Dirt – In the Garden of Challenges and Inspiration

Night Blooming Cereus“Challenges and inspiration are not far apart.”

The story of our backyard garden is only told from my point of view. To instill a little counter-point I am presenting here portions of the journal of the garden planner, my late wife. Written a few years after the event, the journal gives a picture from her perspective. So here, without comment…

The garden is growing into its fourth season and (I say) final year. Never say final in gardening but at this point major structures are in place, paths are permanent, and focal points in relative position. I still have ‘spots’ for annuals and perennials that can be added and changed from season to season and year to year.

This back-yard garden is located in zone 8b-9 and not a blade of grass growing or even major weeds for that matter. In my eyes this was a perfect beginning. A challenge, but a “clean pallet” challenge.

As I started to paper plan what might be, my first consideration was shade. There was lots of it! Maybe too much for my taste, but I would work around it for I did not intend to cut any trees down. This was my biggest blessing. It brought considerable cool protection for the summer days ahead.

With a towering oak and hickory trees, native shrubs and extremely sandy soil I started to dig in. Sandy soil usually does not crunch – What? Oyster shells?? I knew the whole state had been on the ocean bottom for millions of years, the layers of soil became thin for me. Almost everywhere I applied my efforts the sand turned into piles of shells.

Some of my first planting areas and beds were amended with outside soil and anything I could get my hands on. I even took soil from the neighbor’s newly dug pool. Although not great, I sifted it and was grateful. Now with composting and mulching, each year became better. Never underestimate the powers of composting.

My paths became evident as I planned, walked, and worked. They are now very organic, covered with pine straw with additional stepping stone highlights. One day they may become a more permanent feature.

Now for the focal points and structures. I must confess along with no grass in the area we did inherit a huge wooden play swing / children’s entertainment center. After a quick ride on the swing and sitting once on the tree house platform I knew that this was not what I had in mind for the garden. It all had to go. However, with great creativity on my husband’s part it was dismantled and rebuilt to become a 15′ by 6′ pergola. A future sitting area for two white rockers and a table for eating. Now it is a place for vines to grow, hanging baskets, potted ferns, and reflection. A nice transformation took place.

There are some definite ‘things’ I wanted in our garden. I am dealing with dry, heavy shade and I wanted a feeling of being cool, quiet, and simple sights. Sometimes we lose sight of our original plans. I remind myself daily where I am headed.

A lot of ground cover was used. Mondo grass, ajuga, spider plants, ivy, wedelia (for areas of sun), ferns, and vinca major were utilized to fill in space.

For privacy, I’ve used loquat and Leyland cypress. A hedge of palms and photinia line the back of the lot.

Two trellis block neighbors views and have become racks for potted plants of all kinds.

Bird feeders are a major addition so I have worked around with ground cover. At times the feeders do become messy but ground cover hides this.

A friend built a teutera – a wonderful structure, painted white, that draws the eye to the area. At the bottom of the teutera I have a white gazing ball. Since I am working with a flat area, this adds interest.

One of the biggest feature and loved by birds is the water garden. Simply done with a pre-form and enhanced by a circular water pond it looks bigger than it is. The form provided shelves for water plants. Being in the shade creates less algae. Assorted fish and colorful plants of coleus enhance the area. This is enjoyed from the porch and pergola as well as benches.

Lastly, I’ve added some potted chairs – wooden rockers, metal cafe chairs. These are planted annually and can be moved around.

Showing off my roots, I’ve placed old milk cans for bird feeding and potted plants. There is even an old red plow at the entrance. This is strictly ornamental and a reminder of days gone by.

The garden is comfortable to me. There is still plenty of space for houseplants to summer out and amend the area, and even a small work area to propagate.

There is an irrigation system that is barely used once a week.

Fatsia are on each side of the pergola. Elephant ears are scattered for effect. Hostas and impatiens give me a lift each time I enter the garden.

The shrubs I enjoy the most are fatsia, loropetalum, thyrallis, a little hydrangea, firespike, and a variegated dew drop. Even the early bloom of the spirea is unbeatable in the spring.

Vines such as confederate jasmine, honeysuckle, trumpet vine, cardinal vine, and coral bean are all maturing and giving a great show each year.

Highlights of crinum, ginger and confederate rose bearing color through the season.

My little herb area is just enough for what I need in cooking. Especially the sweet Italian basil that grows into a bush. I grow it each year and freeze bags of extra for the cold months.

GardeningI don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t soften my entire efforts with native sword fern. They are quite invasive but easy to share and give away.

This year’s containers and hanging baskets are simple. Much of the same plant material is repeated. Ferns, variegated vinca major, and pink periwinkle for color. All very drought resistant for my weather and really no maintenance at all.

The wildlife habitat is definitely working. Armadillos, squirrels, raccoons, and opossum, various snakes, toads, frogs, moles, and marsh rabbits all have visited.

There is one habitual happening and that is the constant propagation projects. I am forever starting a new plant for someone. It is truly a way to learn the growing characteristics of a plant.

Like everyone else, each year tests my past plantings. Did it thrive or survive? Do I need to make a change? Severe weather sometimes makes that decision for me.

Is it the simple design I had hoped for? I would like to think so.

Do I have color? It is monochromatic: green garden with lots of white highlights for the evening hours. Touches of pink and coleus give multi splashes.

The future might bring night lighting highlights.

This being my sixth garden effort I declare it my most interesting. Sheltered with a great micro-climate I’m able to enjoy with great pride for 365 days a year.

Every day I thank Mother Nature for being good to my endeavor and each new growing season brings something new to view.

(About Dirt)(Next Chapter: Ponds, Water Gardens, and the Balance of Life)

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