A reminder from your Design Pundit: summer sessions at Barron Collier AdultEd begin soon; your DP will offer a design course focused on your garden and your issues, along with Plant ID and several Macintosh courses. Get the latest information on the web site: www.msadesign.com.
And don’t forget that you can always email your DP with gardening or planting questions. Or questions about life, really: yourDP@msadesign.com.
Guess what gardening chores your Design Pundit simply doesn’t like to do? ’All of them’? No: Anything that makes for a sweaty DP is to be avoided. True, this answer has a disingenuous ring to it. All of those tasks in the garden saved for winter, when working outside is just a pure joy? Well, the list isn’t shorter. Yes, it’s true that Suzie has something to do with new items on the list, but still.
So, let’s ask the question again, and this time, an admission that your DP is a lazy DP. It’s just the way he is. Try not to over-analyze it, ok?
There are days when your DP drives around town and wonders if his crankiness is really worth the tzurris. He wonders if anyone else really understands that horticulture and maintenance are part of design.
So that is where we start this week. Is really low maintenance possible? And can we also save a bunch of money? Seriously?
Let’s all put on our hazmet suits, because we are going into the wonderful world of wonderful plants with wonderfully low maintenance commitments. Wonderful.
We want what we want
Nobody in the garden writing racket preaches low maintenance more than your Design Pundit. Why? Several reasons. First, laziness (see above). Second, a love of good design. Third, design lieutenants, it is the 21st century, and time to stamp out the scourge of plant abuse.
Here is how we want our plants to behave:
n Stop growing at a desired height and spread, without the awfulness of intercalary pruning;
n Habitually spread into one another, forming a solid bed — a monoculture — impervious to weeds and protective of water;
n Thrive for seven years or more;
n Obviate the need for odious, costly mulch at maturity;
n Kindly reduce the cost of construction by spreading and accommodating wider spacing, making you a sort of farmer.
Yes, low-maintenance and spreading. Unlike “mulch,” these two words are your friends, because these plants not only mature at a desirable height, they also grow towards one another, creating a monoculture. In technical terms, your plants are creating a big green blob. At maturity, these garden beds require neither mulch nor pruning.
Is this an overstatement for effect? Why, yes, it is! But remember that your DP is a fully licensed DP of technical hyperbole. After all, verbal profligacy is an ability indicator.
Hyperbole aside, no plants are zero maintenance. However, maintenance can be reduced to a very low level, perhaps an annual or semi-annual touch up. Let’s meet our contestants.
Meet our plants
Light Shade: Philodendron is excellent in full sun as well as shade, becomes quite wide, and will provide low maintenance for a decade or so. Asian Jasmine is a reliable low groundcover.
Green Ginger will reach seven feet or so and will fill in a bed. Variegated Ginger is a bit smaller, perhaps three to four feet, and also spreads. Wart fern, Boston fern varieties, white angel begonia, coontie, holly fern, and flax lily reach around 24 inches and all spread.
Philodendron “Xanadu” is very reliable. Green Island ficus is dependable in sun or shade, easily maintained at 24-36 inches. Similarly, the Parrot Flowers will reach 4 feet (but do need winter protection).
The new liriope “Emerald Goddess” is a winner, and there is the excellent “Aztecm,” too. Hamelia is fine-textured, flowers almost constantly, tolerates an amount of broken shade, and is best at 5 feet.
The Giant Apostle’s Iris is a new 30-inch introduction that tolerates quite damp feet. Use jasmine or clerodendrum for vines. Butterfly Ginger is an excellent tropical.
Full Sun: Plumbago and Thryallis are both 5-6 foot plants, height and width, so plant them no more than 48 inches apart, and 3 feet from pavement minimum. Prune no more than annually. The Thai crown of thorns show a coarser texture and are about 3 feet or so. Many appreciate juniper because it is consistent and easy to grow and it spreads. Any of the ’Knock-Out’ roses will provide extended years of vigorous, bushy growth. The native Saw Palmetto, both green and silver, is a multi-decade plant. The bird of paradise, planted about 36 inches on center will form a solid, silver mass 3 feet high with reliable summer flowers.
Starting to get the idea? Make a plant list based on the horticultural conditions of the site. Then, and only then, pick a favored plant from your plant list.
Michael Spencer is a landscape architect who has been in business nearly 26 years. Visit his website, www.msadesign.com. Email: ms@msadesign.