Fort Worth yard draws admirers with its spontaneous color

Posted Saturday, Aug. 09, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Show Us Your Garden

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Commanding your attention as soon as you turn onto the street of this ranch-house development, Paul Davis’ front yard — a riot of color and plant variety — is the only one like it on the block.

Davis retired from the Air Force in 2004 and turned his attention toward personalizing his own plot of land.

“I didn’t work for a year so I would put a few plants [in], and people would pass and say, ‘Your yard is lovely,’ ” he says. “So I’d put another one in. It kept going like that.”

Davis now works full-time, yet his southwest Fort Worth garden is lovelier than ever.

His garden priorities? He likes color and he likes to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Otherwise, he buys what catches his eye and returns home to research the plants on the Internet. That’s why Davis’ garden hosts annuals and perennials, natives and tropicals, flowers and colorful foliage plants.

“My wife is English, and I try to do a cottage garden,” Davis says. “She says it’s not, but I just put plants in when I see a space. It’s full — yeah — but it’s nothing that grows in England.”

Walking through the garden, Davis knows every plant and its requirements.

Although a solitary elm tree creates a canopy of shade, it doesn’t inhibit the garden’s color content. Colorful foliage plants are as plentiful as flowering specimens. Elephant ears, caladiums, coleus, purple heart, acuba, polka dot plant, hosta, and croton add red, pink, purple, black, yellow, orange, white, and varying shades of green. Originally, he says he tried delphiniums and the like but found out they couldn’t take the heat.

Shade-tolerant flowering plants that have taken root in the Davis garden include begonias, periwinkles, plumbago, celosia and Turk’s cap — a hummingbird favorite. For the butterflies, he’s planted gaillardia and lantana.

Davis’ artistic eye is evident in his spot-on color combinations. Orange canna lilies strut with citrus-shaded zinnias; scarlet pentas hunker under massive maroon-veined elephant ears; Persian Shield’s puckered, iridescent purple leaves bandy with Mona Lavender’s lilac spires.

Davis consciously creates layers in his garden beds, too. Small, rounded plantings along the front borders fade into taller, spiky offerings. Behind those range jumbo, large-leaved plants and small trees, like Japanese maples, which create an understory.

This garden pleases all five senses. Tactile elements abound as soft, fluffy foxtail fern and smooth, glossy banana leaves vie for attention alongside feathery grasses, prickly coneflowers, and pegged, jagged wood fern. Meanwhile, the soft scents of gardenia, bee balm, and roses waft along the brick pavers Davis has installed around the beds.

Most of the garden relies on annuals, so late spring through early autumn is its best season. Davis fills in the winter voids with pansies after amending the mounded beds with cow manure each year.

Then, the following spring, he says his garden begins anew. “I do a lot of perennials, but the [annuals] I like, ... I gotta bring them back,” he says. Gardenias, for instance, are one of his favorites, and Davis shares them with passing neighbors and colleagues as well others like his barber or the folks he sees at the dry cleaners.

“I came home one day and this lady and her mother were out here looking,” he says. “I gave her a gardenia. She said, ‘Go ahead and do what you gotta do; we’ll be here for a few minutes.’ 

Because Davis keeps finding plants he can’t resist, satellite gardens have started popping up adjacent to the main beds. A regular shopper at Archie’s, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and The Plant Shed, he explains, “When I see a nice plant, I put it in. I don’t really have a plan.”

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