Paula Stewart of Brandon is a 2016 Community Water Wise Award winner for her yard designed using Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles.
The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners on Sept. 21 recognized Stewart, and a Hillsborough County Extension Service agent presented her with the award - a handmade mosaic stepping stone.
Tampa Bay Water, the region's principal water supplier, names winners in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties. Stewart's yard topped competitors in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
"I've been interested in the water situation in Florida since I moved here," says Stewart, who relocated to the state 22 years ago from Philadelphia.
A certified Master Gardener, she learned to love native Florida plants and landscapes. "You just can't beat this stuff, especially for the lazy gardener," she says. "When you put them in the ground, they just do their thing."
The awards recognize people, businesses, and nonprofit groups with landscapes designed to conserve water and protect the environment. Nine Florida-Friendly Landscaping concepts are considered in the winners: right plant/right place, water efficiently, fertilize appropriately, mulch, attract wildlife, manage yard pests responsibly, recycle, reduce storm-water runoff, and protect the waterfront.
The water agency praised Stewart's use of drought-tolerant native plants, particularly flowering varieties that attract wildlife. They also noted self-mulching areas beneath trees, use of groundcover plants rather than turf, plants placed in areas well suited to their characteristics, use of organic and alternative mulch, groupings of plants with similar water and maintenance needs, and use of pervious materials for pathways.
Stewart's yard thrives on rainfall and water-saving microirrigation, and is beautiful and inviting, the judges said. Since she stopped using lawn sprinklers and landscaped her yard with native plants, Stewart says, her monthly water bills have dropped from about $100 to about $35.
Tampa Bay Water sponsors the awards to demonstrate that landscapes can be functional and attractive while also environmentally beneficial with use of native plants, water conservation methods, and limited fertilizer. The agency and Hillsborough County Extension Service favor preserving existing trees and shrubs, limiting stormwater runoff, and irrigating with minimal water.
Stewart was one of seven people in unincorporated Hillsborough County contending for the 2016 award. Countywide, a total of 17 applied. Other Hillsborough County honorees were Sherry Louer for her yard in the City of Tampa, and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful staffers and volunteers for managing and maintaining The Learning Garden at the Florida State Fair.
To enter next year's competition, go to http://tampabaywaterwise.org. The deadline for applications is June 30, 2017.