One sleek feline silently prowls through the ferns. Another hunkers down in deeply shaded grass. Resident kitties Augustus “Gus” McCrae and Lorie Darlin’ enjoy the respite of Pam Banner’s Hurst back yard as much as Banner’s family and friends do.
After 41 years in the same home, Banner knows her back yard well. A large expanse of St. Augustine turf is curvaceously bordered with garden beds full of lush vegetation that flourishes under the cooling canopy of a small forest of towering post oaks.
“I know what grows here and what doesn’t,” she says. “I used to plant beds of impatiens; then the trees started growing.”
Banner’s go-to plants now include those that tolerate the deep shade and the resulting damp conditions. Her favorites are ferns.
“They call me ‘the fern freak,’ ” she says with a laugh, “but they just grow here.”
Her potted Kimberly Queens make a rather spectacular showing in the summer — long, fringed fronds reach out in all directions on plants that are several feet tall and wide.
These upright ferns have matured through the years — Banner says she lugs them to the garage every winter. The secret to their portability lies in the fact that Banner plants them in plastic pots, then drops the plastic pots into large ceramic containers stationed around the garden.
Preferring Kimberlys to the similar Boston fern because they are hardier, Banner says they have the added benefit of shedding less. Nonetheless, she says her Kimberlys do outgrow their pots and must be repotted periodically to ensure longevity and good health.
At the base of her trees, Banner favors wood ferns. These herbaceous perennials offer light green, erect foliage that expands into a useful ground cover, as they will expand their territory with underground rhizomes.
Indeed, as Banner moves about her garden, she plucks a browned frond here, a stray leaf there. Sporadically, she contrasts wood ferns against the deeper green, glossy leaves of holly fern. Unlike wood ferns, holly ferns offer the advantage of year-round foliage and texture. Near the patio, pots of wispy asparagus fern add even more variety.
Complementary shade-lovers like pink caladiums and white-edged hostas, and pots of bright red geraniums, serve as colorful companions. Banner keeps the geraniums in pots in order to overwinter them in the garage with the ferns, as well as move them around the garden for periodic access to the pockets of sunshine that infiltrate the trees.
“When you have shade like this, it’s hard to put anything in the ground,” Banner notes. “You have to keep everything in pots and put it where the light gets to it.”
As ground cover for the beds, Asian jasmine and English ivy sprawl with abandon and clamber up the oaks. Meanwhile, 15-year-old red tip photinias have morphed into small trees. They tolerate the shade, and Banner says they may even appreciate it since she constantly fights their relentless march across the property.
Half whiskey barrels host profusions of ‘Dragon Wing Red’ begonias. In the spring, Banner transplants one begonia from a hanging basket into each barrel, and by summer, the barrels brim with shiny green leaves and showy scarlet cascading blooms. She has photos of the begonias dusted with snow — these are flowers with fortitude.
“We’re out here a lot,” Banner admits. Several seating areas host tables for al fresco dining and entertaining. The large lawn provides a playground for the Banners’ nine grandkids. A hammock strung between two trees and a comfy rocker promise sanctuary. Just ask Darlin’. The rocker is her favorite spot.