The garden quiet is broken with whistles and chugs, when Charles "Dooder" Jones fires up his garden trains. But, that's not the only thing going on in this foothills garden. Dooder and his wife, Gail, have created a lush garden setting on 5 acres at the foot of Paris Mountain, just outside Greenville, South Carolina.
The "G" scale garden railroad was installed several years ago. A tiny town and miniaturized countryside are built to be in scale with the German LGB (Lehmann Grossbahn) trains.
Dwarf conifers, such as the clipped dwarf Alberta Spruce, are used in the layout. A tiny water lily blooms in one of the small rock-lined ponds. Mat-forming green mosses and rough textured silver lichens add age and character to the boulders and trees. Small leaved ivy tumbles and sprawls over the rocks and banks, threatening to overtake the track.
The garden train is just one small interest in a garden full of interesting shrubs, trees, and flowers. In the springtime, 500 azaleas accompanied by rhododendrons and dogwoods light up the shade. There's the traditional close-cropped grassy lawn accompanied in some areas by untraditional mounds of Liriope spicata used in place of grass. Instead of lining up along a sidewalk like hairy soldiers, the liriope fills an entire lawn area.
A rose garden is laid out in a modified wagon wheel spoke design. In the center, a birdbath overflows with a lush planting of annual fuchsia-pink ice plant, bluish-pink petunia, and silver leaved licorice dripping from the edges. A purple-pink miniature rose and a blue veronica give a small mounding effect in the center. At either end of the rose garden, handsome thick slabs of stone have been fashioned into benches.
Across from the rose garden, a parking pad, steps, and a front walk guide the visitor to the front door. Surrounding the pad is a hedge of prostrate rosemary, with its distinctively fragrant foliage. Tiny blue flowers cover it in summer. To the right of the steps are a twin planting of the shrub rose 'Bonica' (Rosa Meidiland). Across a close-cropped strip of lawn, the deep purple foliage of 'Purple Heart' (Setcreasea pallida) looks striking with the pink of the 'Bonica' roses. A pink crape myrtle bends her flowers down into the mix from in front of the porch.
Hydrangeas play a large landscape roll in the garden areas. The first to bloom in the spring are the 'Annabelle' hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens). They sport huge white flower heads that eventually age to a pale and then dark green. They make up a hydrangea walk interplanted with 'Wintergreen' boxwoods, hostas, white-blooming abelias, inkberries, and bear's breeches (Acanthus mollis). This shady path leads to an enormous contorted mulberry tree (Morus australis), 'Unryu'.
A new shade garden is prospering under dogwood trees. Ajuga surrounds a granite ball fountain sheeted with water. A collection of ferns fills the space. Included are holly ferns, autumn ferns, Japanese painted ferns, and arborvitae ferns. Hostas, Solomon's seal, and false variegated Solomon's seal, foam flowers (Tiarella), and Lenten roses (Helleborus) all compete quietly for attention along the walk. 'Pink Ruffles' azaleas form the background planting.
An arbor covered with evergreen clematis (Clematis Armandii) shades a raised patio at the rear of the house. A chimnea sits to one side and next to it, a Jade houseplant summers happily in the shade. Twin pots holding ornamental bananas, sun coleus, 'Blackie' sweet potato vine, and the elephant ear 'Illustris' punctuate the corners. A fashionably rusty looking metal basket holds blue fan flower (Scaevola aemula) as the table centerpiece. An arbor, holding up wisteria, covers the walkway to the little gazebo sitting on a rise overlooking the meadow.
Gail has recently added a large perennial border to the back yard mix. In the process, she's added fleeting motion, too. Verbena bonariensis, shasta daisies, Queen Anne's lace, melampodiums, black-eyed Susans, and purple asters draw clouds of butterflies. Hummingbirds love the perennial blue sage (Salvia guaranitica), garden phlox, and the old-fashioned annual spider flowers (Cleome).
Gail and Dooder like to travel. They are able to leave this mature garden for extended periods. An irrigation system supplies needed water automatically. When they return, Dooder says he deadheads and throws super phosphate at the bloomers to get a new flush of flowers.
Throughout the shady garden areas, benches and lawn chairs invite visitors to rest and reflect. The Jones’ enthusiasm for gardening hasn't diminished over the years. It’s not all work, either. They have fun in the garden. Just listen for the train whistle.
Every year, I challenge myself as a gardener to grow something I've never grown before and this year was no exception. As a professional garden writer, I was privileged to be given several exciting new varieties to trial. Additionally, in my travels this year, I had the chance to evaluate many more new plants in trial gardens across the country. The following new annuals, which will be new at retail in Spring 2017, received top ratings in my book.
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