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An Extraordinary Courtyard Garden

Anne K Moore
Photographs Phillip Jenkins

Even for someone who is as keen on plants as Phillip Jenkins is, there is an inordinate amount of plants packed into this hillside he calls The Stone Column Garden. It sings with color. Notice how the red echoes throughout the beds, leading your eye around the garden. To make this garden even more incredible, it is only 18 months old. The pond with waterfall was just added a little over a month ago.

Bare dirt can be a daunting pallet on which to paint a garden. Consider this site where builders have removed all the topsoil, leaving compacted clay subsoil behind; add to that a hillside that slopes into your home and there is major work to be done to create a garden. For gardener Phillip Jenkins, this was an opportunity to garden on a whole different plane.

First came the leveling and a concrete block retaining wall. “I committed the plan on graph paper to scale,” Phillip said. Then, “I painted it on the ground. The fella doing the construction said he had never had anyone draw what they wanted in the dirt.”

Then stacked stone walls were added at various heights to add interest and create planting pockets for trees, shrubs, and flowers. “The curves provide a contrast to all of the straight lines,” Phillip explains. He angled the garden walls so that there would be a view inside and out. “The lot was sloping to the house and I wanted the garden to be seen from inside. When you landscape so it can be seen inside the house, it allows you to enjoy the garden all the time,” Phillip said.

The walls were backfilled with truckloads of pine bark soil conditioner, sand, and mushroom compost, all tilled together with the native clay. Then Phillip began his plantings and learned a valuable lesson. Wait until the new soil mixture settles before adding trees and shrubs. (Gardeners never quit learning.) The soil had settled below the walls edges. Since this wasn’t the look he wanted, Phillip had to dig up, add more soil mixture, wait for the inevitable settling, and then replant.

Once all of the hardscape was installed, it was time for Phillip’s favorite part of the landscape process, choosing the plants. It wasn’t easy. He moved from a shady acreage site to this tiny, by comparison, sunny spot, but still, there were plants he wanted to grow. One he hadn’t had much room for before was the garden phlox ‘David’. Its white blossoms are “…the size of basketballs,” he pointed out. All of the healthy plantings attest to the care they receive and the soil’s condition.

Who wants to drag a mower into this space to keep grass tidy? Not Phillip. The dwarf mondo grass lawn was a tedious installation, but it requires no mowing. Vegetables, too, are now possible. Tomatoes, peppers, and squash thrive along the side yard leading to the garden entrance.

What can we learn from this garden even if we have plenty of space to spare? Plenty!

  • Water and wait for the soil to settle before you plant in new, amended soil areas. This applies to containers, too.
  • If a small tree, shrub, or any plant is in the wrong place, just dig it up and move it.
  • Slip vegetables into your flower border.
  • Use a groundcover instead of grass to create a low maintenance lawn.
  • Use curves to soften straight lines.
  • Spray marking paint to create your garden boundaries on the ground.
  • Build your garden so you can enjoy it from indoors as well as out.

Healthy soil and a good fertilizer program make for a blossoming garden. Phillip’s tips for healthy plants:

  • Start with the soil. Amend native soils in the whole planting area, not just in a dug hole.
  • “To keep Caladiums looking good, fertilize often. They have to have a lot of oomph! or they start to decline.”
  • Use a slow release fertilizer. He uses Osmocote in containers to keep plants fed and blooming.

Phillip Jenkins is a Real Estate Professional, an avid gardener, and an Honorary Lexington County South Carolina Master Gardener. See more photos of his garden at

This past GardenSmart article from Brent & Becky Heath explains how to grow Caladiums.

Follow Anne K Moore as she blogs along with Linda Weiss at Diggin’ It at the Christian Science Monitor website and at their website: The Gardener and the Chef


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