A rare glimpse into the going’s-on in my fabled front yard.

By Steve Bender
June 16, 2020
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You asked. You begged. You demanded. I resisted. But my desire for privacy has finally given way to your insatiable curiosity about what’s growing on in Your Hero’s yard. It’s still early in the year and new plants will take time to fill out. But as you’ll see, Grumpy does more than talk about gardening. Grumpy gardens.

What you see is a mixed border flanking a stone path that runs from the front porch through an arbor and connects to another path that runs down the side yard. The impetus for its location was three-fold. First, the only area of my property that regularly gets a lot of sun is the front yard. Two, I wanted to add some curb appeal, because the neighbors know who I am. Three, a big patch of Bermuda grass died there one year, which I interpreted as a message from the Big Guy. “Grow flowers.”

Naturally, the soil in my little piece of USDA Zone 8A was mostly hard clay that had to be dug, loosened, tilled, and amended with approximately 24 tons of organic matters to make it suitable for planting. This was more than I could handle myself, so I asked my boy, Brian, “What would you like to do all day? Text with your friends, play Grand Theft Auto, or create a new garden with me?” As expected, he chose the latter.

So as we look down the path today, we see azaleas planted next to the house (which I wish I’d never done, because they get too big and need pruning every year) with a sweep of deep-green hellebores in front of them. Dark foliage needs light foliage, because opposites attract, don’t you know? I therefore planted yellow creeping Jenny in the cracks between stones and added a row of ‘Everillo’ carex opposite the hellebores. Here’s the garden viewed from the other end.

Steve Bender

‘Everillo’ carex isn’t a true grass, but it looks like one. I have to say it’s one of my favorite plants in the Southern Living Plant Collection. It’s evergreen and forms a mound about 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide that varies from chartreuse to bright yellow during the season. It likes part sun to shade and has proven surprisingly drought-tolerant. I understand that deer don’t eat it, but as I have no deer, I can’t guarantee it.

Lucky, I don’t have deer, because I have lots of daylilies that bloom at various times. Here’s a light-yellow one I’m enjoying at the moment. Sorry I don’t know the name, but someone gave it to me, and after a couple of Bourbons, I forgot. You understand.

Steve Bender

Once I established green and yellow as main colors, I needed other colors to go with that. I opted for orange, blue, and purple with little bits of red and white. Below is my favorite source of orange, a semi-tropical plant named crossandra. It offers handsome, glossy foliage and stacks of orange blooms that come nonstop from spring to fall. It’ll die with the frost unless you bring it inside for winter, but it’s well worth the cost. These plants are still small, but they’ll get about 24 inches tall and wide.

Steve Bender

To go with the crossandra, I planted a seed-grown mix of ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ coneflowers. Flowers stand two to three feet tall and range in color from orange to yellow to cream to red. They take heat and drought. I’ll keep them blooming all summer by deadheading the old blooms.

Blue color comes from both a little ornamental grass and a larger grass lookalike. The first is ‘Elijah Blue’ blue fescue. I love it. It’s tough as nails, evergreen, and almost never needs watering. Bright-blue leaves form tidy mounds six to eight inches tall and wide. The second source, CoolVista Dianella (also in the Southern Living Plant Collection), grows about 24 inches tall and wide and punctuates the border with blue-gray leaves that stay year-round. For purple, I’m depending on ‘Serenita’ angelonia, Mirage autumn sage, and a new Spanish lavender named ‘Primavera.’ They’re too puny to photograph yet.

Pink is one color I didn’t want in this garden, but wouldn’t you know, an heirloom crinum lily named ‘Ellen Bosanquet’ responded to the heavy rain last week by shooting up two scapes of rose-pink blossoms. They’re so pretty, I’ll give it a pass.

Steve Bender

Well, there you have it – my mixed border, such as it is. If perchance it fills out obediently and is worth another viewing, you will be the first to see it.