Their ticket to paradise Vicksburg pair creates personal tropical garden

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 7, 2010

A tropical garden teems with bold color and shapes from the ground up into the tree tops. It is lush with rich foliage sprinkled with flamboyant flashes of color. Porches, pergolas or lanais and water create part of its allure.

All of these elements are in the tropical backyard garden of Anthony and Sarah Farrell.

This garden is a far cry from the Farrells’ original backyard. Most of it was a steep incline, only steps from a patio, with a lone willow tree.

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The transformation started when Anthony Farrell brought in a backhoe, leveled part of the slope, hauled off 100 truckloads of dirt and built a wooden retaining wall to prevent the remainder of the hill from washing.

A dry, river rock bed was installed to help channel water that came off the hill along the wall and out of their backyard. Mature trees tower at the top of the hill bank beyond the Farrells’ property. Bradford pears planted behind the longest section of the wall provide some privacy and great fall color. Mature windmill palms, loquats and a weeping willow assist in creating the tree canopy for this tropical haven.

“My wife doesn’t like to see empty spaces or all green areas,” Farrell said.

A foliage-dominated flower bed sits under the tree canopy and is tiered with numerous tropical plants. Constructed over part of the dry, river rock bed that once channeled water along the retaining wall, philodendrons, aspidistra, cannas, elephant ears, papyrus, banana trees, cleyera, sago palms, variegated hydrangeas, gingers, hostas and hibiscus add various shades and textures of tropical green.

Impatiens, coleus, torenias, caladiums, pentas, mandevilla vine and pots of periwinkle and petunias provide bright spots of color here and there in the foliage. A border of stacked rock sits at the front of this long bed with a portion of the dry, river rock bed visible and adding more texture.

Containers of bright annuals dot the garden.

A rectangular swimming pool and concrete deck dominate the small intimate garden. Mortared flagstone paths lead from the pool to several destination points in the backyard.

One is a built-in fireplace and patio in a back corner, one of the first hardscape projects Anthony Farrell completed. Another is a covered seating area dubbed the Tiki bar. A large ceiling fan hangs inside the Tiki bar above a grouping of dark wicker furniture with huge hanging baskets of begonias and ferns hung along the eaves. Though their grill is there, the spot is amazingly cool, even when the temperature climbs into the 90s.

On a day-to-day basis, Sarah Farrell handles most of the planting and care, while her husband handles the more strenuous aspects of their gardening activities such as the hardscape projects and flower bed construction

They worked together to turn a two-tiered fountain into a delightful container garden near the Tiki bar. It originally was in another area and seemed to be a magnet for leaves. They moved it, filled both tiers with potting soil and various annuals, including bright yellow melampodium, creeping purple verbena and Blue Daze.

The backyard and front garden of their home have gone through numerous transformations the couple said. Creating a good foundation for whatever direction they wanted to go with planting was important, and considerable time was spent constructing all of the planting beds. Most beds are raised for better drainage. Anthony Farrell added lots of peat moss, soil conditioner with shredded bark and sand into the soil before planting.

A time-released fertilizer is used early in the growing season, and Sarah Farrell uses water-soluble Miracle-Gro and a teaspoon of Epsom salts per gallon of water every other week. Epsom salts used in small amounts adds magnesium, which improves a plant’s ability to use fertilizer.

Their combination of plants and accessories was the perfect formula to bring a tropical feeling to their backyard.

Miriam Jabour, a Master Gardener and Master Flower Show judge, has been active in the Openwood Plantation Garden Club for over 35 years. Write to her at 1114 Windy Lake Drive, Vicksburg, MS 39183.