Water From Above
Even during hot, dry spells, a soft rain showers the garden. John installed a unique irrigation system that includes sprinkler heads mounted to tree trunks 20 feet above the ground. Hidden on the back of the trunks, the pipes are barely visible. Ground-level sprinkler heads can beat up tender plants, and shrubs often block their spray patterns. John's system waters gently and offers excellent unobstructed coverage--just like Mother Nature.
Designing With Foliage
John and Billie both have a great eye for design. The Elsleys' garden floor resembles a tapestry of woven foliage. Fluffy ferns or lacy-leaved Japanese maples surround sweeps of spectacular hostas for an eye-catching play on textures. "Flowers are often overrated, and in this garden, blooms are secondary," says John. Shades of green, splashes of variegated plants, and leaves tinted red, chartreuse, blue, and even black brighten the shady landscape.
Although hundreds of plants thrive in the garden, John is particularly fond of a few. He developed the Royal Heritage Hybrid hellebores and says these vigorous plants provide outstanding foliage along with colorful, long-lasting blooms. He also loves Japanese maples and planted many dwarf forms that mingle with the shrubs and perennials. Taller maples canopy the beds and walkways, creating beautiful shadows in the garden as the sun sifts through their intricately shaped leaves.
The Elsleys' garden evolves each year. John likes to sample different trees, shrubs, and perennials to test their hardiness and see how they respond to our hot, humid Southern climate. Because he works for a nursery and travels to gardens all over the world, John is constantly tempted by botanical treats, and the yard just isn't big enough to suit his horticultural appetite.
If he likes a plant but knows it's not supposed to grow in his area, he might just try it anyway. In theory, tropical lady's slipper orchids shouldn't grow in Greenwood, but it looks as if nobody mentioned that to the beautiful plants thriving in his garden.
"Shady Paradise Filled With Lush Terrain" is from the July 2005 issue of Southern Living.