Planting/Design Help? Pretty Please?

CassandraAugust 11, 2012

Hello all,

I live in a 100 year old house in urban St. Paul--Cathedral Hill, close to the Cathedral. The house is condos. I have slowly been carving out garden area and doing some planting in the small back yard. One area has me baffled however. Would any of your Minnesota nice people be able to offer suggestions?

The area is about 14' long and 2 1/2' deep. It is south facing and borders on the house. Because of the house eaves, it misses the rainfall. I do water when I can, but the area is typically dry and hot: it gets the full brunt of the sun.

Right now, as you see in the photos, there is a Wine and Roses Weiglia (sp?--it is about 4' tall) in the center. On each end is a badly flopping and quite ugly, but healthy, salvia (I don't know what kind). Next to the salvia on the left is a daylily that blooms only briefly, and next to the salvia on the right is bee balm that also bloomed once this summer. I'd like to keep the Weiglia because it is healthy and blooms beautifully in spring/early summer. I can't stand the floppy salvia, and nothing else I've tried (the daylily,the bee balm, purple coneflower) has worked. I'd like to pull everything out except the Weiglia.

Any recommendations for very hardy, drought resistant, yet pretty perennials? I keep envisioning what I've already tried and failed at: a salvia on both ends, with daylilies (maybe stella d'oro would bloom more?) next to them. Is there a non-flopping type of salvia? Another way to go would be a small fir or evergreen to "anchor" each side. I also wonder if peonies would work.

Basically, I'm clueless. What would you do with this area? Any suggestions would be most welcome! Thanks.

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I am not a landscape expert, but being that nobody has posted I will offer my 2 cents worth. :)

That area is always going to cook and any plants will require lots of attention and watering. Not only will the soil cook but the cement sidewalk and the foundation of the house retain heat that will help to keep that area hot even after the sun sets. The dirt there is probably quite poor so it would probably need to be dug out and new soil and compost added, if plants are going to be attempted. Mulch would help retain moisture but be careful because you do not want any organic mulch like wood chips near the house because of the critters it attracts - lots of discussion of this on the web.

So I see two options. First one is to dig out two or three inches, put down a weed barrier, and put down river rock (not pea rock) only up to the height of the sidewalk so that rocks do not get kicked out onto the sidewalk. Slope in a gentle uphill manner towards the foundation. Place a few large rocks there for accent, and be done with it - no plants. Second option is to do everything in first option plus cut out some openings to plant drought and heat tolerant plants. I think of things like ornamental or edible annual peppers, or maybe annual and perennial herbs, or a perennial like prickly pear cactus which would be beautiful (but nasty thorns could be a liability issue for the property owner in this instance). Some native perennial prairie flowers and grasses might be able to take the heat as well. Plant just a few specimens or clumps rather than large groups or masses.

The ground near a house foundation does not normally freeze hard, but with the sidewalk being shoveled in winter and the exposure to sun, that area will always be susceptible to multiple freeze-thaw cycles during a winter which kills and cripples plants. This may mean you will never have great success with plants there no matter what you try.

Talk to your local garden nursery for advice regarding heat and drought tolerant plants.

If it were up to me I would use option #1 and put plants elsewhere.

Good Luck,

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 5:53PM
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Thanks Tom. Yes, this area "cooks!" Your advice is very helpful, and I appreciate you responding. I've asked a master gardener as well, and will consult with someone at Linders this weekend. Any suggestions from others are welcome!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 4:50PM
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I would plant a couple of russian sage, and a clematis with a structure for the clematis to climb up.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 11:28PM
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I have a similar area, (small, south-facing,sandwiched between driveway and entry sidewalk)and my plan has been to plant low things that are super tough and xeric for a dry type rock garden. I will be raising the center slightly with rounded rocks, cantaloupe size down to pea gravel. Because my home is red brick, I am using blue, grey and white to complement it. I have the plants already growing nearby in a rock bed waiting for some contracted cement work to be completed before planting in the real site. Plants include lemon thyme, blue fescue, sempervivum, creeping sedums, wooly thyme,snow in summer, dwarf lavender and dwarf bearded iris. After some initial watering to establish the plants, they have survived our drought beautifully. Plus, they like terrible soil, as long as the drainage is good.

You might consider using some of these small plants as edging along the sidewalk with taller bearded iris for height, and some type of climber along the side of the utility meters.

Another simple option would be to sow marigolds each spring. The oranges would pop against your blue house wall, they would love the heat, and you could find varieties that fit the space so that you have some height and color without tripping over anything hanging over the walk. In time they would self sow, so all you would need to do is thin them in spring.

Good luck with your tough spot. It would be fun to see what you choose to do.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2012 at 9:12AM
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