Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Plants for Stone Walls

Working With Stone

Few materials offer a better backdrop for beds and borders, or create a more attractive garden hardscape, than stone. Building a stone wall can be immensely satisfying, provided certain precautions are taken:

1. When altering old stone walls or foundations, proceed with care. Removing a single rock can cause the entire structure to shift radically or even to tumble completely.

2. Protect toes and feet by wearing heavy shoes; steel-toed work boots are best. Wearing sneakers is never a good idea.

3. Wear a hardhat when adjusting or placing rocks above shoulder height.

4. Remember that old stone walls and foundations are favorite housing sites for all sorts of insects, including spiders and wasps. In addition, poisonous as well as nonpoisonous snakes often take up residence among the warm rocks of old walls. Be alert to these and other varmints.

5. Thick gloves will protect hands against blisters, cuts, and chafed skin. When combined with long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, they will also ward off poison ivy encountered during the excavation of old stone ruins.

Plants for Stone Walls

Create a "pocket garden" by planting alpine flowers, succulents, and small bulbs in the gaps and crevices of stone walls. These and other plants will visually soften the rocks while lending color and texture to a hard surface. Candidates include:

*Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata, Zones 3 to 8), also called creeping phlox, forms a thick, spreading mat of bright green. This hardy perennial blooms in late spring. Choose from white, lilac, or pink forms.

*Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca, Zones 5 to 8) bear tasty, tiny fruit and dainty flowers in pink, white, or red. F.v. 'Semperflorens', sometimes calls alpine strawberry or fraise des bois, flowers twice, in spring and autumn. The new hybrid 'Red Ruby' features scarlet flowers and glossy foliage. Because strawberries spread by runners and can thus be invasive, they make ideal candidates for walls in situations where they might not be welcome in garden beds.

*Stonecrop (Sedum acre, Zones 5 to 9) flourishes in stone walls, where drainage is excellent and soil is warmed by rocks that retain the sun's heat. S.a. 'Elegans' boasts tiny, star-shaped yellow flowers all summer long and leaf tips dipped in silver.

*Evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa 'Rosea', Zones 5 to 8) flaunts cup-shaped blossoms in pink to red-violet. In warmer regions (Zones 9 and 10), desert evening primrose (O deltoides) flaunts white blossoms that age to pink.

*Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda, Zones 4 to 8), spring- flowering tubers, offer an extended period of bloom (up to three weeks) and a wide color range (white, and many shades of blue and pink). A.b. 'Atrocaerula' is perhaps the most intensely blue of the group.

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