09 • 18 • 2019

Suncoast Chapter Installs Ocean Friendly Gardens in St. Pete, Florida

By Mara Dias

The Surfrider Foundation Suncoast Chapter has teamed up with the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association and Wilcox Nursery & Landscape Design to transform a neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Florida into an Ocean Friendly Garden landscape. 

This project involved replacing 38 small plots of turf grass that lie between the sidewalk and the street with native plants and mulch to help soak up stormwater runoff. Besides adding beauty to the neighborhood, the native plants will thrive without the addition of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that pollute local waterways and are too often used in conventional landscaping practices. The native plants will also provide much-needed habitat for bees and other pollinators. The resulting healthy soils that will be nurtured in these OFG plots will also help capture carbon from the air and store it below ground to help reduce the impacts of climate change. Watch this short video that documents the transformation of approximately 400 square feet of turf grass along the Crescent Heights roadside into beautiful Ocean Friendly Gardens: 

St. Petersburg, like communities up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida, has long been suffering through the devastation caused by Red Tides and other Harmful Algal Blooms. These toxic algae blooms are caused in part by excessive levels of nutrients that pollute coastal waterways and warming water temperatures. This project is a great demonstration to the community on how we can all be part of the solution towards combating these blooms rather than continuing to add to the problems with unsustainable lawn care practices.  

In order to complete this project, over 80 volunteers showed up to help during three OFG work days lead by Arnold Rutkis from Wilcox Nursery. Before even heading to the site though, the Surfrider Suncoast Chapter and the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association co-hosted four educational presentations and discussions with local residents, local officials and the general public to ensure that everyone understood the goals of the project. A workshop was also held at Wilcox Nursery where participants received training on the benefits of working with native plants and how to select and care for these plants. Learn more about Florida Native Plants here

Cumulatively, these hands-on educational activities and discussions engaged over 150 volunteers who were able to walk away with a better understanding of how we all can change how we take care of our yards to help support clean water locally. 

The completed project was officially launched on August 25, 2019 with a ribbon/ vine cutting ceremony with volunteers from Surfrider Suncoast, residents of the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association, and special guests St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Council Member Darden Rice, and Community Affairs Director Susan Ajoc in attendance. Moving forward, maintenance of the Ocean Friendly Gardens plots will be the shared responsibility of homeowners, Surfrider Suncoast Clean Water Committee volunteers and a newly formed Neighborhood Garden Club. The services of a professional from Wilcox Nursery have also been retained to oversee maintenance during the first year after installation and to provide oversight and training to the homeowners and volunteers who will take on this responsibility for years to come.  

Both the Surfrider Suncoast Chapter and the Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association are very pleased with how this project came out. The neighborhood is more beautiful and everyone who participated can feel good about doing something to protect clean water in their community.  Special thanks to the City of St. Petersburg, Florida for providing a Community Neighborhood Grant to fund this project, and to all the volunteers who contributed their blood, sweat and cheers over the past three months to see this project through to the end. Big thanks also goes out to Green Bench Monthly for the professional photo documentation of this project.

Learn more about the benefits that Ocean Friendly Gardens provide and how you can make positive changes in your own yard.