Amy’s Shady Canvas

Amy’s Shady Canvas

I garden. I garden obsessively. Sometimes I rest, but only so I can garden again. Just two injuries so far this year — doing good!

Landscaping might be a better word for it. Our yard has no grass lawn and no direct sunlight, only that filtered through a multi-layered canopy of trees. My art is live sculpting with shade plants.

Enjoy a photo tour of our yard canvas. Thanks to my plant suppliers: North Haven Gardens,  Rohde’s Nursery, Jenn Sereno, and Texas Discovery Garden/North Texas Master Naturalist pollinator plant sales.

The Front Yard

Two things once dominated the front yard: A sprawling dark-grey concrete patio shaped like an amoeba and a huge swath of vinca groundcover that lost its leaves every summer due to an uncontrollable fungus. Lovely.

Once both those were ripped out, a blank canvas unfurled. Scooter designed a pathway and retaining wall structure for it and I filled in the gaps.

Geometric Front Walk

Mabel shows the beginning of Scooter’s creative front walk leading from driveway to the street which was poured in place. Holly ferns at base of planter; coralberries inside it. Paw paw tree behind it. Yew and yucca to the left.

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Asian jasmine invader with St John’s wort next to walkway in middle. Big mound on back-left is black and blue sage. Ground cover front-right around young red oak is horseherb.

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Groundcover around unseen gingko includes pigeonberry, cedar sage, and this cool spotted dude, with wood violets between the steps, all natives.

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Looking through the gingko to the large platform where we can pull up a chair and sit a spell.

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Zodiac showing how to take the walk to the street.

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Datura (young) and coral bells on the curb, backed by inland sea oats on the right, Texas betony in the middle and elephant foot plant on the left. Behind them is a line of young Philippine violet. The damage on the left cedar elm is from a car that ended up in our front yard. All but coral bells are natives.

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The wide view of the walkway back.

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Unknown plant, purple oxalis, lily grass, and pigeonberry. All but oxalis are native.

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A bed of young native chile pequin, backed by lily grass.

Woodland Walk

A stepstone path around a massive chinquapin oak at least 100 years old.

Mable invites you to mellow out.

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The farfugium bed (4 varieties) with lily grass accent. Background of cast iron plant and Mexican fern. Lyre leaf sage bed in foreground.

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The question mark bed with Chinese fairy bells and pink ajuga, framed to the left by lenten roses/hellebores. Backdrop of Turk’s caps just coming up.

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Off we go under the paw paw tree.

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A curving drainage channel lined by Korean rock fern on left and pachysandra on right.

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Beginnings of Adeline’s fairy garden.

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Saxifraga groundcover, more of the early fairy garden. It will have some fairy houses and a fairy ladder up the pole.

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A natives bed of Texas betony, lobelia, cedar sage, Berkeley sedge, and very young cardinal flower and tall basketflower to the rear, with large Japanese aralia to the right of it all.

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The holly fern alcove, carved out (by plumbers) from the sprawling elaeagnus/silver bells hedgerow, someday to have its own sacred statue.

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A backdrop of tall natives — cashmere bouquet/clerodendrum bungei on right and beautyberry on left. In front of them, young frostweed on left (someday to be huge) and branched false mint/dicliptera brachiata on right, and edged by autumn fern. In the back to the left (if you look hard) is a young elderberry shrub.

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This crazy cardoon.

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Black and blue sage and its young red oak pal, with a couple of coralberries and a Chinese honeysuckle tree behind it.

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A fading yucca, original to the yard, with an unknown native woody on the left. Groundcovers are chocolate ajuga on the left and golden groundsel native on the right.

Oval Driveway Bed

A challenging bed in the middle of the driveway, since it gets so dry.

Sunlight-loving yucca, original to the house, still hanging on, recently rescued from a mondo grass invasion.

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Lava rock and ancient ivy stem, fronted by a line of pachysandra/Japanese spurge with lily grass pal.

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A cascade of English ivy, which gets this glossy look when it’s 60+ years old like this one — it actually blooms! — plus a little bit of needlepoint ivy

 

Front Wall Bed

Shallow and narrow, it’s another challenge.

From left to right, holly fern, autumn fern (unseen), false branched mint, scrawny young oak leaf hydrangea, lily grass, camelia, soft leaf mahonia.

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This camelia bloomed once. And that was it.

