The big story in my garden last month was hurricane Matthew, which brushed just offshore of Jacksonville. Oh, and Jacksonville happens to be where we live. Some neighbors had to deal with snapped or uprooted trees and others had to worry about flooding, but when we returned home, I was delighted to find nothing more than a tilted palm tree and broken branches. My little mailbox garden greeted us cheerfully as if nothing had happened, and the rain garden/dry creek bed did exactly what they were supposed to do; prevent flooding in my back yard. The biggest impact of the hurricane was that evacuating for a few days made me all the more eager to get outside and garden again.
Since it’s cool enough to garden with my toddler again, I’ve had a lot more time to get things done outside. Better yet, he’s now old enough to help me out in the front yard without wandering out of sight, which means that the front yard’s foundation planting can finally get the attention it deserves. And boy did it need some help. Since that blasted torpedo grass has managed to create a deep network of roots throughout the bed, my only option was to dig up the majority of the plants, untangle the torpedograss rhizomes from their rootballs, and start fresh with a new and simplified arrangement. The priority was to remove any plants that served no clear purpose or distracted from the composition. A rosebush, milkweed, liriope and even a big purple crinum were all removed so that I could make the mass of ‘Cherry Coke’ Dyckia plants the star of the show. To help them stand out more, I limited my plant palette to plants with lighter shades and contrasting textures.

My festive little mailbox garden combines marigolds, croton, agapanthus and a backdrop of rushes.

The 'Everillo' sedges did an excellent job of preventing erosion in my dry creek bed.

Once it was clear to me that the plant choices were starting to resemble undersea corals and sea anemones, I decided to go with a coral reef theme and picked plants with colorful and decidedly un-leaf like foliage. Succulents are usually used for this kind of garden, but since I have a clayey and often damp garden in Florida, I had to get creative. For the effect of seaweed and seagrasses, I planted foxtail asparagus and ‘Frosty Curls’ sedge. To replicate coral, I used succulents, (Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’) various silvery sage-colored Billbergia bromeliads, tightly clipped balls of variegated Pittosporum, ‘Little John’ bottlebrush, Cuphea, ‘Frosty Curls’ sedge and for the time being, a few orange-flowered Calibrachoa plants. All of this is planted in front of a nearly black hedge of ‘Little John’ (no relation to the bottlebrush of the same name) Azalea for maximum impact. Even though the foundation planting is close to completion, I’ll still have to fill in the gaps to get that tightly-packed coral reef look. I plan on planting flowering kale and Sedum (‘Coral Carpet’, perhaps?) to fill in any gaps, and even some coral bells, (Heuchera ‘Paris’, ‘Dolce Cinnamon Curls’ and ‘Circus’) to brighten up the shadier parts of the bed. To brighten up the border and tie it together visually with the white trim on my house, I’ll also add some white petunias such as ‘Supercascade White’. The funnel-shaped blooms might even look a bit like sea anemones in the right setting. 

Here’s the foundation planting so far! I plan to fill the gaps with annual flowers..

Concrete bowl of succulents between the dyckia plants to get drainage and can be removed during frosts.

I’m taking it slow on the veggie garden this season, mostly because I’ve learned that keeping up with both a toddler and an expansive vegetable garden is harder than it looks. So instead of planting a slew of different vegetables this time around, I’ll focus on planting some easy edibles in a small patch that my son and I can easily maintain. Peas, radishes, baby carrots and salad greens are all rewarding and relatively fast-growing, so they’re a good fit for my toddler’s attention span. However, I can’t resist planting some kale and cabbage so that he’ll get to watch them get huge over the course of a few months. Besides, maybe he’ll seem to grow up more slowly by comparison.

While the side yard garden is in need of renovation, the sweet marigold and kumquat steal the show.

Note to self: Sweet potatoes are definitely good candidates for vertical gardening.