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Bold gardeners create daring landscape look
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
There is a new, bold gardener out there stirring up excitement. What I like about the bold gardener's style is that it uses plant selections or combinations in atypical ways. The result is that we're pushed outside our comfort zone -- we are challenged.
One instance of this bold style involves plants thought of as only for the arid west or perhaps Mexico. These plants typically have sword-like leaves and even prickles.
One of the most beautiful is the blue agave. This plant, usually listed as a Deep South plant, is being seen from the Coast to the Delta and back eastward across the state and performs quite well in Mississippi.
Plant the blue agave in the warmest microclimate of the landscape, usually the south or east side of the home. One common characteristic of any successful location is very good drainage.
One breathtaking Coast planting featured three blue agave plants in front of a scenic waterfall. In the Delta, the huge blue leaves were paired with the fiery red and orange of an equally drought-tolerant lantana.
Another choice plant is the yucca. This one is really gaining in popularity and is actually being grown and produced in the Carolinas. The most popular selections feature a gold and green variegated stripe.
At the Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, we're growing a yucca called Gold Garland that we got from Cairo, Ga. We may have stretched its comfort zone a little because we used ours as understory plantings to large, tropical bananas. While it is unusual to combine a desert plant with a tropical one, these have partnered well and complement one another in the garden.Even more unusual but very impressive was a group in the Delta that had red spider lilies popping up through the dagger-like yucca leaves. Folks at the Gulf Coast Garden and Patio Show oohed and ahhed over photos of this one.
Yuccas are much more cold-hardy than agaves and can be grown easily over the entire state provided you meet that same requirement: good drainage.
Another bold plant is called New Zealand flax, botanically known as a Phormium. Bodger Botanicals out of California introduced the Lancer series to the gardening world, and just about everyone wants one.
The plant was a virtual unknown to most gardeners in the South until the Lancer series made its debut. As the learning curve was developing, many suggested it would not survive the winters, but reports from Texas say it will remain green with temperatures in the mid-teens and root-hard to the single digits. The reddish flowers have lots of nectar for hummingbirds, and it is drought-resistant once established.
The fans formed by the New Zealand flax are reminiscent of a yucca or perhaps some kind of dracaena. These can get quite large, reaching 4 to 5 feet in height. The most sought-after have dark burgundy and gold variegation. So far it seems the most popular use is as a center plant in a large, mixed container.
It is a fun time to be a gardener whether you want to be bold with desert-like plants and tropicals, or traditional with a simple cottage garden. Whatever your style, make plans to attend the Mississippi Garden and Patio Show in Jackson March 13 and 14. For more information on the show, call toll-free (866) 919-8111.