Behind the Wall
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.