HOLMES BEACH — Many of the condominium complexes built in the late 1970s and early ’80s were landscaped with broad expanses of green turf familiar to potential buyers from the North.
But when Denise Elliott heard of the benefits of native-plant landscaping at a Bradenton Beach Eco-Fest, she brought back her ideas to the Sunbow Bay Condominium Association.
“Most of the residents are from the northeast and are used to their green lawns,” said Elliot, who with her husband, Don, come from Laingsburg, Mich., to winter at Sunbow Bay. “I would listen to them complain that the grass around their condo building was not green and beautiful.”
So she talked to the association’s groundskeeper, Jim Derewenko, of Mid Florida Landscaping.
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Derewenko, an EPA-certified green landscaper, said keeping turf green during the winter would be difficult and suggested planting native plants that would tolerate the dry coastal winters better.
At the Eco-Fest, Denise Elliot talked to Sara Kane, outreach program coordinator for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, who explained the independent state agency’s grant program.
Elliot began campaigning at condo board meetings for them to apply for a Bay Friendly Landscaping grant and got the go-ahead. The avid gardener submitted a 21-page application with several pictures and detailed plans.
In March the Sunbow Bay Condominium Association was awarded a $2,500 grant to replace about 3,500-square-feet of turf with more than 340 native plants and trees, such as fire bush, peanut plant, coco plum and palmetto palms.
A crushed-shell walkway with benches will create a park-like environment for the condo residents.
Kane said the project was important because it eliminates the need for fertilizer and pesticides that turf grasses require. “This provides better water quality in the bay,” she said.
The Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, one of 28 such programs, was established in 1987 with the passage of the Clean Water Act.
The goal of the estuary programs is to develop plans and programs to clean up the estuaries.
With native plants, there will be less nitrogen run off into the bay waters, which reduces algae growth and allows seagrass beds to flourish.
In February, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program won the Gulf Guardian Award for meeting water quality standards.
A primary indicator of the health of the bay and water quality is seagrass coverage. Since 1988, seagrass beds have increased 46 percent, and are at 130 percent of the 1950 levels.
An important component of Sunbow Bay’s grant will be its educational program.
Elliot said the project will be used as a demonstration site for other condo associations.
Resident volunteers will be trained to provide instructional tours of the project and to speak at other association meetings.
“We want to encourage other condo associations to become more bay friendly,” Elliot said. She said Sunbow Bay plans to apply for more grants to install native plants on all of the condo property.
For more information about the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program, call Sara Kane at (941) 955-8085, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the website at www.sarasotabay.org.