Evergreen foundation garden for Foliage Follow-Up


What won’t block the windows and grows no taller than 3 feet? What remains evergreen? What can live in shade? What won’t the deer eat? These are the foundation-planting questions that haunt generations of gardeners (or me anyway), especially those in the South, where we expect the garden to be green year-round, those who must share the garden with deer, and those dealing with shade.

I’ve got a foundation combo that works for my particular circumstances, which I’m especially liking since I recently sprinkled Aztec grass along the front edge; its bright variegation keeps all the greens from getting too heavy. Notice I didn’t add “drought-tolerant” to my conditions above, since my home lacks gutters and these plants get waterfalled (is that a word?) when it rains, plus a dry stream in front funnels runoff from the driveway. My happy combo includes, from left to right, ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia (Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’), ‘Sparkler’ sedge (Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’), ‘Everillo’ sedge (Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), and Aztec grass (Liriope muscari ‘Aztec’). Just out of frame on the right is a pair of lovely Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) and more Aztec grass.

I should mention that ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia and Aztec grass have not proven deer-resistant in my larger garden, but here along the house they’ve been unmolested. And I used to hate ubiquitous holly fern for its lumpy form and inevitably browned fronds, but I may be coming to terms with it at last. I mean, anything the deer won’t eat can’t be all bad, right? The ‘Everillo’ Carex was sent to me for a free trial by Southern Living Plant Collection, and I dubiously plopped it in the ground thinking it would dry up and blow away by summer. No doubt it’s a testament to its north-facing, shady, dry-stream location, but this golden, diminutive sedge has thrived with once-a-week watering in summer and looks great.


And while it’s not a foundation plant, it could be! I love foxtail fern (Asparagus meyeri), and it works so well in pots. This one sits on my front porch, begging to be stroked by any passerby, and now it’s producing pretty, red berries, which gives it a festive look.

This is my November post for Foliage Follow-Up. What lovely leaves are making you happy in your November garden? Please join me for Foliage Follow-Up, giving foliage plants their due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave your link to your Foliage Follow-Up post in a comment here. I really appreciate it if you’ll also include a link to this post in your own post — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

41 Responses

  1. Anna K says:

    Sparkler has survived all kinds of abuse from me (including drought), so I’d say it’s a worthy contender for any challenging shady condition! I like the wispy, elegant feel of your foundation combo a lot. And your Foxtail fern is amazing! This month’s FF is a mixed bag of frozen decay and frosted prettiness after this weeks head-on collision with the Polar Express. https://flutterandhum.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/foliage-follow-up-november-2014/

  2. Helen says:

    here’s my foliage post http://patientgardener.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/foliage-follow-up-november-2014/
    I think you post has helped me identify the mystery foliage in a bouquet of flowers my Mum bought me as it looks like your asparagus fern

  3. I am tying to grow holly fern but am probably delusional! It is a tiny little thing but has come back for a few years. Alas, not as much as usual to showcase for Nov. follow-up in our garden but I did manage a couple of quick shots this a.m. Now I have to read about your gorgeous red wall! http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com/each_little_world/2014/11/foliage-follow-up-111614.html

  4. Chris F says:

    Live and learn. I planted foxtail’s cousin Asparagus fern in a bed and it spread to the point that I wanted it out. Well the rhizomes are so entangled in the roots of the other plants it’s going to be a major project. I’ll keep those two plants in pots from now on.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I wonder if asparagus fern is more aggressive than foxtail fern. I have foxtail fern planted throughout my garden, and it has never spread. In harsh winters it can get knocked back pretty hard too. I like foxtail better for other reasons as well: its lack of thorns and its Sideshow Bob hairdo! —Pam

      • lee says:

        Too funny–now I know the real name of the plant that we have always called “Sideshow Bob”! He’s been through a lot, but this year seems happy and grew bright red berries and later, small yellow flowers. I just brought him in for this week’s freezing temps in Austin.

