A living tapestry

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Miniature form of mondo grass in the garden of Sue Black, Sydney

With all the rain that we had in spring and the recent warm weather, growth in our gardens has been phenomenal. Last week I visited a garden where a year or so ago, a 'living tapestry' had been planted out to furnish an area on a long low terrace bed rising up from the back of a house. Low plantings were chosen as there are stepping stones for access to other parts of the garden through the bed; tall specimens in any case would have been too top heavy for the site and would have hidden the pretty sandstone wall above the terrace. Various groundcover plants were chosen with the idea of getting them to intermingle and create the effect of a tapestry rug, with the occasional clump of taller perennials for contrast, and an attractive pond forms part of the scene. The plants are now really starting to clothe the ground and knit together to create the desired look. Massing plants like this can be very effective both visually and practically, as the planting will suppress a lot of weeds and also reduce some of the evaporation of moisture from the soil.

Ajuga Black Scallop with golden oregano in the garden of Sue Black, Sydney

This particular garden border is in mostly full sun with well-drained soil, so plants have been chosen to suit the conditions. It is fun to play with foliage colour and texture with groundcovers in such a setting and interesting contrasts can be created. I enjoyed seeing the sultry leaves of Ajuga 'Black Scallop' against the lime-yellow leaves of golden oregano (Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'). Another effective gold-leaved groundcover plant is Sedum mexicanum 'Gold Mound', with its network of tiny feathery leaves. In shady sites, the foliage will become a lovely lime colour. It has tiny yellow flowers in spring. Other succulent groundcovers that would be suitable for a carpeting the ground include Crassula multicava with its leathery rounded foliage and haze of starry pink and white flowers in winter and spring, and silvery Kalanchoe pumila with the bonus of soft pink-mauve blooms. Silver lambs' ears (Stachys byzantina) are used in this garden and form good clumps. Its chunky flower spires in late spring provide a vertical element. Sometimes this groundcover is affected by humidity in February and sections may die off, but usually enough of the plant will remain to allow it to re-establish - it is useful to divide and replant it every so often to keep it viable.

Campanula poscharskyana with Plectranthus Nicoletta in the garden on Sue Black, Sydney

There are some useful Plectranthus groundcovers, including the cultivars 'Nico' and 'Nicoletta'. The latter is a beautiful velvety silver-leaved trailing plant, which sends out long stems that interweave with other plants. In this garden, it was combined with the groundcover Campanula poscharskyana. This Campanula grows to form a wide mat and has cultivars with blue, white or pale pink star-shaped flowers in late spring; it is one of the few species in the genus that does reliably well in our Sydney climate.

Flowers of Leucanthemum vulgare with Liriope and Stachys byzantina in the garden of Sue Black, Sydney

Gazania have self-seeded in the garden bed and have formed thick clumps that flower over an extended period. Arctotis with its silvery leaves and big daisy blooms would also be a suitable plant. Other daisy flowers are provided here by Leucanthemum vulgare, a mat-forming perennial that can cover quite a wide area and is smothered with crisp white flowers like miniature Shasta daisies in mid to late spring. The scallop-edged leaves are lush the year round. Another weed-suppressing member of the tapestry is a mini mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicum, possibly 'Kyoto Dwarf'), and its strappy leaves form a good contrast to the other foliage. It looks effective grown between the paving stones that allow access through the garden bed.

The keys to success with the planting have been in the choice of specimens to suit the conditions, placement of the plants to provide contrast, use of decent-sized clumps, and repetition of plants through the bed to provide cohesion. It is wise to avoid the use of plant 'thugs' that will take over completely. It is also a good idea to clear the garden bed of any weeds before you start, and as with all planting, prepare the soil well. Other plants that could be tried in similar spots include trailing cultivars of Verbena hybrids, which have posies of blooms that come in many different colours; Convoluvulus sabatius or the similar Evolvulus pilosus with their rounded blue flowers on long stems; ivy geraniums with their glossy leaves and long-lasting flowers; chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) with its dainty daisies and ferny leaves; and the herbs rosemary (in its prostrate form) and thyme. In shadier areas, plants such as low-growing ferns, rhizomatous Begonia, Geranium macrorrhizum, hellebores, some of the better-behaved Tradescantia, Lamium maculatum, Lysimachia nummularia and Pilea nummulariifolia could be used. Some of these plants require a degree of moisture: check my individual plant reference entries for details.