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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Secure the Borders for Winter Structure

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes taste of adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672

Winter is the season when the elements of structure are revealed in the garden. I used to think this was true of only northern gardens. After all this IS central Florida and our average winter temperature is a fabulous 72-74 degrees with abundant sunshine and blue skies.

Even so, for the last three years in a row, winter has not been particularly kind to Florida. My gardening philosophy is being transformed somewhat to accommodate the altered weather patterns of frosts and freezes we have experienced. (You can read about it further if you wish in previous posts here. )

To expound further on how these ideas play out in my garden let's talk a bit about how one key design element can help make the winter garden more appealing. Or we could say... more forgiving.

Utilizing grasses and other like-plants to border every planting bed not only emphasizes the curvaceous edges that have been cut out of the previously lawn covered garden but it also brings a sense of organization and consistency to each design.

Even when there may not be so much going on within the borders. As is the case once we've endured a couple of heavy frosts ... or as in this winter... several!

Here is the same bed (not exactly the same angle~ but you get the idea) in summertime. The Ophiopogon intermedius variegated aztec grasses used as the outermost layer in this (very large) understory bed is hardly noticeable when filled to the brim with all that makes the summer garden colorful and bright. What a difference from summer to winter.

The same bed from the opposite angle. Again, the grasses blend in summertime more than stand out as they do in the dead of wintertime.
In the winter season the borders become part of the structure and composition in the garden. Hand in hand with mature oak trees, evergreens, native plants, seating arrangements, arbors, pathways, hardscapes, trellises, and barrier walls the edging borders find it is their time to shine.

The same summertime view and, as you will notice, the Ophiopogon intermedius aztec grasses are hardly noticeable. Maybe that's because the eye is drawn elsewhere. Deeper into the multiple layers of texture, color, and the warmth of summer lushness.

In many cases to emphasize the impact of an edging grass and create more depth I implement a double layer into the outer border. As illustrated above the exterior layer of aztec grass is mirrored the full length of the curves by Alliaceae Tublighia violacea society garlic. In spring/summer it will bloom lavender flowers atop tall slender scapes standing high above the dual edging.
Both of these plants are easily divided and transplanted right in the ground. Borrowing from the mature plants in other parts of the garden makes these border creations economically feasible.

Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata', Flax lily is one of my favorite grass-like perennials (zones 8-10). There are hundreds (from divisions mostly)planted throughout Hoe and Shovel gardens. Used as a fabulously summer/winter hardy plant for delineating edges of planting beds but also placed in groupings to soften corners and increase depth.

It is an easy one for popping a rooted piece into a container garden for a sturdy addition and then change out the flowers around it seasonally. It does equally well in full sun or dappled sun; requiring only rainfall for irrigation.

Flax lily can be attacked with armored scale. I've noticed this on some of mine but not so badly to warrant spraying. I've chosen to live and let live as I count on the beneficial bugs to take care of the harmful bugs. You can read more about armored scale and solutions here.

The same front garden bed (a closer look) signifies the "after view" since multiple winter-frosts have burned root hardy Hamelia patens firebush, herbaceous Cassia alata, Clarodendrum Ugandese butterfly bush, Duranta erecta 'Variegata', blue porterweed, and red Pentas lanceolata. While we wait for spring's warm soil to return and bring back our beloved perennials the flax lily border hides or at least forgives the multitude of sins within its borders.

Even in the edible kitchen garden borders come in handy to help make winter's fury less of a sting. This year we lost almost all of our winter planted tomatoes (a few have survived with frost cloth) and pole beans(forefront).

A springtime view (of the same border plants) of Alliaceae Tublighia violacea society garlic lining the curving pathway draw in beneficial bugs as well as carry the garden through all seasons. Some seasons look (much) better than others.

Another example of the winter garden borders with colorful tender plants achieving height above it. The variegated aztec grasses are tightly planted to eliminate spaces and gaps between plants. This gives the feeling of continuity even though there is a wide mix of understory plants beyond the grasses.

Oh, the southeast property line does not do well in winter. Which is what makes me ever-grateful for the curving border of ... you guessed it... Ophiopogon intermedius aztec grass. These extremely hardy plants might be overused in my garden but I'm of the opinion they are underused in most Florida gardens. Did I mention they produce a white inflorescence at summer's end! Bees love them.

A wider view of the same area in September and the same edging is overtaken by golden rod in the foreground and firebush at the top of the photo.
We Floridians love our tropical and exotic plants. In the tropical pathway bromeliads are utilized as borders. I've mixed up the tropical borders with the use of Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata' Flax lily, spathiphyllum or peace lily, Ophiopogon intermedius aztec grasses, and bromeliads. The bromeliads make it through winter and as you can tell the impatiens which randomly seeded themselves in the first place have perished from frost.
I should note here for new readers that my garden is also evolving from manicured hedges to a more naturalistic feel throughout. Recruiting plants as natural borders helps me to accomplish a more 'woodsy' look without compromising my need for a good sense of organization simultaneously.