        • Pam/Digging says:

          “Foxtail fern” is pretty evocative, but I like “Sideshow Bob hairdo” better. Do you think The Simpsons creators modeled his ‘do on the plant? —Pam

  5. Jean says:

    Well darn, I haven’t taken any pics for either Bloom Day or Foliage Followup. But this does inspire me. I’m thinking of getting some Chinese mahonia. Where do you find it in Austin.

  6. Jane Strong says:

    Yes, asparagus fern works very well as a foundation plant here in southern California, green year-round and doesn’t need irrigation. However it is a menace to prune because of its vicious thorns and it is spread by birds and difficult to remove (breaks off above the bulb). I have it draping over a short wall. It has red berries now appropriate this time of year.

    My contribution to Foliage Follow Up is Marooned in the Garden found here http://janestrong.blogspot.com/2014/11/marooned-in-garden.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Jane, do you ever grow foxtail fern? It has no hidden thorns and is soft to the touch. It may be just as aggressive in your frost-free climate, of course, although not here in central Texas. —Pam

  7. Your combos are lovely…I am digging ;) that Aztec grass!!!!

  8. Alison says:

    I have holly fern in one shady bed in my garden, I love it! My FF post isn’t of my own garden, it’s from a recent visit to Kubota Garden in South Seattle. It’s here: http://bonneylassie.blogspot.com/2014/11/foliage-followup-november-2014-foliage.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Alison, I couldn’t leave a comment on your post, so I’ll leave it here: Thank you for this beautiful tour of Kubota Garden. What beautiful scenes and foliage pictures you captured! I really enjoyed it. —Pam

  9. Clare Townes says:

    Chinese mahonia truly is a good foundation plant. It was a mystery plant growing at the front of my house until it was identified for me–I think by your other blog entry about the mahonias, Pam. I also have several pretty dwarf nandinas in my foundation area that are low-maintenance and noninvasive. The leaves are pretty in the winter and fall. I like the Soft Caress mahonia in your picture and definitely would like to try some of that. I was wondering if anyone had any information about dwarf yaupon hollies–I was thinking that would be a good foundation plant, too.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Clare, dwarf yaupon holly definitely makes a good foundation plant because it’s evergreen, can take sun or shade, is drought-resistant, and stays under 3-4 feet. —Pam

  10. What a great selection of bonny plants. I’ve taken a note of the sedges because I know they’d do well here. ‘Soft Caress’ is superb, isn’t it? I’m really looking forward to the next instalment on your wall colour, Pam. Have watched carefully to the stage of red! My foliage post is here:
    http://gardendreamingatchatillon.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/november-foliage-follow-up/

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks for following my wall saga, Cathy. I’ll probably have to wait until February to continue painting because I have a huge writing deadline on February 1st that I must meet. It’s going to be hard to wait though! —Pam

  11. Shirley says:

    The aztec grass works great in combination with the green and the sparkler sedge. Good to know about the mahonia being not so deer resistant.

    Love the berries, my foxtail fern (you know I had to have one!) froze back last winter so it’s still small.

    Misty foliage for November

    http://rockoakdeer.blogspot.com/2014/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2014.html

  12. Jenny says:

    Your foundation planting is a winner. I have a corner that might do well with some of those plants especially the soft caress and sparkler sedge. It is dry though. I do have the regular asparagus fern growing in my sunken garden. It just seeded there so beware of those red berries. It is killed back by a deep freeze and I tried to remove it after last winter. It’s back, mainly because I can’t get to all its bulbils under the rocks. Better in a pot. I have the foxtail variety in a pot.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Jenny, both the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia and ‘Sparkler’ sedge do well in other parts of my garden that are dry shade, even when competing with greedy live oak roots. In fact I’m really impressed with both plants overall. —Pam

  13. Tina says:

    Wow, that combo in the first photo is a winner with all the things a good gardener would want in foliage. I first learned about the Sparkler Sedge from you and planted three last year. I’ve loved those plants!! My one concern was that they might be too thirsty in the summer months, but that didn’t prove true. Thanks for the tip!

