Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD, is a certified, award-winning landscape designer, the owner of Bobbie’s Green Thumb in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and is a past president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. She also lectures nationally on gardening and design.

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Sunny and Dry? No Problem!
by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD    

The key to growing plants that love sunny dry conditions is not Zone hardiness but perfect drainage. Here’s how to create that perfect spot.

In early April, at the north end of the bed, the variegated foliage of Yucca ‘Color Guard’ and the bright flowers of the evergreen Arabis caucasica ‘Compinkie’, Euphorbia polychrome ‘Bonfire’, Phlox subulata and tulip ‘Shirley’ gladden the hearts of the gardener and her visitors. In June, when the yucca blooms and in the fall when the foliage of Euphorbia polychrome ‘Bonfire’ turns maroon, this area will be a focal point again.

Over the years, most of my gardens have been heavily amended with organic material, but when we changed our asphalt driveway to concrete and replaced rotting timbers with sandstone blocks, I gained a foot of gardening space the length of the driveway. Like any normal gardener, who always wants to grow plants not heretofore possible, I filled this new space with gravel and builder’s sand to create a strip with perfect drainage.

The key to growing plants that love sunny dry conditions is not zone hardiness but perfect drainage. Many of these plants are cold hardy, but their roots rot during our wet winters.

I always wanted to grow lavender but the only one that ever survived was the one thriving in a crack in our old asphalt driveway. I lost that one when the building inspector wouldn’t give me a variance for the cracks. I therefore determined that my new swath of bed would ensure the survival of lavender. Several years ago, when I was visiting Provence (a region of Southeastern France on the Mediterranean adjacent to Italy), I stepped out of the car and walked into a field of lavender. That experience was an “Aha!” moment; the lavender was growing in a bed of broken stone. Since then, I’ve discovered expanded aggregates like Haydite and Turface that are even better than sand and gravel.

I now grow an array of plants, mostly perennials and ornamental grasses, that thrive in dry sunny sites. This part of my garden is colorful from early spring through late fall, and still has structural interest with a bit of color during the winter.

Above: Early June color: The bright orange and red of Papaver orientale ‘Pizzicato’ and Penstemon barbatus are cooled by the whites of Allium nigrum and Iris siberica as well as the blue of Veronica liwanensis, an excellent ground cover.

Right: Late June color: Farther south in the bed, Papaver somniferum (a double coral), Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polarsommer’, Echinacea paradoxa, Platycodon grandiflorus and Sedum ‘Black Jack’ become the stars while Penstemon barbatus continues its long period of bloom.

Early July color: Helictotrichon sempervirens is an ornamental grass that flaunts its steely blue foliage all year long. I love it with Stachys monieri, a July and August blooming perennial that should be better known, and Sedum ‘Hab Grey’.

Early August color: Moving back up the driveway, the summer-blooming bulb Galtonia candicans, the hips of Rosa rugosa ‘Coeur d’Alene’ and the purple clusters of Origanum ‘Rotkugel’ shine against Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ that is just coming into bloom. The steel blue bracts of Eryngium ‘Jade Frost’ and ‘Blaukappe’ echo the foliage of the Helictotrichon sempervirens farther down the drive and Yucca ‘Bright Edge’ supplies more foliage color.

Late September color: Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ is now in its full glory and is augmented by Agastache ‘Purple Haze’, Allium tuberosum, Sedum ‘Hab Grey’, orange snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), the fuzzy foliage of Verbascum sp. and another stachys, Stachys monieri ‘Fuzzy Form’. In the background are the huge heads of Hydrangea Limelight and the yellow fall foliage of an Asclepias hybrid.

Late October color: This bed is still an eye-catcher in late fall with Miscanthus ‘Adagio’, the foliage of Iris siberica, Lavandula sp., Sedum ‘Hab Grey’ and Salvia farinacea, an annual that I use where tulips bloom in the spring.

From State-by-State Gardening March/April 2013. Photos by Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD.


Posted: 05/15/13   RSS | Print


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