Behind the Wall


This page was last updated on 4-21-2012.

Half the interest of the garden is the constant exercise of the imagination. --  Mrs. C.W. Earle

In 2011.  The wall now matches the front door.

There is a wall that runs from our garage to the front door stoop (see diagram), about 4'h with window-like piercings (detail below), which separates a small area under the eaves.  It is visible from the stoop and a sliding glass door of the dining room.  This area gets no direct sun, but the light is bright enough for Begonias and Bromeliads to bloom. 

Three years ago, plan in hand, we tackled this 6' x 8' area, cleared it of Asparagus Ferns (Asparagus sprengeri - below the surface was a 4" thick mat of roots and bulbs!) and first planted a Tree Fern (Dicksonia spp. - young leaves can be boiled and eaten as a green; the soft inner portion of the trunk can be eaten raw or baked) and donated Ming Aralia for a backdrop.  Next came our focal point, an overturned decorative burnt terra-cotta pot with black river rocks spilling from it to suggest water.  This was backed by a Hosta (which was gorgeous and only 2' wide, partially hiding the back of the pot) and surrounded by Bromeliads and young Ferns, including a Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium spp.) and Madagascar Fern.  An Alocasia (A. amazonica - a small, black-green, arrowhead-shaped Elephant Ear with white markings) on one side made a striking note.  I also found a few small Orchids to hang from the Tree Fern and a Jewel Orchid (a terrestrial with almost black leaves striped with orange and 5" spikes of small cream flowers) and Peacock Gingers (Kaempheria spp. - ground-huggers with blue flowers that disappear part of the year - sort of like tropical violets) to plant in the ground underneath it.  A few Rex Begonias and Caladiums (which also die down and come back) filled in the gaps and a pink-flowering Angel Wing Begonia went next to the sliding glass door.  (Begonia flowers are edible, by the way - succulent with a tart taste.) Bleeding Heart Vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae) daintily climbed the inside of the wall.  We mulched with pine bark chips.  A very small amount of Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida - was Setcreasea purpurea) weaving next to the pot and a Gloxinia 'Bolivian Sunset' (to 1' tall with dark green fol & 1 1/2" bright orange drooping tubes) completed the picture, which was lovely from both vantage points. 

An Amazon Lily (Eucharist Lily, Eucharis amazonica) bulb from Home Depot was planted and after a few months, came up and bloomed beautifully with four large, fragrant white flowers with an interesting shape, with long petals and a round central corolla.  It repeats the performance faithfully every year.  I would definitely recommend this plant and will look to establish a clump of these next time I renovate this area.

Just after planting.  The upside-down flowerpot covers a plumbing box of some kind that we may have to get to someday.  Once the plants filled in, it was hardly noticeable, but still perfectly accessible.

Everything was fine for a few months, then the Hosta died and the Tree Fern (which the nurseryman had said would grow "six inches a year if it was real happy") grew at least three feet and was hitting the eaves.  I had read the living, growing part was the top, so one could cut the bottom off to shorten it and replant the top.  After pulling it up and sawing it off, I saw white flesh.  Uh-oh.  Either I cut too much or had bad advice.  I'd guess the former.  We got busy after that, so the project has been put on hold. In the meantime, the hanging Orchids, Bleeding Heart Vine and 'Bolivian Sunset' disappeared and some Bromeliads died.  Probable reasons: 1) the area is pure sand, 2) the only irrigation is from a single raised sprinkler head, and 3) I forgot to feed the Orchids.  The Purple Heart grew but is easily kept in check.  I put in another 'Bolivian Sunset', this time in a terracotta pot, and have been watering it by hand.  This year, I also added a purple Oxalis with lovely lavender flowers in the front, and a Lea, a foliage shrub with dark green leaves that have purple undersides, in the back. Oxalis looks like the proverbial four-leaf clover.  There are two types that grow as weeds here in South Florida, a tiny one with green leaves and little yellow flowers, and a larger green-leaved one with pink flowers, which is actually rather pretty.  The leaves are edible, but only in small quantities.  The oxalic acid in them causes them to taste tart - a lot like Sorrel.  Ornamental varieties have larger leaves and are usually grown for their foliage, which comes in different color combinations, but they all bloom, too.  The Amazon Lily multipled, so I didn't have to buy more.

