Living on the Edge

Lady's Mantle is the perfect edger in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Lady’s Mantle is a beautiful edger (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Living on the edge of the garden, up front and exposed, can sometimes be a scary place for a plant. All that pressure to perform and look good … after all, they’re front and center for all to see! But being center stage doesn’t have to be so risky, if you choose the right plants for your site and conditions. Here are a few of my long time durables that never fail to dazzle, despite the foul weather that Mother Nature dishes out.

Alchemilla mollis in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The wet leaves of Alchemilla mollis (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Alchemilla mollis, commonly known as Lady’s Mantle, offers a charming front edge presence for areas of the garden with some afternoon shade. Alchemilla (pronounced al-kah-mill-ah) has a neat, compact size of about 18 inches tall with a gentle spreading nature, and ornamentally interesting bluish-grey foliage with serrated edges.  It produces delicate clusters of chartreuse florets on upright stems that reach above the foliage, and are in perfect accompaniment with the pink rhododendron flowers it blooms under each spring. One of this lady’s most charming attributes is the way water beads on her leaflets as if they were individually coated with wax.  There is nothing more beautiful after a summer rain, than to view the droplets sparkling like tiny glass beads randomly sprinkled about. Alchemilla mollis would benefit from a shearing after blooming is finished, but otherwise is an easy care perennial for zones 3-9.

Geranium makes the perfect edging plant in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Geranium makes the perfect front of the border plant (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Geranium macrorrhizum, commonly known as bigroot cranesbill, is a quickly spreading ground cover that works wonderfully on any garden edge. It has soft, minty scented leaves that are delightful along a walkway, but macrorrhizum is equally happy along any garden border where it is content to be an understory to shrubs and larger plants. The foliage is five fingered, medium green, with a misty blue cast due to the slightly fuzzy texture. Each individual plant can grow to 12 inches tall by 2 feet wide, but after a few years it has spread over vast sections of my gardens without any coaching. Each spring Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ produces masses of pale pink flowers, and ‘Bevan’s Variety’ a deeper pink, that may last until early July. Both have foliage that turns lovely shades of red through the early months of winter. Although it prefers a break from the hottest afternoon sun, if the soil holds moisture this plant will hang tough through the seasons in zones 4-8.

A mix of sedum lines a stone wall in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

An assortment of sedum line a stone wall (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Low growing Sedum are considered drought tolerant succulents, and as such make a fabulous choice for many dry, inhospitable spots including the front border, along walkways and to soften the edges of raised stone beds. Mat forming sedum such as the variegated Sedum kamtschaticum ‘Variegatum’ (zone 3-8), to frosty blue Sedum sieboldii (zone 6-9) and bright red Sedum spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’ (zone 3-9), are very dense forms that spread slowly and remain under 4 inches in height. A personal favorite is Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (zone 6-9), a soft needled darling that starts out apple green in spring and changes to blazing chartreuse in the summer. What makes it notable is its intense fiery red hue in autumn that continues to burn brightly through the winter, adding color to the otherwise drab landscape. Angelina’s glowing contrast is particularly attractive with blue, olive and gold evergreens as well. With color in mind, you can easily choose a sedum to enliven the rest of your plantings. Petite sedum adds a subtle transition to the taller, bigger leafed comrades behind them, and because they are tolerant of abuse, they can handle being weed whacked, stepped on and dug up by moles and voles.

Lamb's Ear adds texture to the front border in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Lamb’s Ear adds texture to the front border (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Stachys byzantina, commonly known as lamb’s ears, offers velvety, luminescent silver-grey leaves that form a spreading carpet of soft foliage about 4-6 inches high. There are several cultivars of this species, however I prefer ‘Helene Von Stein,’ which produces much bolder foliage and rarely flowers. Lamb’s ear can be used to edge an entire garden border, as its radiant hue complements the brightest to the most subtle garden colors and designs. In my zone 5 garden, the leaves are lush and healthy from early spring through winter, although some removal of browned foliage may be necessary to keep things looking neat. Stachys is dense enough to prevent any weeds from cropping up between, and is tolerant of (actually prefers) dry, poor quality soils. Full sun in zone 4-8 is a must to get the best performance from lamb’s ears, and they are easily cleaned up by raking off dead foliage in late winter.

Thyme lines a gravel walkway in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Thyme lines my gravel walkway (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Thymus vulgaris, thyme, is an often overlooked garden workhorse that is both an ornamental plant and beneficial herb perfectly suited as an edger. An aromatic perennial herb with culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses, everything about thyme is harmonious. Content to be tread upon and live happily on the edge without any care (except an occasional pruning to prevent legginess), thyme is comfortable existing under the foliage of taller plants, and equally happy when it can gently tumble over nearby sedum or other willing companions. With sun, well drained soil and a little space, thyme will soon become a beloved garden friend. Not only a pretty face in the garden border or along a walkway, thyme offers low maintenance performance (in full sun, zones 5-9) with health benefits to boot. Whether adding some leaves to your tea or tossing some sprigs into your next fish or chicken dish, thyme is a delicious and easy way to introduce nutritious herbs into your lifestyle . . . and garden border.

Low growing plants are a necessary garden commodity for those of us that don’t want to be slaves to formal edging, and many can be used to add contrast, texture and beauty to the overall design. Give a few of them a try . . . you may find living on the edge is quite enjoyable ♥

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A Garden for All