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Tropical Gardening: Plants for home foundation

  • Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise Foundation plantings of palms, monstera and anthurium at this home on post and pier separate the driveway from the structure. It is a transition from the horizontal to the vertical and screens the open area under the structure.

Foundation plantings are like spandex garments. They smooth out bumpy features and add a dressy look. When properly used, a foundation planting serves definite purposes. It connects the structure with the grounds and adjacent ornamentals so that the building and grounds appear to have grown together into an eye appealing design. Shrubs and vines also tend to soften and blend architectural lines. Such plants give the home a finished look.

Generally, foundation plantings reflect personal preferences. The owner of a Spanish villa type home will use agave, yucca, colored acalyphas, and crotons, while the proud owner of a Polynesian type home may feature palms, fruits and fragrant flowering plants.

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Rules for making foundation plantings are vague. Ancient cultures may have cut the underbrush so that they could keep an eye out for enemy attacks, snakes and other unwanted wildlife. Conditions haven’t changed much. Some gardeners plant low growing plants which allow for good visibility so they can keep an eye out for peddlers, bill collectors and unwanted visitors. Today we tend to consider the ecological advantages of plantings as well, so a guideline for landscaping is “the mo the betta.”

Here are some don’ts in making foundation plantings.

• Don’t depend too much on annuals as a basis for the planting. They require continuous replacement and during some seasons will not do justice to your mortgage.

• Don’t use overly large or excessively conspicuous materials. Large trees can be used only against the largest buildings, and some of the brightly colored foliage plants do not fit well with all types of architecture.

• Don’t fail to plant some sort of foundation planting if there is a bare spot at the base of your building. Remember, these plants can enhance the value of the property.

However, don’t be afraid of your own ideas regarding plants. Your enthusiasm should not be dampened by the don’ts. You can get away with almost anything if you have a good reason.

There are scores of plants suitable around the home. The green or colored ti is one group. Larger growing foundation suggestions include carissa, hibiscus, jasmines, pittosporum, crotons, Nandina, and many others.

Still another group of plants, ferns, have a place against shaded walls, and underneath larger plants. The Sword, Boston, Leather leaf ferns and other cultivated varieties make excellent foundation arrangements.

At the base of the higher plants and to add color, plant herbaceous perennials such as impatiens, four-o-clocks, penstemon, gerberas, oyster plant, pothas, and Australian violets.

Besides the visual aspects of foundation plantings, consider fragrance.

Here are a few of many that are ideal for home use. The fragrance of the gardenia is well known. Not so well known is the best way to grow the plant. Place it in full sun or partial shade, never in heavy shade. Plant in soil mixed with at least an equal amount of peat moss or other decomposed organic matter. Gardenias prefer an acid soil. Mulch with 1 or 2 inches of organic matter. Keep soil moist. Feed every three or four months with acid type fertilizer.

For hot, beach areas, the Tahitian Gardenia is much better adapted.

Jasminum species, are also ideal for fragrance. There are many kinds of jasmine as well as several other plants called by that name, including star jasmine and orange jasmine that are not jasmines at all. There are several true jasmines that bloom with fragrant flowers. Jasminum sambac or pikake, Jasminum ilicifolium and Jasminum multiflorum are three shrubs used as foundation plantings. They may also be grown as vines and will bloom more profusely.

Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, is a viny shrub. Tie this plant to post, fence, or some other support and it will climb.

Orange jasmine, Murraya paniculata, is a member of the citrus family and is an attractive evergreen shrub or small tree with glossy green pinnately compound leaves.

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Night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum, produces flowers with a powerful scent. A single plant per garden should be plenty.

Also try Alahe‘e, Canthium odoratum, a native shrub with Jasmine like fragrance. It is actually in the Gardenia family and is excellent as a foundation or hedge plant. It is available in some local nurseries specializing in Hawaiian plants.

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