Favorites in an Atlanta Garden

One gardener's solution to living on a busy suburban corner.

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Mike Sloan's garden is located on a busy street corner in suburban Atlanta. Despite the noisy cars and trucks that race by continuously, Sloan, an attorney, has managed to create an interesting garden that belies its location.

Starting with a clean slate (the one-story ranch house had a lawn in front with one large silver maple, a small crape myrtle and very poor soil), Sloan began planting around the perimeter of the property to screen off both the noise and the headlights. Evergreen trees such as cryptomeria, leyland cypress and other conifers were mixed with deciduous shrubs and small trees like viburnum, wiegela, butterfly bush and vitex. A thick band of ornamental grasses also serves as a buffer. A circle of lawn is now enclosed by mixed borders. Perennials like purple coneflower, rudbeckia and garden phlox are interwoven with ferns and annuals like zinnias and deciduous shrubs, including callicarpa and hydrangea.

Instead of the typical row of evergreen foundation plantings, Sloan has placed an eclectic assortment of tropicals, deciduous shrubs (like a fairly rare form of Hydrangea aspera var. villosa), mophead hydrangeas, hostas and 'Casa Blanca' lilies in front of his house. In summer the bold foliage of elephant ears contrasts with the riotous leaves of coleus.

The mailbox at the end of Sloan's short driveway has become a major focal point and a delight for passesby. Here he has interplanted his favorite 'Casa Blanca' lilies with red banana, golden creeping jenny, black millet and yellow black-eyed Susans.

Sloan loves enhancing his home landscape with groupings of containers, which he plants with dwarf conifers, groundcovers, annuals, perennials and vines. Next to the entrance to the transit authority's corporate offices near downtown Atlanta, he has also installed several huge containers with a wild assortment of plants that will withstand the harsh conditions and extremes of hot and cold.

Some of Sloan's favorite plants are:

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Oriental lily (Lilium 'Casa Blanca'). Said to be the purest white of all the Oriental lilies, 'Casa Blanca' has giant blooms in clusters on strong upright plants. Some flowers measure six inches across. In cooler climates of the U.S., 'Casa Blanca' lilies bloom in August on plants four feet high. In the Southeast, expect flowers in early July on stalks that are five to seven feet high. 'Casa Blanca' is extremely fragrant.

How to use it: Plant in a cutting garden or site at the back of a mixed flower border. Watch for hawk moths hovering about the plants when they are in bloom. You definitely want to plant 'Casa Blanca' where its sweet perfume can be enjoyed.

Cultivation: Plant bulbs eight inches deep in rich, well-drained soil. Stake just as the stalks emerge from the ground in spring. Plant in full to filtered sun.

Source: White Flower Farm

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Hardy hibiscus 'Kopper King' (Hibiscus 'Kopper King'). Developed by the Fleming brothers of Nebraska, 'Kopper King' is bred to be very cold hardy (to USDA Zone 4). The huge (10 inches across) pink blooms have the texture of tissue paper, but are quite tough. The flower is light pink with a red "eye" and has red veins. What makes this plant so unusual is the foliage, which is a dark burgundy color and is deeply divided in the shape of a maple leaf. Although 'Kopper King' looks tropical, it is a U.S. hybrid.

How to use it: This is a wonderful plant for a mixed border, as the foliage adds another dimension to green. 'Kopper King' combines well with daylilies and lighter colored ornamental grasses.

Cultivation: Plant in full sun for burgundy foliage; in shade, the leaves remain green.

Source: Plant Delights Nursery

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Elephant ear 'Jet Black Wonder' (Colocasia 'Jet Black Wonder', syn. 'Black Magic'). This tropical foliage plant has huge leaves of dusty black-purple on maroon stems that grow to five or six feet high. Native to tropical Asia and Polynesia, the fast growing plants produce heart-shaped leaves that measure two feet long or more. Hardy in Zones 7 to 10, the tubers of colocasias (also known as "taro") are highly prized for food in Hawaii and the Caribbean.

How to use it: To make a bold statement in the summer garden or to lend a tropical look to the landscape. 'Jet Black Wonder' is particularly effective next to golden orange zinnias or against black-eyed Susans. This colocasia lends itself well to container plants and can even grow in shallow water.

Cultivation: Plant in full sun for darkest leaf color. Be sure to keep evenly watered. Dig up and store in a dry place in winter. Replant after the danger of frost has passed.

Source: Available in spring from Park's Countryside Gardens

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Coleus 'Solar Sunrise' (Coleus 'Solar Sunrise'). Native to the tropics, coleus is grown for its brilliantly colored foliage. 'Solar Sunrise' is a mixture of bright lime green, burgundy and creamy yellow. Growing to 18-24 inches tall with a similar spread, this coleus is hardy only to USDA Zone 9, making it an annual in most of the United States.

How to use it: Grow as an annual in a border to produce striking color. This is also an excellent container plant.

Cultivation: Coleus are heat-tolerant, but they will not perform well in drought. Keep them evenly watered. At the end of the season, take six-inch cuttings, and root them in water. During winter, plant the rooted stems in a sterile professional mix and grow in a sunny window. Plant outdoors in the spring after danger of frost.

Source: Since this is a tropical plant for summer use, these plants are not available in late fall and winter. in the spring, look for 'Solar Sunrise' at Hilltop Farm.

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Calico dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia elegans). This is the tropical version of Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla). Instead of purple-and-cream flowers, the flowers on A. elegans are larger and spotted purple. Instead of a vigorous vine that's hardy to USDA Zone 4, this vine is native to Brazil and is not as rampant. Suited to USDA Zones 9 to 11.

How to use it: For summer foliage on a pillar or a fence, or as a vine for the greenhouse. (Use A. durior as a quick cover for a trellis, to drape a porch or to grow along a fence in the vegetable garden.)

Cultivation: This vine is easily grown from seed, which should be soaked in warm water 24 hours before planting.

Source: Thompson & Morgan Seedsmen

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