Above: “Before” and “after” photos show Florida-friendly landscaping installed. Right: Angela Maraj, District regional builder/developer landscape education specialist, met with Stephen Bissonnette (left), Alafia River Basin Board secretary, and Scott Coulombe (right), Polk County Builders Association executive director, at a recent builder/developer workshop in Polk County.
A change is taking place in the Florida homebuilding industry. As public and industry understanding of Florida’s unique habitat grows, so does the demand for developments that conserve water resources and reduce environmental impacts.
Many consumers want “green” homes that respect the environment and include energy- and water-saving features. In addition to consumer demand, local land-use policies in many areas have already been changed to reflect the growing concerns over water conservation. These factors have led developers throughout the District to the University of Florida’s Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program.
In Hernando County, Steve and Kathy Scott decided to build their home in the Deerfield development, but had major concerns about their landscape.
“My husband and I really wanted our landscape to be Florida-friendly and low maintenance, so we decided to hire our own landscaper,” said Kathy Scott, Conservation Projects manager at the District. “Deerfield agreed, as long as we kept to the local codes and they could approve the plan.”
The Deerfield developer, Ron King Homes, worked with the Scotts, as well as with the District and the FYN program, to learn more about Florida-friendly landscaping.
“We found you don’t have to start from scratch on this,” said John Reventas, sales and marketing manager for Ron King Homes. “There are agencies that already have all the information you need to get started.”
Reventas says the developer was eager to start incorporating Florida-friendly techniques once they understood the benefits, and they found that jumping on the Florida-friendly bandwagon was easier than expected.
“Much of Deerfield’s common areas are now going to be Florida-friendly, and new homes are going to have Florida-friendly landscapes,” said Reventas.
In addition, Deerfield holds seminars to educate current homeowners about incorporating Florida-friendly techniques into their established landscapes.
Other developers, including Terrabrook (the developer of Connerton in central Pasco County) and Lee Wetherington Homes (the developer of Willow Chase in Sarasota County), have also learned about the value of Florida-friendly landscaping and have incorporated the principles into their communities.
Because of the growing interest among builders, developers and landscape professionals, the District created a Regional Builder/Developer Landscape Education Program, which is based on two similar programs within the District.
The primary goal of the program is to educate builders, developers and landscape and irrigation professionals on the nine Florida-friendly principles. By incorporating these principles, new landscapes can be created in ways that protect the watershed and are still attractive and desirable. The program addresses the landscape design practices for participants in the homebuilding industry.
Angela Polo Maraj serves as the District’s regional builder/developer landscape education specialist. Maraj is a registered certifying agent of the Florida Green Building Coalition, a certified landscape designer and is certified by the Landscape Maintenance Association. She also owns a commercial landscape business and served as the UF/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences FYN builder/developer education outreach coordinator in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties from 2002 to 2006.
As FYN coordinator, she worked with the developers of Lakewood Ranch and the Willow Bend community to create entire neighborhoods with Florida-friendly landscapes. She also coordinated the District’s Water-Wise Landscaping Recognition Program for the Manatee/Sarasota Homebuilder’s Association Parade of Homes for the past four years, and she designed and coordinated the installation of a Florida-friendly landscape for a new home built by Bob Vila for his national television show.
Maraj says she is excited to have the opportunity to branch out with the program.
“Taking the proven successes of the tri-county program to the District level offers a unique opportunity to the building industry to promote their construction practices in an environmentally friendly way,” said Maraj. “I look forward to helping the industry implement Florida-friendly landscaping into their projects.”
Maraj’s education outreach efforts will include conferences, workshops, one-on-one interactions, newspaper articles, electronic media and distribution of printed materials. The program will work in coordination with FYN programs in District counties that share the same watersheds.
This June, Maraj made her first presentation for the District when she spoke to the Polk County Builders Association. Her presentation focused on how Florida-friendly landscaping can enhance the property and how to use it as a marketing tool in events such as the Parade of Homes.
“We knew the interest in Florida-friendly landscaping would start growing throughout the District’s counties, so we wanted to be sure we were ready with education and support for the builders and developers,” said Sylvia Durell, District project manager for Florida-friendly landscaping education. “The District is fortunate to have Ms. Maraj on board. She is among the top professionals in landscape education for members of Florida’s building community.”
Angela Maraj can be reached by email at Angela.Maraj@WaterMatters.org or by telephone at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4902.
To learn more about Florida-friendly landscaping, visit the District’s web site at WaterMatters.org/yards/.