A few years ago I tilled up the entire lawn in my front yard and planted herbs, veggies, fruits and edible flowers, but I had a dilemma. How should I handle the strip that runs between the sidewalk and street curb? I certainly didn’t want to eat anything that grew in street grit and car exhaust and was irrigated by passing dogs. Over time, that strip has turned into my test garden for perennials and a few annuals, such as this bunny tail grass (Lugurus ovatus). Bunny tail grass is like the adorable kitten of the botanical world. It makes me smile every time I see it bobbing playfully in the breeze. My 5, 8 and 10-year-old sons can’t pass bunny tails without giving the silky-soft seed heads a quick stroke.
I started the grass seeds in my pantry early last spring and transported them outside the first week of May. The grass is doing quite well in my fairly dry curb strip and has been very low maintenance. Right before the first major snowfall, I plan to clip a few bunny tails for dried flower arrangements. Until then, they can amuse my family and passers-by.
Hands down, my favorite late summer and fall perennial bloomer of all time is the Japanese Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’. An absolute non-stop flowering gobstopper for weeks on end by my front step from late August through October. Originally I chose this plant because it is known as the hardiest and easiest Japanese Anemone to grow, but soon it’s captivating wind flowers and bee laden blooms became my favorite September flower-power plant. In fact, bees can be found smothering the flowers the entire bloom season, so anemone is a lovely plant to attract pollinators to your garden. Best yet, this is the perfect perennial to toss in the ground then ignore for most of the season.
How To Grow Robustissima Anemone
While anemone love a rich, moist planting site, this particular variety will do well in average and even sandy soil. Add plenty of organic matter to enrich existing soil before planting. Robustissima Anemone is the most adaptable of all the anemone’s to drier conditions, but need more watering attention initially until they are established. Once established, plants form a low mound of green leaves with tall branching stems that produce interesting branches of bud balls that will develop into attractive soft-pink five petaled flowers.
Anemone Robustissima do well in full sun to part-shade and are tremendously easy to grow. I leave the seedheads up all winter for interest and clean the beds in early spring before green shoots redevelop. Divide every few years in the spring to keep the plants in check. Add additional organic matter like compost to the beds, mulching well, in the fall.
One of my all time favorite plants is my perennial begonia. We transplanted it here from my Mom’s garden, who transplanted it from my Great-Aunt Ruby’s garden. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves with tiny pink flowers, spreads very easily, gives great ground cover, thrives in my shady garden (zone 7b), and provides a structured, yet loose look. It’s one of my most prized plants and I’ve never seen it available for purchase!
The most striking feature though? The undersides of the perennial begonia leaves! The bright red veins really pop against the bright green of the stalks and leaves.
I have perennial begonias lining my pebble stairs and around the garden path. I love the way they bend over into the stairs, reaching out to greet your feet as you walk down into the garden.
They look beautiful paired with ferns!
I hope you can get your hands on some perennial begonias in your area – they are definitely a staple in my shady garden!
Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa
These days, when I walk down the stairs and around my garden path, I am greeted by the loveliest smell coming from my August Beauty Gardenia. The blooms are the purest white I’ve ever seen and the smell is just out of this world.
I planted two gardenias in my backyard a few years ago where they get just a couple of hours of morning and mid-morning sun. They’ve had a bit of a rough time. Smashed by a falled tree during a tornado-like storm and then bitten by an odd freeze the following winter. They came back, slowly but surely, and I’m glad to see they are bursting with green growth and dozens of buds this year.
Gardenias enjoy moist, well drained soil in a shady environment with some indirect light. I picked the brightest spot in my shady backyard! They’re hardy to zones 8-10, but after one frost that claimed almost a whole shrub, I sometimes cover with a sheet to be safe. (More info here!)
It doesn’t hurt to plant them close to the house too, so you can enjoy the sweet smell. I can’t help but clip them and bring them inside. It’s unbelievable how much smell can come from such a small flower.
Tip: To remember the variety of this particular gardenia, I had to reference my garden journal, where I keep tags, notes and a general history of my garden. If you’re just getting started with your green thumb or even if you already have an established garden, start a record of plants and make notes of your successes and failures! I use mine all the time. Plus, it’s a little bit nostalgic after you’ve been at this gardening thing for a while.
One of my favorite sweet-smelling vines is in bloom in my Atlanta, GA garden right now: Confederate Jasmine. I started it a couple of years ago over a corner of the fence where I wanted to cover the fence wire and it quickly filled out over a 5 ft x 5 ft area. Confederate Jasmine is a great climbing option for a full sun spot and mine happens to get a few hours of afternoon shade. With the potential to grow up to 20 ft wide, I’m hoping mine will cover a whole side of the fence!
You can see behind the fence here how quickly my garden gets shady – it is dark back there! I’m happy to have a few areas like this one where I can enjoy the flowers and smells that come with full sun!
Confederate Jasmine will tolerate almost any soil type, judging by the soil here. It wasn’t great soil to begin with, despite my soil-amending attempts, but I also planted the roots right next to the concrete footing for the fence post. Rookie gardener alert! Lucky for me, this confederate jasmine forgave its inexperienced gardener-mom and produced a great show of fragrant blooms from the start!
Novice gardeners, if you’re in need of a sunny climber, treat yourself to a Confederate Jasmine. You won’t regret it.
Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa
One of my favorite colorful additions to a shade garden is the tall and funny-shaped foxglove. When I first started gardening, I was a little bummed that having a backyard full of trees meant that I would miss out on the colorful bursts of bright day lilies, poppies and coneflowers that would flourish in a sunny spot. I found a pleasant surprise this spring when the non-blooming foxglove I planted last summer shot quickly out of the ground in all its purple glory!
Up against a sea of fern and Solomon’s Seal greenery, this little flower has quickly provided great color inspiration for me to try to build on. I’m already planning where I’ll add another and what other vibrant shade-loving plants I can find. Astilbe, anyone?
My foxgloves are in rich, well drained soil with only dappled sunlight throughout the day. In my Atlanta, GA garden (Zone 7b-8a) they started blooming in late March and early April. They’re delicate but tough, I think, which is part of their charm. See more planting details on foxglove here.
Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa