For 16 years, Paul Davidson’s been struggling with the St. Augustine grass covering the front and backyard of his home in Deercreek, a 750-home gated subdivision in Jacksonville. The grass, notorious for pest problems and browning in drought conditions, proved nothing but a headache for the homeowner. He had heard of people experimenting with the flowering groundcover, perennial peanut (Arachis Glabrata), as a grass alternative, but wasn’t convinced it would work. It was actually an editorial in the local newspaper about the need to conserve water that inspired him to give it a try.
“I decided to make the yard – not just the backyard, but the whole yard – Florida-friendly. All drought-resistant plants and ground coverings,” Davidson explains. Perennial peanut (also known as eco-turf) is a great environmental alternative to a grass yard. It is tolerant to Florida’s environment (salt and heat) and requires much less water, pesticides and fertilizer once it’s established.
Once Davidson decided he was going to completely redo his front and backyard to make it Florida-friendly, he decided to seek advice from the experts. He started attending the Florida Native Plant Society meetings held once a month at the Regency Square Library. There he met James Loper, a landscape designer and owner of Reflections of Nature Nursery in Yulee, Fla., who had planted peanut in his yard. “He said it was doing really well and that was the confidence I needed to go forward,” says Davidson.
One big obstacle still stood in Davidson’s way. He would have to seek approval from the Deercreek Architectural Review Board. His eco-friendly landscape plan was rejected at the first meeting. “Doing your yard in Mandarin or Orange Park or Jacksonville Beach or any place else, you do what you want to do. If you live in a gated community, you have to be concerned about all of these people that go around and complain [about your landscape],” Davidson explains. Not willing to accept defeat, he returned to the board 30 days later with a refined approach. “When I went to this meeting, I was pretty firm in my thinking on how I wanted to do things."
Luckily for Davidson, the board had a new member – a landscape architect that was familiar with perennial peanut. He gave Davidson one requirement. He would have to install a boarder of Asiatic jasmine along both sides of his yard, so the peanut wouldn’t run into his neighbor’s grass. Davidson was now ready to start ripping out all of the existing sod and greenery. He hired landscape architect, Jay Devine to do the frontyard, and he designed the back himself.
He also contacted Jerry Stageman, the owner of Sunset Specialty Groundcover, a peanut sod farm in Live Oak, directly and ordered 4,000-square-feet of peanut. Over 30 rolls were delivered in 30-inch wide by 60-foot long rolls on a tractor-trailer. “This was a big job . . . bigger than what I thought. I had like eight guys here for five days,” Davidson admits. Aside from the peanut in both the front and backyard, he planted over 1,600 new plants including 950 Asiatic jasmine, multiple beds of Blue-Eyed grass, juniper, multiple beds of Giant Liriope, a big bed of Iris and a bed in the backyard, right on the bank going down to the creek of Sunshine Mimosa, a spreading groundcover with pink flowers.
“I wanted to do this because I thought I could make a difference. I wanted to show an example of what can be done. If you want to know the truth, I wasn’t sure it could be done. I went into this with a leap of faith,” Davidson says. The new landscape has been established for about a month-and-a-half and he says it looks beautiful and he couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
Neighbors have been mostly positive about Davidson’s new yard, but a few remain skeptical about what it will look like in a year. So is Davidson because this project is the first of its kind in Deercreek. “The idea behind the whole thing is once it’s established, there will be absolutely no more fertilizer, no more pest control and very little, if any, watering. That and you’ll only have to mow the peanut grass about three times per year,” he explains. Most of the plants are doing well. A few have died, but Davidson says “this is better than I expected and I’m more than happy with the results.”