Surprising choices for raised bed redo

Four years ago we built an L-shaped raised bed in a mostly ignored corner of the front yard.


January 19, 2009

The goal was to fill it with plants that sport lush tropical-looking foliage, including variegated shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’), giant elephant ears (Alocasia macrorrhizos ‘Borneo Giant’), ferns and hostas, assorted Colocasia, and an assortment of ornamental gingers (Hedychium and Curcuma).


January 19, 2009

Over the years, a few plants thrived: the alocasia, the shell ginger, and most definitely the gingers. While in the photo taken July 3, 2010 you can still see a few smaller colocasias in the front of the bed…


July 3, 2010

…they are gone in the July 7, 2011 photo. The gingers were so tall, they shaded the front of the bed too much and the colocasias perished.


July 7, 2011

Except for the shell ginger, virtually all plants in this L-shaped bed are frost-sensitive and die back in the winter. This leaves the bed looking pretty sad for a good four, if not five months:


March 9, 2013

I finally decided I had to a) own up to the fact that this experiment in creating a lush corner was a failure, and b) come up with something else. The first step was to remove the gingers. Some rhizomes were massive; this year’s foliage would have been even taller. Thanks to, I was able to find willing takers.

Now the bed was clear for planting (when I say “bed,” I actually refer to the longer portion of the L; the shorter section is fine, and I will blog about it separately someday soon). The only plant of significance left was the Silver Lady fern (Blechnum gibbum ‘Silver Lady’); it dies back every winter but it’s too pretty to get rid of.


March 25, 2013

I still didn’t know what I was going to plant when I went to the nursery. For a long time I’d been eyeing some of the lush, yet hardy foliage plants regularly featured on the pages of Alternative Eden and Danger Garden—especially Schefflera taiwaniana and Schefflera rhododendrifolia. Unfortunately, these plants are unavailable in local nurseries and most likely wouldn’t tolerate our long, hot summers anyway.

Like all nurseries at this time of year, Green Acres Nursery in Sacramento was dominated by flowering annuals and perennials. It’s the flowers that draw people to nurseries in the springtime, and I’m no exception. As I was looking at the riot of colors, I decided on the spur of the moment to do something that hadn’t occurred to me before: stuff this bed full of plants that would produce beautiful flowers. With this in mind, I picked a dozen plants that would provide a succession of blooms from spring into fall but also have interesting leaves.


This is what I ended up with:

  • 2 Scilla peruviana
  • 1 Brunnera macrophylla ‘Variegata’
  • 2 Iris pallida ‘Albovariegata’
  • 2 Lilium asiaticum ‘White Pixels’
  • 1 Lilium asiaticum ‘Lollipop’
  • 2 Delphinium × ‘Magic Fountains’
  • 2 Euphorbia × ‘Dean’s Hybrid’
  • 1 Helichrysum petiolare ‘Licorice Splash’, entirely for the fuzzy foliage; I want this plant to drape down the front of the bed

Two plants virtually leaped into my cart: giant squill (Scilla peruviana) and variegated Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Variegata’):


Scilla peruviana (left), Brunnera macrophylla ‘Variegata’ (right)


Scilla peruviana


Scilla peruviana with new flowers forming

I have no idea how they will fare here, but I want to give them a try.


Euphorbia ‘Dean’s Hybrid’ looks promising as well. (Check out this photo to see a mature mound.)


It’s possible that it will get crowded in this bed, but I’ll deal with that if and when it becomes an issue. For now, I’m enjoying the promise of something entirely different in this corner of the front yard.


If this experiment turns out to be flop as well, then I may simply plant a leucadendron and be done with it.


  1. I like this experiment! Flowers are always fun and you made some great plant choices!

    1. I've been too focused on foliage in recent years. It's good to add at least a few flowering plants.

  2. Why not make these beds the ones that you change every year? We in temperate climates have "annual beds", why not you? :)

    I'm not sure delphinium will be able to take the heat, but I'm looking forward to an update on all of these in a couple of months!

    1. A rotating bed--great ideally, actually. I love trying new things, and this could be the perfect spot for it.

      Delphiniums: I wasn't sure how they'd handle the heat. They get 1/2 day of shade so maybe they'll be fine. We'll know in a few months.

  3. To think a leucadendron as the "if nothing else works" plant!

    1. I'm still looking for that variegated leucadendron ('Safari Sunshine'). If and when I find one, this would be a good spot for it.

  4. The lush bed experiment before didn't look like a failure, it looked good and well but the new floral scheme of the bed sounds fab! A nice welcome change for that area. Superb choice on the Scilla peruviana btw, love this bulb!

    1. The biggest issue I had with the gingers was their ever so brief bloom time. And they didn't even reliably bloom because they didn't get enough water. With our water rates expected to triple over the next 5 years, I will cut back even more on water-thirsty plants. Yes, some bamboos will need to go as well...

  5. why don't you try a Melianthus Major "Honey bush" tropical looking foliage + hardy

    1. Cindy, that's a fantastic idea! It's a beautiful plant and relatively easy to find in local nurseries. I think I'll get one and keep it in a pot until I decide to what to do.

  6. Isn't Jan 2009 five years ago? I can't believe it is 5 years ago that I watched the construction.


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