Gardening with Soul: The Sky's the Limit

Gardening with Soul: The Sky's the Limit

Gardeners have always striven to have a little bit of heaven in their backyards, an oasis in which to relax, their very own paradise. The perfect garden seems, for some, beyond their reach. But with a few suggestions, we can bring gardening down to earth - so to speak - for a few more weekend landscapers. Gardening has been at the top of the list of America's favorite hobbies for the last several years, so height is a good subject to cover.

When designing their gardens, most amateur landscapers direct their focus down, thinking two-dimensionally (width and depth) without taking into consideration that most plants grow - up! When you plan your landscape, the basic essentials of design should include height to create interest, as well as color and texture. You can do so in a variety of ways, such as by bringing in more dirt and building berms. With Florida's topography being (for the most part) flat, planting trees and shrubs with sundry heights will create additional street appeal. Also, you can employ garden decorations such as birdhouses, waterfalls, and fountains to contribute vertical interest.

What would pique your enthusiasm? Would you like to have the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Tower of Babel? Reaching for the skies with perennials, vines, ornamentals, and trees is one way of bringing new levels to your landscape. It is also a good way to obscure a behemoth like the Colossus that overlooks your patio from your neighbor's yard. Here are some suggestions to elevate your personal Garden of Eden to its pinnacle.

While all flowers and plants grow up (in one fashion or another), there are specific varieties that achieve a columnar posture. Tall spring bloomers that stand on their own and that are easy to grow are agapanthus, alliums, blood lilies, and African irises. Plants that may require staking to hold their blooms high include Canterbury bells, hollyhocks, and verbascums, with foxgloves and delphiniums in the upper garden zones. Climbing roses - such as antique roses or the popular "Don Juan," "Joseph's coat," and "Arizona" - are wonderful repeat bloomers that can drape an arbor entrance or center a broad wall. In the summer, you can continue to add height with a variety of sunflowers, cannas, gladiolas, jatrophas, and Mexican petunias (ruellias). Flowering shrubs for the hot Florida zones include Thryallis, with its dazzling yellow floral display nearly year round, Barleria (Philippine violet), Leptospernum (New Zealand tea tree), and Tibouchina (Princess flower). All four plants may grow to over 6 feet tall in our tropical climate. With cooler winter temperatures, different levels of size and color can be found in cassias, camellias, hollies (with their berries), and poinsettias.

Trumpet Vine ( and perennial vines are a simple and fast way to stretch your garden vertically. Start off by looking at your area to see where you would like to raise the onlooker's eye. Is the look you want vital to cover something permanently, or do you want to just casually invite birds and butterflies into your world? You can plant seeds of a vine of any variety of wonderful hummingbird attractors, like Phaseolus coccinens (scarlet bean runner), the forest orange Campsis radicans (trumpet vine), Thunbergia (blue sky vine). Butterflies love Tecomaria capensis (Cape honeysuckle), Allamanda cathartica (common allamanda), Passiflora (passionflower), and the tropical pink Mandevilla (mandevilla). For fragrant vines, you can't beat Ipomoea alba (moonflower), Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine), Wisteria floribunda (wisteria), or Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle), which has white flowers that turn to yellow when they are pollinated. These specific vines will easily reach a height of 10 feet or more and, depending on what zone you live in, may winter over.

Honeysuckle ( can plant your vine to climb a trellis, arbor, pergola, or fence. Make sure whatever you use will be able to handle the weight of a full-grown vine, keeping in mind that the perennial vines will need more support as their stems become woodier stems every season. It will be harder for you to transfer a mature vine that has beribboned itself (which may only take a few months) upon a delicate ornamental trellis to a sturdier one constructed of cedar or another hard wood.

Another way to add elegant stature to your garden is to include one or two evergreen ornamentals. A Cupressus sempervirens (Italian cypress) situated to the side of your English cottage garden states formality and style. Juniperus chinensis ("Blue Point" juniper) can add a taller blue-green focal point (no pine intended) to invoke a woodsy landscape. If you have more acreage and need greater height, try landscaping with Juniperus chinensis "Kaizuka" (Torulosa juniper). It will mature at 20 feet, curling its branches majestically upwards as it grows older. A beautiful silver-green, conical tree is the Cupressus arizonica (Arizona cypress). It can grow to be 20 to 30 feet tall and can be placed at the corner of a house or garden to draw the eye upward.

Some other hints to ensure that your garden doesn't become too hodge-podge:

  1. To keep your specimens from looking out of place, make sure you surround them with plants or shrubs that will grow to only a third of the taller ornamental's height or can be pruned to stay shorter.
  2. Unless you are covering an eyesore or need to avoid windows, do not situate singular ornamentals in the center of the bed. Arranged at the outer edges of the bed, the specimen acts as part of your framework for your design.
  3. You can create a slope effect by arranging your plants to cascade down from your tallest plant.
  4. Balance your view before you plant, by standing back and rearranging your design until you create a harmonious composition.
  5. Using one or two taller focal points in your garden will create excitement and attract attention as you walk through. Going to new heights to achieve the ultimate garden will have everyone looking up to you. Congratulations, the sky's the limit for you now!

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