Christians’ home proof-positive: Outdoor rooms not limited to backyards|[06/07/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jim and Linda Christian’s gardening area is a little different from the traditional layout of their neighbors’.

The couple’s backyard is predominately a steep bank with limited sunlight and very little level planting area. They began to use their front and side yards for most garden plantings. And, the front yard has become an outdoor extension of the inside living space and a favorite spot for humans and wildlife.

The Christians’ house sits on the outside of a deep curve. Speeding drivers occasionally ran up onto their property over the years and, several years ago, one did not make the curve and crashed into the Christians’ kitchen and breakfast room. After the house was repaired, they had a waist-high steel fence erected along the side of their property with warning indicators attached to alert drivers of the curve. The fence, however, did little to beautify the property. But, Linda Christian, a Master Gardener and longtime garden club member, saw the fence as an opportunity. Confederate jasmine and climbing roses now grow along the sunny fence with butterfly bushes, daylilies, keria, Louisiana irises and Turks cap – one of our native shrubs and favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds.

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Another change, a circular driveway, came to the Christians’ front yard as a result of the car crash. Backing vehicles out had always been somewhat difficult, but more traffic and decreased visibility due to the fence concerned the Christians.

The circular driveway soon became a favorite spot for their grandchildren to play. A picnic table, outdoor chairs and, eventually, a fountain were added, in addition to container plantings. The area is attractive and a pleasant spot for the Christians and neighbors to sit and visit or for the children to play.

Linda Christian grows clematis in containers near the house and on the mailbox. They have bloomed well for the past four or five years with little care – other than the occasional sprinkle of some time-release fertilizer and a little water when it gets extremely dry. Clematis prefers cool feet and hot tops. They receive lots of dappled shade to keep their feet cool but enough bright light so they produce gorgeous blooms.

Pots featuring purple fountain grass and lantern sit atop a brick privacy fence built around a small courtyard that leads to the front door.

Large containers of Confederate jasmine grow up metal tripods and flank the front entrance. Variegated euonymus, a plant with striking foliage but not seen too often in container plantings, is producing tiny blooms near several pots of Cajun hibiscus.

Calycanthus or Sweetshrub, a native found in many old Southern gardens with flowers that produce a wonderful aroma, is planted near the front door near lace cap and French hydrangeas. And just around the corner, a large Lady Banks rose is one of several climbing roses that grow in a small window of sunshine to the side of the house.

Birdhouses, feeders, blooming flowers, a large oak that provides dappled shade during most of the day and the constant sound of moving water from the fountain welcome birds and butterflies, as well as humans, to this garden space.

As we sat talking in one of several chair groupings, a mother prothonotary warbler flew back and forth bringing food to the babies she was raising in a birdhouse that hangs under the eaves of the house. An orchard oriole returned time and again, as well as several humming-birds, to drink from the hummingbird feeder and a brown thrasher sifted through some fallen leaves looking for a bit of dinner. Squirrels also scamper through the area but remain at bay when the grandchildren are outside.

The Christians spend a lot of time in this outdoor extension of their house.

The sound of the water is soothing and, except for in the real heat of the day, the shade offers a pleasant spot to sit and watch the children or to visit with friends. Using the front yard may not be the traditional solution most gardeners choose to create an outdoor living space, but it was a good choice for the Christians, reminiscent of the old saying, “When God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”


Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and master flower show judge, has been active with the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs for more than 20 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.