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Extreme Makeover: Perennial Peanut Sod in Deercreek

Frontyard with browning St. Augustine grassFor 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.

Backyard with browning St. Augustine grassOnce 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." 

Taking the peanut rolls off the truckLuckily 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.

The backyard finished with peanut and other greens“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.  

The frontyard complete!

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.”


Jacksonville Backyard of The Month

In southern San Marco just at the intersection of southern sophistication and old world charm lies an outdoor living area that offers just as much warmth and function as one of it’s surrounding historical indoor living spaces.  The Coates family resides in this San Marco haven and with great detail and diligence have created an outdoor living space that intertwines functionality with recreation and sustainability.

The Coates vision was a low maintenance backyard that offered just as much as a high maintenance backyard.  After wandering and discovering all the hidden spaces of the yard I would have to assert that they did succeed!

Jacksonville Sunroom with Outdoor FireplaceThe first step toward their outdoor oasis will take you to the back porch complete with an outdoor fireplace and seating area.  This space would add an element of romance to any mid-winter gathering of family and friends or a simple afternoon with coffee and a great book. 

From there you make your way down a few steps onto their travertine terrace.  This area is ideal for outdoor cooking with plenty of space for amenities, such as the ceramic Kamoto smoker grill, a classic charcoal grill and of course a large gas grilling center. 

Down a few more steps and you’re in the lush garden area of their backyard.  To the right you will eventually find a working herb garden that will carry you into a citrus garden.Travertine Terrace leading down to a Flagstone Path  This is still a work in progress.

To the left you will find a seating area that will transport you to a remote, quaint place far from the busy streets of Jacksonville.  They accomplish this with a flagstone paver area surrounded on one side by a small garden retaining wall.  A single Pinto palm, from Palms by Trent, with under plantings anchors the area.  Fire and water are the accessories that really bring this space to life.  The trickling water feature provides the soundtrack and the flickering fire inside the chiminea provides the mood lighting for an evening of conversation or quiet reflection. 

The next step leads you to a small greenhouse nestled in the furthest point of the yard. The greenhouse is home to beautiful orchids that decorate the quiet corners of their outdoor retreat. 

After taking in the spirit of their outdoor retreat, you are left wanting to linger just a little bit longer.  The bitter cold nights of winter actually seem festive and fun if curled next to a fire on your back porch or roasting marsh mellows in your chiminea.  The Coates family has succeeded in bringing the inside out in their backyard and our backyard of the month.Relaxation Area with Chiminea