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Curb appeal & garden

All the cool kids are planting natives!

With her hot pink sunglasses, pink butterfly T-shirt and utilitarian black gym shorts, 70-year-old Lucy Peak isn't looking to check any boxes for trendy-nista.

But she does!

In just the past five years, Lucy and her mostly helpful husband, Tom, have transformed their traditional suburban Highland Lakes landscape into an oasis of Florida native and Florida-adapted plants. It's certified everything - butterfly garden, wildlife habitat, bird-friendly ... You get the idea.

'This is a garden to be enjoyed; you can walk on this stuff,' she says as I tiptoe through her groundcover to take a picture.

'I'm completely self-taught - I'll go to talks, garden club programs ... There's so much information! I think it's important to live in harmony with the environment. And I'm always thinking about trying to reduce maintenance.' Check, check, check.

The top three anticipated landscape projects for Americans this year are: 1) native plants, 2) natives and locally adapted/drought-tolerant plants, and 3) low-maintenance plants. That's according to a survey of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

I find that news reassuring given the onslaught of grim headlines: climate change, dwindling pollinators and wildlife species, disagreement among governments on how best to move forward. So many gardeners, like Lucy, know where to begin and have begun digging in.

Why native plants?

'They provide for the pollinators and require minimum water,' she says, adding that water will be our next big worry (science agrees). They also require little to no fertilizer, which pollutes groundwater, and no pesticides, which can wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems.

'It is our gift to ourselves and future generations,' she says.

Lucy and Tom got to work after joining their community garden club. It's one of my favorites! Club members have worked hard to clean up neighborhood ponds and public spaces with strategically placed native plants, and Highland Lakes is now a county Water Wise award-winner, as well as a butterflyand wildlife-friendly habitat. That's incredible in a community of more than 2,400 homes.

Lucy is now chair of the beautification committee, one of a trio of gardeners who make house calls to help homeowners seeking landscape advice. She also shares tips in the neighborhood newsletter. She steers her neighbors toward planting for planet health and designing landscapes they can age with. Highlands Park is an over-55 community and, while Lucy is one of the youngest septenarians I've ever met, she's planting for a future that anticipates less muscle.

If we all do just a little bit, we can make a difference. And with Florida natives, you'll enjoy the fruits of your labors through every season.

'People say, 'Don't you miss the fall color in the North?' '' says Lucy, a New York native. 'I tell them, 'I have color year-round. I don't miss a thing!' Visit the Florida Native Plant Society at www.fnps.org for tips and resources.

Reach Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan49@gmail.com. Visit her blog, www.digginfladirt, and join the local garden chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.

Pentas are an easy-to-find flowering shrub, a non-native that's adapted well to Central Florida. Bees love them, especially the old-fashioned varieties like Lucy's crimson pentas.

Native and Florida-adapted plants have made Tom and Lucy Peak's back yard a beautiful spot for enjoying nature. They use no fertilizer and they water only during extended dry periods.

Lucy and Tom Peak moved into their Highland Lakes home 16 years ago. 'He's fallen in like with the butterflies,' Lucy says.

BY PENNY CARNATHAN

Diggin' Florida Dirt

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