We are really excited about helping contribute our expertise to Jill Zima Borski’s “Landscaping Trends” article in the May/June 2016 edition of Distinctive Properties magazine. This real estate publication is brought to the residents of Ocean Reef by Russell Post, Sotheby’s International Realty.
Here’s the article in its entirety:
Landscape companies at Ocean Reef have a new challenge, thanks to Monroe County’s concern about stormwater runoff. Water runoff from privately-owned properties has been shown to contribute to water quality degradation, especially in the Florida Keys’ nearshore waters.
The country's steady progress on central wastewater installation throughout the island chain — meant to achieve improved water quality — has led to a new emphasis on tackling the additional threat of water runoff. High tides and sea level rise also are being taken into account in an attempt to improve potential flooding.
According to Tim McKernan, a landscape designer for Reef Tropical with more than 17 years of experience in the field, “The county has gotten tough about drainage and has been enforcing the swale requirements for developed property usually requiring swales or ‘bio-swales’ to retain water runoff.”
He has taken the challenge of having swales throughout the property and used it as an opportunity to unify the elements by making them dry beds of decorative stone that weave from one space to the next.
The county has a 60/40 rule that allows 60 percent of the lot to be developed while maintaining 40 percent of “greenspace” to preserve shade and vegetation. The amount of required swale space is calculated by how much of the property is developed and is meant to capture rain and runoff water and retain it within the property.
“We will start seeing this type of landscaping all over the Keys,” McKernan said. “Dry beds can jump over pathways. They can tie together the front and back yards. Brick pavers surrounded by river rock make geometric art.”
Decorative stone comes in various colors, such as black or dark gray Mexican beach pebbles or tan and white river rock. These color choices will accommodate many architectural styles.
“It is low maintenance and a great alternative to mulch,” said Mark Brown, landscape designer with Reef Tropical. “A homeowner can add mulch to mulch beds once or twice a year or he or she could choose to put in stones and freshen it up every five or so years.”
The concern about water runoff even affects driveway design, McKernan added. The county wants a sloping driveway to have a culvert midway to trap and divert runoff and keep it from entering rights-of-way.
“Some of the landscaping swales are a foot deep,” said McKernan. “They could be an ankle-breaker. So, it’s best to vegetate the swale to catch run-off, control erosion, and beautify the swale at the same time. Vegetation and decorative elements serve to treat the water before it enters the Biscayne Aquifer [a major source of drinking water].”
Various home renovation projects also trigger the county’s swale requirement, such as if a homeowner wishes to add a pool. Relocating trees and shrubs to locations where they will flourish also is a consideration.
Creating landscape designs that blur the line between natural and manmade environments is McKernan’s artistic signature. He aims to respect diverse interests, preserve the beauty and value of natural resources, and maintain vibrant, viable outdoor spaces.
McKernan’s roots are in horticulture. He grew up in South Florida and earned his master's degree in landscape architecture at Florida International University. He serves on the board of directors of the South Florida Palm Society and loves it when he can suggest a rare plant to a homeowner.
More and more, people are requesting native plants so the need for fungicide or frequent attention is less necessary, he said. “Native plants also can attract butterflies and birds, which add color to the environment. You need the right natives in the right places.”
Aquatic and native plants become great options with a bridge or large stepping stones possible in the “hardscaping,” he added. “Hardscape” consists of inanimate elements of landscaping, especially any masonry work or woodwork such as stone walls, concrete or brick patios, tile paths, wooden decks, and wooden arbors, including home accents such as water fountains.
While water quality concerns have led to increased regulatory demands in the Keys, creative designs have enabled distinctive properties to continue to have spectacular and functional landscaping.