Shirley and Chick
Posted August 30, 2021 | 11:21 AM

Water Wise, Florida-Friendly, Phenomenal

Bloomingdale couple's landscape wins Hillsborough County's annual award for beauty, sustainable gardening practices

Shirley and Chick McFarlane's eye-catching landscape in Bloomingdale shows it is possible to have a gorgeous landscape with some effort, almost no fertilizer, and little water other than rainfall.

That's why their landscape won Hillsborough County's 2020 Water Wise Award, an honor bestowed by the CountyUF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, and Tampa Bay Water, the region's water supplier. Each year the award recognizes homeowners, businesses, and governments that observe principles of Florida-Friendly™ Landscaping, as well as planting and irrigation techniques that minimize water waste.

The McFarlanes built their house six years ago on part of 1 acre. Rather than remove dozens of trees on the remainder of the site, they decided to create their own wooded paradise. That meant attacking a thicket of vines and other unruly growth beneath dozens of trees and around plants they chose to save.

It's a hobby without an end. "It's constantly changing," Shirley says. "It's nature."

A stream replenished with rainwater collected on the McFarlanes' roof flows through their landscape, beneath a small footbridge.

Many of their plants are native. There's coontie, firebush, beautyberry, saw palmetto, blue porterweed, and ferns, among other species. The non-native plants they allow to grow are not invasive and thus won't spread out of control in their landscape or elsewhere.

Some of the McFarlanes' favorite flowering shrubs don't do well in the shade beneath their trees. The couple adds color and interest by planting species with variegated leaves.

Shirley routinely peruses big-box store gardening centers in search of forlorn-looking plants sold at discount prices.

Trees and plants are accentuated with mulched trails, a toolshed that visitors mistake for a backyard cabin, limited microirrigation, chairs and a table, and a small stream that flows with rainwater collected on their rooftop and recirculated with a pump.

The presentation of the 2020 Water Wise Award was delayed until August 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shirly says the coronavirus kept them at home, which gave them more time to tend their landscape.

The couple received a colorful, handmade, stepping stone.

The award, a colorful, handmade, steppingstone provided to winners by Tampa Bay Water, lies in a prominent spot near the entrance to their house.

Want to enter your landscape in the next Community Water Wise competition? Submit an online application and photos by June 30, 2022. If your landscape meets basic criteria, an expert will contact you to schedule a site evaluation.

Learn more and see additional photos of the McFarlanes' landscape.

Top photo: Shirley and Chick McFarlane have a wooded paradise beside their Bloomingdale house.


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