Sperry Landscape to the South

When I write or tell you that shade doesn’t have to be a deterrent to an interesting landscape, this photo below is an example of what I have in mind. This area used to be St. Augustine turf, and for 35 years it was beautiful.

But as time marched along, our native pecan trees gradually grew larger and the shade choked out the grass. I could either cut down the trees or find a substitute for the St. Augustine. Obviously, I chose the latter.

The hill from where I am standing…
So, I’ll walk you up through the plantings explaining my thinking as we ascend. Remember that the photo was taken in mid-winter, so you’re seeing shadows and sunlight. In summer, it’s pretty much total shade.

The Sperry landscape on the near-south side of our house on a bright winter day. Click the image for a larger view.

In the foreground at the bottom of the photo I have Carissa hollies. As I mentioned here last week, this is one of my real “go-to” low shrubs. I love its bold, dark green evergreen look.

The groundcover is purple wintercreeper euonymus. It turns this rich plum-red color in winter, then shifts back to deep green from spring until fall. I use it in both sun and shade. (See related story this issue.)

I use globes and gazing balls of various colors throughout the seasons. It’s difficult to have flowering plants in the shade, although wax begonias serve me well in large pots in this space. So do caladiums and coleus, along with tropical foliage plants.

Coming in from the left you see compact nandina, Nandina domestica ‘Compacta.’ It’s an old selection that I dig and divide myself anytime I need more plants for a new bed. I keep the tall canes pruned to the ground every winter so that it rarely exceeds 18-20 inches in height.

Those are Wintergreen Japanese boxwoods in the gentle arc on either side of the walk. They’re actually in front of a white rock retaining wall, helping conceal the fact that some of its stones are slightly out of alignment 40 years after I built the retaining support. I trim the boxwoods with a gasoline-powered hedge trimmer each January, then I basically leave them alone the balance of the growing season.

The tallest shrubs to the left are Dazzler hollies, and behind them Umpqua Warrior nandinas – two varieties that are rarely if ever seen in nurseries in recent years.

Continued Below

Behind the multi-trunked native eastern redcedar juniper you see an extended row of, you guessed it, more compact nandinas.

The tall deciduous shrub behind the two chairs is oakleaf hydrangea. It grows and blooms well in the shade, and I like the large, white flower heads and huge leaves. The red fall color was still hanging around at Christmas this year.

And finally, my groundcover. That’s regular mondograss, also known as “monkeygrass” and “lily turf” or by its scientific name of Ophiopogon. It’s my all-time favorite shade groundcover. It holds the soil so there’s never any erosion. It’s easy to blow leaves out of it (no runners), and it’s always this same deep green color, summer and winter. I bought a bunch of it in Fall 1988, and I’ve been propagating my own ever since.

I will say a word about the chairs. They’ve been there for 10 or 12 years. They’re really durable and ever so comfortable – and they’re made from recycled milk cartons. I had an advertiser who wasn’t paying a bill, so I suggested trading for chairs. I have a dozen of these. Two are on our deck, and the rest are in the barn. We pull them out when we need them.

Finally, if you look closely at the top of the photo just to the left of the middle you’ll see a hanging bottle tree with clear wine bottles. Those served Communion wine from the funeral of a dear Lutheran pastor who baptized several of our grandchildren many years ago. I asked permission to use them this way and his family was happy to see them put to use. It’s an old southern belief that bottle trees capture evil spirits so they can no longer do harm to us. I always found that regular prayers are a better solution, but I’m an old southerner myself, so what’s the harm in a little double coverage.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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