Mondo Man

Gardener's Diary : Episode GRD-1302 -- More Projects

Jim Lewis in his garden
Jim Lewis had lived in condominiums all of his adult life until in 1992, he drove by a brick house for sale and decided to buy it. Located in an old Atlanta neighborhood, the house and its nearly one acre property had been neglected for years.

Jim, a software salesman, had never gardened. The large, wooded backyard contained a number of overgrown shrubs. As Jim and some volunteer co-workers dug and chopped, they discovered a number of features, including a stone table, barbeque area and a shuffleboard court, all installed decades ago.

While uncovering rockwork and former paths, Jim also realized what a great stress reliever gardening was. He soon started adding plants and other features of his own – Japanese maples, ferns, shade-loving shrubs like pieris and groundcovers like hosta.

After installing a lawn, Jim soon realized that the area was too shady for grass. He began planting dwarf mondo grass, a dark green grasslike plant that grew only three inches tall. Once the new "lawn" grew together, he started seeing other places that might work for the groundcover and began using it in artistic ways – filling in spaces in his driveway, making patterns on the ground throughout the garden and edging the extensive paths that wind uphill from the back of the house to the barbeque area.

Soon, Jim became known in gardening circles as "Mondo Man." He spent every spare moment going to the nursery and bringing trays of the dwarf grass home to plant. He confesses that he ended up spending a fortune on at least 50,000 plugs of mondo grass, but he loved the effect it gave him when he looked out at his backyard.

Jim also added features like a chain that connects the trees around his garden to provide a medium-sized planting underneath the tall, mature trees. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty') grows along the chain and festoons the garden in late April to mid-May with beautiful trumpet-shaped, reddish-orange flowers. Red accents from an umbrella and cushions on deck chairs also enliven the mostly green plant palette.

Other features in the garden include a pavilion with a hammock and a "curtain" of water that falls from the roof, waterfall, koi pond and an extensive stone patio overlooking a natural-looking rock pool.

Some plants in Jim's garden:


Dwarf mondo grass
Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Gyoku Ryu')

The plant: Growing to only three to four inches in height, dwarf mondo grass makes a thick lawn in shady areas. The evergreen plants form clumps or tufts of grass-like leaves and produce clusters of spiky white or lavender flowers in summer. The plants spread by underground stems and will eventually form a tight mat of dark green "grass." Hardy to 10 degrees F.
How to use it: With patience, you can establish a small, shade-tolerant lawn that never needs mowing. Or, use this short groundcover between steppingstones, along a border or in large containers. This is also a good plant for around the base of trees, as it will not interfere with the root systems.
Cultivation: Plant in filtered sun to full shade. Requires good drainage.
Source: Plant Delights Nursery



Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty')

The plant: This evergreen to semi-evergreen vine clings via tendrils with disks that attach to trees and walls. In mid-spring, 'Tangerine Beauty' is covered with bright, orange-red trumpet-shaped flowers. The native species has two-inch-long flowers that are reddish-brown to orange on the outside with gold on the inside. Climbs to 30 feet or more. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 9.
How to use it: Train the vine to climb a pergola, wall or trellis. Or, string the vine along chains connecting trees, as Jim Lewis did.
Cultivation: Plant in well-drained soil in filtered or full sun.
Source: Sunlight Gardens


Autumn fern
Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

The plant: This stiff, evergreen fern is native to China and Japan. With fronds growing to two feet on a plant with erect growth, the autumn fern produces seasonal color variations: in spring, a blend of copper, pink and yellow on new growth; in summer, fronds are a rich green with reddish brown spore cases on the undersides; and in winter, the fronds turn a copper color.
How to use it: Blend with other shade plants such as hellebore, toad lily, Solomon's seal and hosta. Cut fronds are long lasting in arrangements.
Cultivation: Plant in rich, well-drained soil in shade. Trim any unsightly old fronds, as necessary. Water evenly until established.
Source: Wayside Gardens


Boston ivy

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

The plant: Native to China and Japan, the glossy, three-lobed leaves appear in spring on this deciduous, clinging vine. Boston ivy is extremely vigorous and will climb to 40 feet or more. As the plant matures, the leaves become larger and larger. Some will measure up to eight to 10 inches wide. A chartreuse form, 'Fenway Park', and one with smaller leaves, 'Lowii', are available. If it's grown in full sun, the leaves will turn bright red and orange in fall.
How to use it: Cover a brick, stucco wall or fence with it, but be prepared to keep trimming the vine back. In winter, you will have the tracing of the branches on the growing surface.
Cultivation: Plant in well-drained soil. Full sun will produce the best autumn color. Trim as needed.
Source: Classy Groundcovers


Variegated Japanese willow
Variegated Japanese willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki', also called 'Albomarginata')

The plant: This colorful and interesting willow has white variegation in the leaves that persists throughout summer. In spring, the new tip growth is salmon-pink. The shrub grows 12 to 15 feet tall with a spread of 12 feet. In the nursery trade, you may find specimens that have been grafted onto standards. The arching branches have a semi-weeping habit. Fall leaf color is suffused with pink. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8, but prefers cooler climates.
How to use it: Use next to a pond where the white leaves will reflect in the water. Also, a shrub pruned into a standard produces a lovely, weeping effect. A good shrub to put next to a dark, solid evergreen.
Cultivation: Cooler growing conditions will produce the best color and performance. Cut back branches in late winter to encourage colorful new growth. Full sun to partial sun.
Source: Joy Creek Nursery

Plant Delights Nursery Inc.

Classy Groundcovers

Wayside Gardens

Joy Creek Nursery

Sunlight Gardens
174 Golden Lane
Andersonville, TN 37705
Phone: 800-272-7396
Fax: 865-494-7086

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