Winter is on my head,
but eternal spring is in my heart.
Victor Hugo

Happy winter, dear readers. You ARE the best! Meems


  1. Meems, If it were not for my border grasses and vinettes my garden would not be much to look at right now. After looking at your photos I can see how important structure is in the winter garden and I will be adding more grasses.Janis

  2. I have learned the importance of borders from viewing your garden. Slowly, I am adding borders to my beds. Even though there are too many gaps in them right now, things already look better. It's just not very exciting to work on the framework, but I know it will pay off in the end. Thanks for a closer look at your technique.

  3. Janis,
    Your pathways, stones, bricks, arbors, swings, and chairs are fabulous 'pillars' in your garden. Not to mention your hand painted windows and doorways. Oh, you have it going on in any season.

    I suppose you are correct... not very fun to work on the framework. I try to think of it all as 'one'. Every part making up the whole. The borders are included in the design from the very beginning. It all takes time and patience no matter what doesn't it! You are getting there in your young garden. It is looking more and more mature all the time.

  4. I envy you your garden Meems. All I have right now are pocket gardens, potted plants and lots and lots of cement. I like your idea of plants as borders and hope I can implement it in our home in the (near) future. Those aztec grasses look great. -- Bom @

  5. Great post Meems! It makes me realize that I need to work on borders. My front flower bed which brings so many compliments from neighbors in the summer looks awful right now. The aztec grass planted along the front would certainly brighten the bed in the winter.
    This gets added to my "to do" list for the spring.

  6. Meems - I thought your borders were Liriope at first. I have the same Dianella, but not in borders. Mine have been in the ground a year and a half. I've seen them get really big - do yours do that or do you just divide them? I love the look and your great plan for border interest in the winter.

  7. Love the use of Aztec grass for border edging. I used it heavily in my old Atlanta garden, where I had spent years separating and dividing. When I moved here, I chose Oyster Plant, which multiplied amazingly the first three years, before all those cold blasts. It's time this spring to shop for Aztec grass. BTW, my SE corner is always hardest hit in the cold too.

  8. Hi Meems - I've only recently discovered your site and have been having a great time wandering through it. To echo others, you have a lovely garden! I've been inspired by what I've seen and read, and hope that one day my garden will have a similar state of cohesive beauty. All the best from sunny Singapore!

  9. Hi Meems...When I lived in Oviedo there was a home whose frontyard flowerbeds were bordered with mondo grass and it was beautiful. I used to drive by often to look at it. The funny thing is that I don't remember any of the other plants except for the mondo. It was a beautiful sight.

  10. Bom,
    I will hope with you for your new garden in your new home. I know you will make it beautiful.

    Siesta Sister,
    I'm a firm believer that plants for borders help hide the leftovers from seasons when we get bad weather as well as in-between when say ...all my caladiums retreat back to the earth. They work for me in so many ways.

    Some of my borders are indeed liriope which is another name for the aztec grass. I actually use giant liriope (not variegated)in some places but didn't mention it here. Yes, the flax lily can get very large. I am constantly digging up the larger ones and dividing them to move elsewhere.

    I am always separating and dividing the aztec grass. It makes a great filler within the beds as well. Those oyster plants would be pretty and I've seen it used for borders but they must be mush by now with all the frost. They should come back when it warms up.

  11. Curiousgardener,
    It is so nice of you to let me know how you've enjoyed my blog and garden. Thank you. Gardens are very individual habitats. Mine has been being cultivated for many years. The last 10 years with increased intensity. I'm sure your garden in Singapore is lovely.

    I'm using the 'dwarf' mondo grass to fill in between my flagstone pathways. It is a sloooooow grower but invincible. I've got hundreds of giant liriope plants edging pathways and tucked into borders throughout as well. Very easily divided and multiplied, too.

  12. Lovely borders - the grasses certainly herlp define and unite the various borders - but so many of your other plants have that architectural quality too - very pretty

  13. You've done a wonderful job of giving me a visual plan for the garden. This year I will focus on trees and borders. And natives, natives, natives! Thanks as always for your generosity.

  14. AYIMG,
    Thank you. We are diligently working to create architectural interest in every planting area.

    Trees and borders... an excellent focus. It's the framework and bones of the garden... easily filled in from there.

  15. I have used variegated liriope to edge a bed, and I love it because of the contrasting foliage and the fact that it blooms in the summer, and of course that it is evergreen. I have seen dwarf mondo planted in several rows used as a border edging, too, and it looks really neat and clean. I'm sure it took A LOT of 4-inch pots to border the bed several rows deep, but the end result was very nice. I grow the dianella, but it freezes to the ground here in Zone 7b, and takes a LONG time to grow back in the spring. I had such hopes for it, but I think it prefers your warmer zone.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

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