 

Bamboo Fence Bed

Once choked with bamboo, we beat it back but just barely. The soil tortures plants, no matter how much I improve it. We’re putting trellises up on the fence soon.

Now we are trying a fatshedera (Japanese aralia/English ivy hybrid) and a bunch of hoja santa.

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Adore this fatshedera. Wish it were happy. Looks just like it did when I planted it there over a year ago.

 

Back Yard

Triangle Beds

The home’s original owner had a sacred geometry thing going, along with an obsession with the hanging gardens of Babylon. Features are arranged in sets of 2s and 3s. Geometrics are mirrored by curves. These are three oblique triangular beds, in constant defense against a giant bamboo forest behind the fence.

A melange of coralberry, cast iron, holly fern, Confederate jasmine (in pot with trellis), and peaking out purple oxalis and lenten rose/hellebores.

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Jacob’s ladder collection, plus a chile pequin, with my tiny sleeping goddess of Malta tucked away at upper right.

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This insane wisteria. We doted on it for over a decade and then it bloomed and wow does it bloom, more each year. Somewhere under there is a nandina it uses to prop itself up.

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A 10-year-old oak leaf hydrangea, one of my few dependable bloomers. Adored by bees.

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A deep shade bed of leatherleaf mahonia, Japanese aralia, holly fern, cast iron, and some tiny hanging-in-there lenten rose/hellebores. That’s a SolstiCelebration prayer-tie tree propped against the fence.

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In the curved beds across from the triangles, wood ferns and an oriental-themed screen, original to the yard.

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A bed of young Turk’s caps, original to the yard, hosting our array of bird feeders. That’s my office window overlooking them. It’s quite an avian floor show some days; makes it hard to concentrate on work.

Patio Dreams

A roofed rain patio off the main back door, perfect for grooving on storms.

Since I barely have sunlight for flowers, this is how I get my color on.

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Our adored directional rattlesnake bench by Stu Kraft. We think of him every day, his art keeps him alive.

The view and pathway through the arch to our sunlight-loving potted plants.

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The sunlight plants up close, left to right: asparagus fern (about 30 years old), struggling pipevine, fun orange flower, jasmine (about 20 years old), borage struggling for light, plus some tiny ones.

Upper Pond

More narrow, shallow, dry beds.

A rare spot in the yard that gets a touch of direct sunlight, enough to support annual flowers torenia (purple) and unknown in front. The back beds are cast iron on the left and holly fern on the right, both basically unkillable.

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The tall plant on the left is obedient plant, which is not happy there once summer sets in and is moving to the front yard. Raccoons dug up the bed one winter and moved 3 different kinds of ferns to the middle. Forgot what the white plants are and to its right is lenten rose/hellebores. The fountain is superb at tuning out city noises.

Lower Level

The downhill side of the backyard, a lower enclosed area.

A friend gave me this Kwan Yin to set beneath the Chinese trifolate orange tree, original to the house. After a decade of languishing, it began to bloom and continues to do so. The tree is covered in prayer ties from women’s circles held here.

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An evocation of Chinese mountains and temples to keep her company.

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A seating area beneath the redbud, with its wood violets and spiderwort. both natives, plus Kwan Yin’s chimes and another temple. It’s cool in summer and one of Mabel’s favorite areas.

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The patio takes a turn toward the other back door.

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An area left mostly natural for Mabel. Just some large potted house tropicals and inland sea oats. A potted bougainvillea by the holly fern is not thrilled by the low sunlight. Above it is a deliriously happy cherry laurel. There is a connection between the two.

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A lush tropical we call the large-leaf plant. We treat it like a sculpture.

Thanks for staying through for the whole tour!

Amy Martin

Amy Martin is the North Texas Wild at GreenSourceDFW and author of Itchy Business: How to Treat the Poison Ivy and Poison Oak Rash. More info at http://itchy.biz/. Most frequently she was the senior comedy critic for TheaterJones, The Aging Hippie columnist for Senior Voice, and the Taoist panel member of the Texas Faith blog of The Dallas Morning News. A journalist for over 40 years, she wrote for Dallas Observer, Dallas Times Herald, Dallas Morning News, and D magazine, and was contributing editor and columnist for Garbage magazine. She was known by many in North Texas as the Moonlady for her alternative newservice of 15 years, Moonlady News, and served as creator/producer/promoter of the acclaimed Winter and Summer SolstiCelebrations for 20 years. 

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