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Couple's new yard defies severe drought

After losing two lawns in four years to dry conditions, the Stanishes have turned to plants native to Florida.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001

After losing two lawns in four years to dry conditions, the Stanishes have turned to plants native to Florida.

SPRING HILL -- Ask Candace Stanish for a list of plants and shrubs in her front yard and she can't name a single one.

But what she lacks in precision, she makes up in directness: "These pink and purple flowers are butterfly plants. I can't think of the name of them, but I've never had a butterfly here before. They bring them."

What Stanish, 50, does know is that for the first time in four years, her yard is likely to stay green and lush, despite the severe drought that has ravaged lawns in her neighborhood and throughout the state.

After losing two lawns in four years to drought conditions, she and her husband, Mark, decided to make a change. They replaced the vulnerable and thirsty grass, which had long ago faded and withered, with heartier wildflowers and shrubs capable of thriving on Hernando County's once-a-week watering restrictions.

"We wanted a very low-maintenance lawn," Candace Stanish said last week during a walk through her home on Apache Trail. "Everything out there should make it through all kinds of weather and all stay green. We should never have to worry about a yellow, hay lawn again."

The Stanishes' approach to landscaping drew cheers from Michael Molligan, spokesman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The agency has long promoted "xeriscaping" -- using native plants for a more natural look -- and encouraged residents to consider water conservation in designing their yards.

"Turf grass that most people want for their lawns are really not natural to Florida," Molligan said. "They need unnatural amounts of water to keep them going."

The Stanishes learned that lesson the hard way -- twice.

The couple travel often because of Mark's work as a national supervisor for Arco Construction, a firm based in St. Louis.

They lost their first lawn, Bahia grass, in 1998 because they weren't home enough to properly water it.

The next year, they spent $800 to install a sprinkler system, then $1,300 for a yard of Floratam, only to watch it wither and die in the drought.

Add those costs to the $600 to $800 the couple spent in annual landscaping maintenance fees and the bills begin to stack up.

By comparison, Mark Stanish, 54, figures the $4,000 they spent to redo the lawn this spring was reasonable. "In two years, it will be paid back," he said.

His wife agreed, saying their solution is not for everyone, because of the large cash outlay required.

"It was a lot, but I think it was well worth it," she said. "We're hoping that it's not going to cost us any money ever again."

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