Some Bromeliads have multiplied a little too much and can be divided to plant elsewhere or to give away.  We have since planted a sprig of Black Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie' - donated by a friend) near the pot where its shape and color can be appreciated up close.  We will try the Tree Fern again (and a large Elephant Ear if that doesn't work out, though it may also get too tall) and use a Peace Lily (Spathyphyllum) or Chinese Evergreen (Anglaonema spp., a variegated foliage plant) instead of the Hosta.  I would like to include a pot of Nun's Orchids (Phaius grandifolium or P. tanvkervillae) - these grow about 4' tall and need filtered sun and repotting every other year in an 8-10" pot filled with a mixture of compost, loam and fir bark. P. maculatus is similar, with buff yellow flowers, their lips marked with red on the front lobe, and yellow-spotted foliage.  A few more Bromeliads, Begonias and a pot of  'Bolivian Sunset' will fill out the design once more. The Jewel Orchid can be divided. But first, we will add about 4" of compost

A few of the Bromeliads growing in this area include:

Aechmea fasciata -- Silver leaves with pink bracts and blue flower buds - blooms in spring.  Aechmeas have long flower stalks.  Two larger ones I recommend are A. chantinii (silvery leaves and yellow flowers with pink bracts) and A. mariae-reginae (pink bracts and a cone of cream flowers).  These are too big for this area but would do very nicely in a shady spot under a tree.  Both are quite striking in bloom. 

Neoregelias -- These are squat plants with insignificant flowers sitting right on the cups.  The decorative part is the central foliage, which turns different colors depending on the time of year. 

Guzmania lingualata -- The centers of Guzmanias elongate and turn different colors.  Mine turns red. 

Vriesea splendens -- Very eye-catching, with tiger-striped leaves, red-orange bracts and yellow flowers. Vrieseas have brightly colored, closed flat bracts which, as in most Bromeliads, are usually more colorful than the actual flowers. 

SomeTillandsias have flower stalks similar to Vrieseas and some have long stalks with a single flower (Spanish Moss, T. usenoides, is an example). 

Pineapples are Bromeliads with edible fruit - they are discussed in the Tropical Edibles section.

I had a Bromeliad on the patio that has since been given back to my mother. Not sure what kind it was.

This area should require almost no maintenance beyond cutting old Tree Fern fronds, feeding twice a year and keeping the cups of the Bromeliads filled with water at all times.  For this reason, they will be planted near the front, as before.  The Orchids that died were there because they had no place else to go.  In future, we won't put them here - they were too hard to get to.  Somewhere on the back fence where we can reach them would be better. 

In looking at pictures of many California gardens, I have noticed that a wall painted blue causes orange and pink to really pop out visually.  We were already planning to paint the front door blue to bring some color in, so now the plan is also to paint the back side of the wall, which faces this tiny garden with its pink and orange flowers, the same bright blue.  The insides of the openings will get a coat of purple for contrast (we'll paint these white again or blue if purple doesn't look good).  This will definitely give an up-to-date California look to the area and a punch to the front entry! 

Before painting the wall.

Update: The house was recently painted a slightly darker cream.  The front wall (on the left in the picture above) has indeed been painted blue, but the openings were left cream, and the shutters (top right) are now a dusky purple (actually not a bit like the color on your screen).  Haven't taken more pictures, but the blue really does highlight the plant colors, so I recommend trying to work in a sheet of this color somewhere in your garden.  The front double door, also blue, is just to the right of the photograph.  We rennovated the area and planted another young tree fern and a Lea, which is a purple-leaved foliage shrub that looks like a ficus (but doesn't grow like a monster) and likes shade, in the back on the right, near the glass door.  My cats love to sit and look out that door.
Update 2012: Tree ferns keep growing too tall for this area, so after removing two, we decided to grow them in another spot next time.  An Oyster Plant (Rhoeo discolor) was added at some point, and it and the Bromeliads kept multiplying, so now they need thinning.  The Ming Aralia didn’t seem to fit in, so went on the side of the house.  A lot of the smaller plants disappeared, but we still have a couple of ZZ Plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and Eucharist Lily.  There is a magenta Ti Plant (Cordyline fruticosa) and a cream-variegated ‘Marble’ Pothos in the back that need to be moved forward, in front of the Lea.  You can see a Caladium, a variegated ornamental Ginger, and some Shrimp Plants (Justicia) in the picture at the top of the page – the Shrimp Plants are looking weedy and will likely come out.  I am thinking of moving the shorter plants forward, planting more Lea, and adding a few more interesting things like Climbing Begonia (Cissus discolor), a black-leaved/orange-flowered Angelwing Begonia (seen at Flamingo Road Nursery), a Philodendron gloriosum ‘André’, and a Bat Flower (Tacca sp.) or two.

  Home  ** What's New? ** How It All Started * Garden Update October 2004 * Garden Diary 2008 * Garden Diary 2009 * Garden Diary 2010 * Garden Diary 2011 ** New! Garden Diary 2012 ** Rose and Perennial Court * Rose Update Feb 2003 * Front Garden Update 2008-9 * Behind the Wall * Herb Circle * Tropical Edibles Area ** New! Growing Dinner: Visit to a Homegarden ** Potager  * Potager 2004-5 * Potager Plan 2008-9 * Edibles 2008-9 * Crop Chart 2008-9 * Edibles Planting Schedule * Warm Season Planting 2005 * Succulent Beds * Wild Edibles * Caterpillars to Butterflies * Building Healthy Soil * Ecological Gardening * Index of Plants and Techniques Featured * Annual Vegetable Chart * Long Lasting Markers: Jewelry for Your Plants * Build a Gardening Notebook