Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener

Instant landscaping?
By Ginny Stibolt

After losing a tree in last year's hurricanes, these folks opted for a complete makeover. One advantage to having a landscaping company come in and install it is that it's done in two days. I'll give you some cautions and considerations if you’re thinking about installing your own instant landscape. The biggest problem is that landscaping is an ongoing process, not an event, but as a society we've been programmed into accepting instant landscapes like this as the ideal. People tend to forget that some plants will die and some will become way too exuberant, so and landscape is never "done." And instant landscapes like this are not inexpensive...


The contouring

Before the new plants arrive, the yard was graded. Three truckloads of soil became a ridge installed along the road to provide for more interest and a little privacy. It's a clean slate for the new landscape. But drainage could be a problem in a gully-washer rainfall.  I hope a French drain was installed at the front of house to channel the excess storm water to the lake behind the house.



Arrival of the plants - Photo by Stibolt

The plants, except for the sod, fit in one truck.

The plants look pretty upon arrival

Because the landscape company is looking for instantaneous beauty, plants that look good at the time of installation are favored.  This may leave some gaps in interest throughout the year.  Ask the question about year-round displays.  Another potential problem is that trees, shrubs, and perennials may be planted too close together for instant curb appeal.  Ask about the eventual size and growing habits of each plant and plan for the future.

First, the landscape guys spray painted the outlines of the gardens and put the sod in place. They then moved the one existing sago (Cycas revoluta) to the top of the ridge. This location makes for a better anchor on that corner of the garden. The potted bedding plants were then set in their proposed planting sites. The owner was consulted before they were planted. I like the undulating pattern of the bed—much more interesting than a straight edge, but think about the mowing and maintenance. Mowing curving line on the sloping lawn next to the road will be a bit tricky. Don’t make it too hard to care for. 

Landscapers get to work.  Photo by Stibolt

Landscapers sink each plant in its designated spot.

Here is the plant list:

· Liriope (Liriope muscari `Variegata') Native to Asia - As discussed in my French drain article, this hardy evergreen member of the lily family is normally planted as a border. 
· Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) Native to Asia - Widely planted around here, this odiferous relative of garlic is said to have been planted in South Africa to keep out the snakes. I've noticed the smell from twenty yards away when walking through the neighborhood.  I have seen snakes in these areas, but I haven't seen any vampires.  Hmm... 
· Crape myrtle ( Lagerstroemia indica) Native to Asia - This small tree blooms all summer and has interesting bark to look at in the winter.  Hacking these trees back to keep them hedge-like is probably not the best use in the landscape. Yes, the common name is spelled “crape,” even though it was so named because the flowers’ texture is similar to crepe.  It's not a myrtle, either.  This is why we need scientific names.
· Assorted daylilies ( Hemerocallis spp.) Native to Asia - These plants will do well in the full sun and it looks like they are the ever-blooming type that will develop flowers for more than just a few weeks typical of the standard varieties.  They'll become quite dense after a few years.  All parts of the Daylily are edible.
· Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) Native to Madagascar - Often called annual Vinca and while it is related to the true periwinkles (Vinca major & V. minor) in cooler climates, this is widely planted for its great colors and long blooming season. 
· Dwarf yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria "Nana") The standard yaupon hollies are native to Florida, but this male clone cultivar is not native anywhere. These ubiquitous little shrubs are planted everywhere around here, but because they are all male, there are no berries.  I have several planted along our front foundation.  They are boxwood look-alikes with much faster growth and without the boxwood's foul, cat-urine odor.

After the planting.  Photo by Stibolt

After mulching the job is pretty much complete.

· Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) Native to Asia - Widely planted around here and shaped into hedges or gumdrops.  It does have berries that the birds like.
· Yew pine (Podocarpus macrophyllus) Native to Asia - These were planted along the front of the house and while they do take to trimming, they can be much taller than a normal hedge.  It's neither a Pine nor a Yew, although it is a gymnosperm like pines. Podocarpus have their own family.  
· Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) Native to Asia - a slow growing palm that can eventually reach 40 feet.  One was planted at either corner of the house - too close for the possible future growth, in my opinion. You cannot keep a palm short, because topping it will kill it. Once these palms grow above the roof line, their hard fronds may damage the roof and fruit and other droppings can make a mess of the gutters. 
· St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) Gulf of Mexico region -  Except for golf courses, do they ever plant any other type of grass in northern Florida?  

Notice anything? Yep, nothing, except for the grass, is native. Several native species could have been chosen. I realize that the nursery business is difficult, especially with the probable guarantees made for everything to live a year. Safe, reliable, and abundant stock is the prudent business decision, but is is best for your needs? 

It is up to us, as gardeners, to provide diversity

Here's something else to consider.  These plants (and a few others) are so widely planted around here that the whole region is losing its diversity. As native habitat is lost because of development or due to invasive aliens, it it up to us, as gardeners, to provide greenways on our property and diversity in our gardens.   

More on possible native plant choices in the next column.

(Update: This expensive landscaping job only lasted a year before it was entirely replaced again. They hauled the extra soil away, installed a pervious driveway and a drainage system--when the wet season arrived, the instant landscape design had directed all excess water into their house! Several years later, they installed yet another instant landscape. Instant landscaping is a false promise, because a landscape is never "finished," it's an ongoing project.)

Ginny Stibolt is a life-long gardener, a botanist, a naturalist, and a garden writer. You may contact her or read more of her articles posted on her website:

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Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener