Several years ago my ex and I went to Key West. It was the fall after that terrible summer when our skies were occluded for three months with smoke from agricultural fires in Central America. We had cancelled our family trip to Port Aransas since it was so depressing to be outside; it felt like the world was coming to an end. Anyway it was my ex's wonderful idea to surprise me with this trip for our anniversary.
Ever since then I had the notion of doing a Key West garden. And now with my new house, this idea seems ideal. What I took away from Key West was: small frame cottages with simple paint colors, lots of white trim, white railings, and gardens that were foliage-intense rather than flower-focussed. Which is totally my cup of tea for front garden--I love greens, grays and year-round evergreens. Once the construction is done next door I will be painting the exterior of the house; the main siding will be a manila folder color and the trim will all be white; the shutters black. Very Key West and all about setting off the dark green of the evergreen tropical foliage plantings.
So here’s the plan:
Palm fronds are the key (no pun intended). There is nothing that says tropical Key West shanty like rustling palm fronds. But I don’t want or need a palm tree. My tiny front yard already is dwarfed on the south side by a #@!!$% liveoak tree (I know they are majestic, but they belong in a field; their twice-a-year leaf-drop-pollen-spewing-fuzzy-caterpillar-flowering output is a massive annoyance to a residential yard—and what’s with the non-biodegradable leaves? Do they EVER decay? I think not.).
So after researching palms, I have concluded that the best solution is the Dwarf Palmetto, which is a southern U.S. native and can endure some freezing temps as well. Plus it doesn’t get very big; but it also has a reputation for slow growth. Everything’s a trade-off. I looked at the sago palms, but something about them seems almost plastic. Plus after reading Oliver Sacks’ treatise on cycads, I wonder if they aren’t alien beings.
So I have planted a Dwarf Palmetto (sabal minor) on either side of the front windows. You can see in this picture the tiny size of this palm to the right of the window in the sunny patch. Let's hope that their slow growth doesn't spell garden dissappointment for me. I’m leaving the boxwoods in between them; assuming they come back from my merciless pruning. In March right after I moved in, I put plugs of small liriope (that I brought from R-wood house) along the front and side beds. I love liriope and it can’t be beat as an edging medium; it’s dark green, cold hardy, evergreen, appears lush in the worst conditions, and it even has purple flower spikes.
In between the foundation planting of boxwoods and the liriope is a big whole at the moment. So I’m mulling what would be good here. I want something low and evergreen but with a tropical bent, possibly 2 or 3 dwarf oleanders with some rambling verbena filling in the spaces.
Meanwhile the shade garden in front is doing well. From my Rollingwood house I brought and planted these shade lovers:
Inland sea oats Physostegia (purple fall bloomer) Brazilian pavonia (pale pink flower with wine throat) Turk’s cap
This bed is under a copse of mountain laurel and the tallest pittosporum I've ever seen and unfortunately some rather pervasive poison ivy. Apparently even John Dromgoole endorse Roundup for this scourge.
After 10 years gardening on solid rock in Rollingwood, I moved into a 40's cottage in the North Loop area spring 2007. The little postage stamp yard is black clay and no one had ever dug a single flower bed. After visiting Key West a few years ago, I came back inspired by the little frame cottages, white painted railings, and rustling palm leaves. So the plan is: desert tropical cottage garden.