From the Sperry Gardens – June, 2011

When we moved onto our 11-acre tract in rural Collin County in 1977, it was already pretty much of a pecan forest, and in the ensuing years, those trees have done nothing but get bigger and bigger – and bigger. But, that’s not all that’s changed in this backyard part of our gardens.

I took my photo from the upper level of our redwood deck just a couple of days ago. You can see that the deck has some rather strong angles, and each of those angles originally was home to an eastern redcedar tree. The deck was built around them. It was totally enclosed by the native stand, and privacy was no problem.

But, the shadows of the pecans weren’t friendly to the redcedars, and one-by-one, the cedars grew lanky and ugly, with dead lower branches giving way to bare trunks. So, we "harvested" those tree trunks, and we used them elsewhere in the gardens to build a long arbor and 40 feet of rustic redcedar fencing. That’s another story for another time.

That was 18 years ago, and it marked the sudden openness of our landscape. All at once, I needed to plant for privacy, and that’s where the Nellie R. Stevens hollies off to the right and the yaupon hollies in the distance got their call to duty. Even the Persian ivy ascending our trees’ trunks does its part in blocking views. (No, it does not harm the trees. We keep it pruned back to keep it from growing too high.)

At the same time, I needed something to cover the now-bare ground. After all, the redcedars had done a great job for decades before, but they were now gone. I eventually turned to my old buddy mondograss, and within just 18 months, I had a solid stand. Sure, the grandkids can’t play croquet in it, but it looks good, it holds the soil, and it grows where even St. Augustine will not (total shade). We’ve just planted another 2,000 mondograss transplants to extend this area even farther. It’s a very willing landscaping servant, and I can’t imagine how I’d survive without it.

Off to the right side, you see liriope. It’s the big sister to mondograss, and that 10-foot planting of giant liriope provides a little variation of texture, size and even flower color in summer.

You really can’t see them in this photo, but we’ve shown them here before: between the two areas of mondograss, I have my brick paver walkway. I laid it all myself, and it’s made of 100-year-old pavers from a north Texas street. And, coming up between the mondograss bed in the foreground and the aforementioned liriope is a small garden path that features pine bark mulch as its surface. It serves the purpose perfectly. We topdress it with fresh bark every couple of years. It costs less than $10 each time.

Many of you have asked how to get grass to grow in the shade, and I’ve always tried to put a virtual arm around your shoulder to tell you that you may have to switch off to something that’s even more tolerant of low-light conditions. I just wanted to take this chance to prove that my idea can work. And, once you buy your first batch of mondograss, you can propagate your own transplants from that point on into the future.

But, the funniest thing about this part of our garden is that it basically never had any kind of a plan. It just evolved. I knew what I needed in basic terms. I contemplated each change for several months, so I was sure before I reacted. I’ve been very satisfied with the results.

But, gardens do change. Eventually, I’m sure, this one will, too. But for now, we’re going to leave it alone.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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