The Accidental Gardener: Create a picture-perfect garden

Advice for Determining your level of commitment and finding the right growing conditions

Have you ever seen photos of beautiful gardens or been lucky enough to take the All-Saints Garden Tour and thought, “how can I create a picture-perfect garden?” Well, fret not. Creating a beautiful garden is much easier than it seems if you follow a few basic steps.

First and foremost, you must ask yourself, “how much time do I want to spend in the garden?”

If the answer is “none at all,” you can still create a beautiful setting by using evergreen, low maintenance plants such as Foxtail Ferns and Sunshine Ligustrum for sunny settings and Cast Iron plants and Split Leaf Philodendrons for shady areas.

If you reply “every waking minute” as I would, then the world is your oyster, as almost anything will grow wonderfully here in the Lowcountry with very few exceptions, such as Lily of The Valley, peonies and Lilacs, although I purchased a heat-tolerant lilac this year and so far it is thriving. (I also purchased an awfully expensive heat-tolerant peony and it died within weeks.) You will be rewarded with year-round flowers of every color imaginable.

If you actually have a life and want to spend limited time in your garden, you still have a bevy of options available to you – preferably plants that do not require dead-heading, which can become a full-time job if you’re a plant hoarder such as myself. Next, you need to determine what your growing conditions are, such as full sun, full shade, sun in the morning only, sun in the afternoon only, wet or dry and importantly, whether your garden will have irrigation.

Fun in the sun

Some plants are drought tolerant as I was tolerant of my in-laws — only in small doses. Only plastic or silk plants require no water ever. Full-sun, drought-tolerant plants include Oleander Trees, Fig Trees, Asparagus Ferns, Lantana, Daylilies, Society Garlic and Vinca Flowers. Full-sun, wet-tolerant plants include Swamp Irises and Cana Lilies.

Made in the shade

Full-shade, drought-tolerant plants include Cyclamens, Cast Iron Plants and Variegated Liriope and Vinca Vines. Full-shade, wet-tolerant plants include Japanese forest grass, Hostas, and most ferns including Tasmanian or Australian tree ferns. Almost any plant will do well with morning sun with very few exceptions. Afternoon sun in the Lowcountry generally rules out shade-loving plants.

Set the stage

Once you have determined your level of commitment and find the right growing conditions, it’s a simple matter of combining colors and textures – it’s like decorating your home. Select your colors – vivid or monochromatic. Select plants with various heights and widths, taking care to consider your space and their mature size (you wouldn’t want to buy furniture that was too large for your space). Consider what textures you prefer and mix them up – just as you would fabric and flooring. Be sure to leave space around your plants – they need air circulation in our high humidity – even when you’re mass planting a single type of plant. And remember, we live in a jungle climate, so plant with care. What you spend three years planting means spending 10 years pruning, thinning and ripping out. I speak from experience. Last but not least, add a little bling to your garden; gazing balls, solar fountains, iron art – the list goes on and it reflects your personal style much like diamonds or pearls. Happy gardening!

Ask & Answer

Dear Accidental Gardener,
This started as a tiny succulent … grew 2 feet tall! I’m trying to root. What is it?
— Perplexed in Palmetto Hall

Dear Perplexed,
It appears you have a Bryophyllum daigremontianum, commonly called an alligator plant. These succulent plants can grow up to 3 feet tall and are native to Madagascar. These plants require fertilizing once in the spring and once in the summer using a liquid fertilizer that’s been diluted to half-strength. Skip fertilizing in fall or winter. All you need to propagate this plant are its plantlets. Seed is not a viable method, and according to the web, while cuttings are possible, the plantlets are far easier. As the plant goes dormant towards the winter months, it will drop some plantlets. You also can use a light touch to see if any are ready to come free from the leaf on their own. Don’t apply much pressure, just a light touch, and if it’s ready, it’ll come right off. Moisten some potting soil and lay your plantlets on top. Keep the soil damp by misting it occasionally with water or covering it with clear plastic wrap until you see roots. The baby plantlets will stretch out their roots and dig in on their own!

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