Back yard is just the spot

By Jane Clute, The Herald
(Published September 28‚ 2004)

With weather like we’ve had this past week, who wouldn’t want to be out in the yard working? Well, maybe some golfers we know.

Unfortunately some folks can’t garden like they want to. Age, health problems, a bum knee, bad back — whatever — limit their abilities. Which is why I was especially interested in seeing an arthritic friend’s garden the other day. Pretty amazing, I’d say.

Clearly she loves her yard; always has. You sense that the moment you arrive: lovely plantings and a big bird bath as a focal point, flower pots spilling with blooms at the front door and an arched gateway beckoning you toward the back yard.

She and her husband are in a patio home now with a small yard that’s a lot easier for them to manage, since they have more than their share of health problems. But their previous home came with two acres and plenty of dirt for planting and play — things she particularly enjoyed and wanted to continue, although her husband was itching for a condo.

This time around, the front yard is managed by the neighborhood association. The back is the owners’ responsibility, and the wife has taken that job seriously. They’re blessed with a beautiful brick wall for privacy and a welcome backdrop for all her plantings.

Right off they planted two stunning, unusual trees I don’t remember seeing around here before. Japanese Cryptomeria, she says. Strong, sturdy, glossy evergreens with graceful foliage that remind me a bit of Norfolk Island Pines but fuller and even prettier. And obviously loving our climate. Definitely worth considering.

According to the Clemson Extension Service, these trees are "splendid evergreens" that are excellent for the Southeast and adapt well to our area. Several cultivars are recommended, including Yoshino and Lobbii, which can grow to 40 feet tall.

They have reddish brown bark that peels off in long strips and is attractive in all seasons. Yoshino stays green all winter but the Lobbii is denser and more compact. Its foliage bronzes in winter and seems to be Clemson’s pick for our climate.

Now, back to her gardening. Used to be, she planted most everything in the ground. And she still has a big variety of plants and adds more all the time. One of her favorite new purchases is Southern Shield Fern for a corner that gets mottled shade. Saw ’em recommended in Southern Living magazine because they’re supposed to withstand our high temperatures and a heap of sun. Hers are multiplying mighty happily in that fairly shady area, too.

The same corner of her yard is filled with more easy-care ferns and compatible plants like camellia, assorted large begonias, volunteer impatiens and numerous potted plants that add color and texture to bare spots. One of the benefits of leaving plants in pots, she notes, is they’re easy to tend to and move on a whim. Especially if you’re not sure something will like a particular spot. If the plant complains about where it’s plopped, there’s no digging. Just summon the mover.

Take the tiny hydrangea she found for a song at a discount store. It was so puny, she wondered if it would survive, so she repotted it in a larger container and moved it from spot to spot till it started taking off. Now she knows where it wants to live.

One corner was begging for something tall. Yet utility lines and underground wiring made digging dangerous, so this spring she decided to buy some elephant ear bulbs, put them in large pots and see what happened. Voila. Now she’s got her splashy accents maybe 5 feet tall with impressive ears to boot. When frost claims the foliage, she’ll remove it and store the pots in a protected area till spring.

Another secret to her small-space gardening is that each area has a focal point, whether it’s these elephant ears, a collection of bird houses, a statue, another bird bath, bench or an unusually large pot filled with something impressive. Makes the yard seem bigger because there are so many points of interest.

By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, her husband’s a golfer, too.

Copyright © 2004 The Herald, South Carolina

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