From the Sperry Gardens: May 2015


I bought a used 30 x 60-foot greenhouse about 30 years ago. It had been used by a foliage plant leasing business, and in some respects, I guess that’s how it’s still spending its life.

You’ve heard and seen me say that we live in a pecan forest. Shade is our nearest neighbor, and flowering annuals are few and far between. So I resort to tropical plants instead. And, because most of them are really perennial vines, shrubs, and even trees in their native homes, it stands only to reason that they could be brought into the greenhouse and saved over the winter.

Once it turns warm in mid- or late April, we bring them back out for another year of fame and stardom. We’re in the process of doing that now.

I find that these plants bring interest to otherwise dark parts of our gardens, so that annuals aren’t really all that necessary. Here are some of the types of plants that have worked the best for me over the years.


• Bromeliads, specifically Neoregelias. These are small-flowering plants that come in a huge variety of colors. I’ve selected probably 30 varieties that are called “stoloniferous,” that is, that produce new offsets via runners, somewhat like spider plants and strawberries. I bought a batch off eBay (all of these and others) last fall, and I’m going to sink their pots into a couple of color beds that get limited morning sun. Maybe the armadillos will leave these alone.


• Aloes. Aloe vera, the “medicine plant,” is only one of many types of beautiful aloes. Some actually grow into large trees. Others stay as small as tennis balls. Their foliage is fascinating, and their flowers are colorful. All of these came from eBay.


• Spathiphyllums, also called peace lilies. These aren’t blooming now, but they soon will be. Their spade-shaped white blooms brighten dark shadows all through the summer. Great plant for the shade. Also a great plant as a houseplant.


• Peperomias, especially the selections of Peperomia obtusifolium. These have been favorite succulent plants for me since I was a teenager. I grow my own, and I use them as bed edgings along walks and beside seating areas. I leave them in pots. In fall, I trim and reshape them, and I use the cuttings to start new plants over the winter.


• Philodendrons. I use the shrubby types, also called “self-heading” varieties. Their leaves are huge, often colorful, and fabulously interesting. These babies can grow into giants, so the greenhouse is a must. We got these as far as the driveway before we ran out of time for the photo. I’ll show them to you once we get them placed in the landscape.


• Rubber plants, variegated ginger. These plants will be moved one more time before we finish our summertime gardens. They do best in shade (although the rubber plant could tolerate morning sun). These are large plants that need to be in the backs of their gardens. They need room, and eventually they’ll outgrow any pots you’re willing to buy. That’s when it’s time to start over.


• Variegated St. Augustine. OK. This one is just a novelty. But it certainly does make a handsome and eye-catching container plant. I just stuck it in here because I like it.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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