By staff October 1, 2003

For Kurt Lucas and Ron Butine's whimsical castle home, featured on page 118 of the October 2003 issue, landscaper Scott Younkman deliberately avoided any hint of tropical influence. To complement the aged look of the home, he designed garden areas that were formal, refined and sculptural.

"Ron said he wanted the landscaping to look like it belonged around a castle," says Younkman. "But after researching castle exteriors, I realized that they were all built on hills with no grass and no trees around them." So he improvised, installing Italian cypress trees to accentuate the home's turrets.

He insists the flamboyant results would not suit every Florida home-or home owner. "My first question when designing a landscape plan is, 'Who is going to maintain it?' If upkeep is not an issue, if they can afford professional maintenance, there are all sorts of things you can do," he says. If maintenance will be handled by the home owner, Younkman is careful to select plants that are slower growing. "I put myself in their position, and I try to imagine what I would be able to care for if it were my home, and my yard."

The Italian cypress trees, for example, that adorn the Lucas and Butine castle on Mound Street, are probably not suitable for every occasion. "They grow extremely tall, which means they must be trimmed, and they tend to get spider mites at the top, so ordinarily I would not suggest these types of plant."

Younkman prefers ligustrum, one of his favorite "under-story" trees that grows to only 20 feet and tucks neatly under majestic oaks. They're also more appropriate around power lines. "Everyone has seen how unattractive a tall tree is under a power line after FPL cuts them back," Younkman says.

If palm trees are requested, he suggests Royal and multi-stem palms that basically trim themselves by shedding leaves instead of requiring cuttings.

"Really, with our climate, there are so many options," he says, but problems arise when clients have unattainable expectations. They may insist on new plant varietals that have been untested in our climate, or they may want too much, too soon, and over-plant, resulting in an overgrown yard that must be completely overhauled a few years later.

Younkman suggests that anyone who wants to enhance their curb appeal consult with a reputable landscaper who makes it their business to know what a plant is going to do. Check their referrals, and not just jobs that have been recently completed. "I try real hard not to plant a problem," says Younkman. "So check jobs that have been done three, four, even five years ago to see how the yard has progressed."

After all, you want your home to be your castle, not the beanstalk Jack climbed to the sky.

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