They gathered Spanish moss for the live oak on a trip to Florida’s west coast. Then they stood on the roof of their home so Jillian could toss it in the air while Gene sent it flying with a leaf blower. Some of the strands landed in the limbs of the oak tree, where they thrived.
“I just hope none of our neighbors were watching that day,” Jillian laughs.
That moss helps draw your attention to the tree that is now over 30 feet tall.
When placing other plants Jillian has been cognizant of negative space, another principle garnered from her art experience. “Do I want the plant touching the one next to it? Most of the time I don’t,” she says. But that’s not a hard and fast rule.
“When you are up close on the ground you might think your garden looks fantastic but when you back away, it’s all wrong. You need to go back and forth,” she advises.
Often she groups a single variety of plant to good effect. Consider a delicate ground cover such as silver sparkles that she uses to create a shimmering haze at ground level.
And a grouping of Neoregelia passions in her side yard add a splash of neon pink to the surrounding green. “When planted all together these bromeliads don’t have to bloom to be eye popping,” she says.
To ensure the garden is thriving, Gene and Jillian survey it daily. If after a week they determine a plant isn’t doing well, they move it.
“Most plants have a happy spot where they’ll bloom and flourish. Our goal is to find it,” Jillian says.
To make getting the right plant in the right place easier, they often leave them in pots. Then they can move them without disturbing the roots or digging.
“Everybody wants an instant garden but sometimes it’s better to take your time and wait to plant,” Jillian says.
To help decide on the perfect spot for each plant, here in South Florida you have to start by looking up. “You have to know where the sun is,” Jillian says. You also have to determine how the sun moves depending upon the season.
In winter, the sun is along the back property line of the Cains’ garden. But in summer, it’s in the street in front. Plants may thrive until summer but then the sun shifts and they burn up, Jillian says. That’s when she and Gene get busy shifting plants.
The couple is constantly moving and adding plants that they buy at garden club sales, get from friends or propagate in a nursery out back. “I never had $1,000 to just put into my garden. It’s always been bit by bit,” Jillian says.
So she is careful to nurse the pups and shoots of the plants she already has so that she can use them to replace older ones or create vistas.
“I like the designing and creating. I love to garden,” she says.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at email@example.com.
In an earlier version of this story, a caption misidentified a plant paired with a pink bromeliad. The yellow flowers are Walking Iris.