    Thanks for hosting this foliage meme. Here’s my contribution for Foliage Follow-Up: http://mygardenersays.com/2014/11/16/foliage-follow-up-november-2014-the-non-freeze

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Tina, I first tried ‘Sparkler’ sedge in my old garden and was told it needed a bit of extra watering. I’ve not found that to be true, and as I mentioned to Jenny above, it even grows well amid snarls of live oak roots. Have you tried the ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia? I think you’ll love it too. —Pam

  14. Rachelle says:

    This a question we ask up north a lot too! However, here, the answer is pretty much…SNOW.

    Anything no taller than 3′ feet is covered by that.

  15. Kris P says:

    Despite its water needs, I’m on the hunt for Mahonia. I’m also looking for plants that light up the shade like those you’ve shown but drought tolerance is a concern. I’ve got foliage on the brain at the moment, as indicated by my follow-up post: http://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2014/11/foliage-follow-up-more-please.html

    Thanks for hosting Pam!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Actually, ‘Soft Caress’ mahonia is doing very well in dry shade in other parts of my garden, Kris. It’s a real beauty. I think it would be a great choice for your new garden area, provided it gets shade or at least afternoon shade. You’ll want several! —Pam

  16. Melody McMahon says:

    I have Soft Caress Mohonia in my backyard and the rabbits ate it! Just another critter to watch for…..
    Also, Pam, thanks for introducing me to the different sedges. I’d never known about them before reading your blog. Do you think adding another type of sedge to a spot where I can’t get rid of nutsedge would be a good idea? ( Kind of like camouflage? ) At WFSC we have tried for years to rid one place of it with no luck!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Gosh darn rabbits! If it’s not one critter it’s another, right? I like your camouflage idea for hiding nutsedge. Let me know how it works. I’m doing the camouflage thing with my ever-present oak sprouts in my side garden, disguising them with inland sea oats. —Pam

  17. Nice combination of grasses and ferns! Thank you for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. You can visit me at: http://landscapedesignbylee.blogspot.com/2014/11/garden-bloggers-bloom-day-foliage.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Lee, I couldn’t leave a comment on your post, so I’ll leave it here: Lovely, full grasses and great fall color — what a combo! Thanks for joining in. —Pam

  18. I always wondered about Aztec Grass, since a TV show featured a landscape person in Florida using it on his projects. Other Liriope muscari selections were go-to plants for shady oases where I used to live. Maybe I should try this one?

    My contribution today –
    http://dryheatblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/foliage-follow-up-112014-in-el-paso/

  19. It’s a nice use of “grasses” as foundation plants. Up here in New England I have some dwarf Pieris that stay green all winter but I also use other small shrubs that defoliate. I’m not going to be looking at them and they’ll get buried in snow so why worry about evergreen?

    My foliage follow up shows some of the last of the fall leaves and some of the showy berries that haven’t been eaten by birds yet. You can check out my contribution at http://gardenontheedge.blogspot.com/2014/11/foliage-follow-up-november-2014.html

  20. Looks like a good carefree plan. I’ve also used these two blooming plants in deer areas: Cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana), deep red tubular blooms in spring, is evergreen, deer resistant and drought tolerant. For dappled shade, Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea) blooms red tubular flowers from about April through November, depending on weather and watering. Deer don’t eat it either. Both plants attract hummingbirds.

  21. That’s a great foundation combination.
    Good to know about the Mahonia. I like the look of it. Maybe in the fenced yard.
    My Foxtail Fern on the front porch didn’t come back too well from last winter’s freezes. I need to replace it. The deer never bothered it much. And yes…they come right up to the door, to chomp things. :(

    Here’s my Foliage Follow-Up. Thanks for hosting.

    http://patchworkgarden.blogspot.com/2014/11/november-foliage-follow-up.html

  22. Hi Pam! I love your Foxtail fern! I have mine growing in a pot; it spends summers outside and winters inside. Versatile plant!
    My post with November foliage is here: http://tanyasgarden.blogspot.com/2014/11/gardens-view-first-half-of-november.html

  23. rickii says:

    Those were some pretty tough questions, and you answered with your usual aplomb.
    Here’s my follow-up: http://bannersbyricki.com/archives/4154

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