much as possible. Because we have trained techs on-site doing maintenance, we're able to alert clients and bring in our partners who do pest control to treat any problems we see in the landscape.

What is the most exciting thing for you about landscape design?

The most exciting thing for me about design is being able to show people, with the use of our design software, what my vision is for their landscape. I love being able to not only share that with the client but also collaborate with them to create something that they have a sense of ownership of. In that sense, when it comes together, it's really exciting for everyone, because the client isn't surprised, but excited to see the thing we drew out together be laid out. It's not just the landscape that LawnMore designed, or that I designed-- it's the landscape we designed.LawnMore works with their clients to create custom landscape designs and meet specific needs. LawnMore is a high-quality team you can trust, going above and beyond to ensure your landscape looks beautiful for years to come.

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