Removing the turf in our front parkway was a seminal
event in the evolution of our garden.
Call me a slow learner--nearly 20 years elapsed between the time we
began the garden and the day of reckoning-if you like. Lo, those many moons we lived
Colorado garden writer Lauren Springer aptly labeled
bands of tortured lawn sandwiched between sidewalk and curb. Heavy foot traffic
reduced the parkways to a muddy mess in winter while the summer sun fried the
grass leaving strips of scorched earth.
But first things first. In the interim the back garden gradually morphed from an
inner city wasteland to a private garden haven sequestered and screened from
the public eye. Our private space is intimate, screened from surrounding homes
and buildings by trees, shrubs and built structures. Terraces, porches,
pathways, seating areas, funky art and a plethora of plants reflect the
gardens' urban vernacular.
philosophy of openness guided the development of the front wall garden. The
construction of a stone retaining wall bordering the sidewalk 10 years ago
reduced the steep slope creating a gradual transition between the house and
street. The wall wraps around the corner from lot line to lot line facing the
street on two sides. A stone bench nestled in the corner entices the unwary
passersby to sit and relax enveloped by garden.
parkways adjacent to the curb were the last vestiges of the original landscape
to undergo renovation. Trading
places with the turf are gravel-mulched beds filled with Mediterranean and
dry-land plants that revel in full sun, rapidly draining soil and have no need
for summer water. A series of
pebble mosaic walkways, loosely patterned after Persian rugs, are my
"flying carpets" allowing access to the sidewalk for people getting
in and out of their cars. The
gravel beds are the missing link, establishing a synergistic relationship
between the house, garden and street.
A stroll down the sidewalk takes you through the garden-a very different
experience than simply walking by.
The gravel beds are more than just pretty faces-they
sustainable gardens that, once the plants are established, receive no
supplemental water or fertilizer.
The back and wall gardens are threaded with soaker hoses but there is no
irrigation in the streetside beds.
New plants are dependent on my occasional and often nocturnal visits
with the hose which I grudgingly drag down the sidewalk .
Preparing the beds for drought
tolerant plants required
removing 12-18 inches of the existing clay soil. I ordered a custom soil blend containing compost, sandy
loam, digested fiber,( a polite euphemism for manure), and a higher than normal
percentage of pumice. Soil is
graded so that the center of the beds crown 4-6 inches above the grade of the
sidewalk. After planting the beds
are top dressed with 1-2 inches of
gravel which serves as a mulch as well as protecting plants from crwon
rot in the rainy season. The
gravel is easy to weed and dries out quickly after it rains.
from many Mediterranean-like climatic regions have
found their way into the garden.
It is an ongoing and exciting horticultural experiment. All of the beds but
two are in full
sun. Eriophyllum lanatum, our Northwest native Oregon Sunshine, blankets the
ground around Ceanothus gloriosus 'Emily Brown' in the shelter of the high
canopy of a pre-existing flowering cherry. Later, Hebe 'Purple Picture' graces the bed with shiny
purple tinted foliage and an unending supply of violet racemes that persist
into February during mild winters.
Penstemon, both hybrids and species types thrive in the
quickly draining soil as do the usual suspects, heaths and heathers, salvias , lavenders and sedums. An orphan Euphorbia
leftover from a design project, ended up in a gravel bed where I expected it to
perish. Much to my surprise the spurge has thrived in the hot, dry environment.
It is paired with Helleborus x sternii, a cross between Helleborus lividus and
Helleborus argutifolius, both sun lovers from the Mediterranean.
scilloniensis, although originating in an English garden, derives its parentage
from two Australian species. In
April and May the beautifully branched shrub is smothered by hundreds of small white
daisies. Its closest companion x
Halmiocistus wintonensis 'Merrist
Wood Cream' a bi-generic cross celebrates spring with cistus-like creamy,
saucer shaped blossoms with a burgundy basal blotch. Both are evergreen and reliably hardy emerging unscathed
from the ice and snow of January, 2004.
Phygelius 'Sensation' a newer cape fuchsia with raspberry-pink pendant
flowers that just keep coming delights gardener and hummingbird alike until
Finally, I have a place to trial bulbs that don't survive
wet winters in our heavy clay soil. Species crocus, tulips and iris begin pushing up out of
the gravel in late winter. The vivid blue, exotic looking, cone shaped heads of
Scilla peruviana rise out of tufts of evergreen foliage in late spring. The peacock
pavonia, struts its showy red, orange, yellow or white flowers during the
summer causing inquisitive strangers to stop and stare. Sternbergia lutea,
known as the winter daffodil, shyly unfurls sunny yellow, goblet-shaped blooms
in late autumn just before Nerine bowdenii presents its bubblegum pink umbels
of sweetly scented flowers.
The gravel garden delights me on many levels; it is place
to trial new plants and think outside the box. But most of all it is the physical manifestation of a
commitment to community-a gift to the street.