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    Plants for Dry Rocky Areas and Rock Gardens

    Selecting plants that will live and thrive in sunny, dry, rocky areas or rock gardens can be challenging. The plants in this picture were successful in sunny, 12” strips between steps made of railroad ties. The soil is rocky and unirrigated.

    Top Step – Sedum ‘Angelina’ (on the left) is showing its bright chartreuse summer color. In winter it will take on shades of orange to red. Sedum acre (on the right) is displaying its early summer yellow blooms, which contrast with the purple-blue spikes of the Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ to the right of the steps. The ‘Walker’s Low’ will eventually get 2’-3’ tall as the summer progresses, but the Sedum will stay low and not interfere with foot traffic.

    2nd StepSedum acre is joined by various Sempervivum, Orostachys iwarenge, a creeping thyme and Violas that self-sowed. To the right, Calylophus ‘Prairie Lode’, a Texas native, displays yellow buttercup blooms on wiry stems dressed with narrow green leaves. It starts its bloom in late spring and will continue into late fall. ‘Prairie Lode’ is a real showstopper and one of our favorites for hot, dry areas. It stays close to the ground at only 6”-8” tall and its spread can easily reach 18”. However, the main plant usually remains about 6” wide and the semi-woody stems do not root in.

    3rd Step – Wooly Thyme flows over the left side of the step while Elfin Thyme, growing 1” tall, hugs its neighbor, the magenta flowered Delosperma ‘Tiffindell Magenta’. To the right Thyme ‘Coccineus’ spreads over the edge and blends into surrounding groundcovers.

    4th Step – Thyme ‘Pink Chintz’ (center) reaches only 3”-4” tall, which allows the Sedum ‘Dragon’s Blood’ to peek through. Delosperma ‘Kelaidis’ (not available at this time), on the left, is pretty in pink. More Elfin Thyme shares space on the right with Orostachys iwarenge and creeps off the step into white-flowering Pratia angulata. (Yes, the tall sword-leaved plant is a German Iris, another plant great for sunny dry soil.)

    Bottom Step – Dying crocus foliage is almost hidden by the dense growth of Wooly Thyme, more Sedum acre, pink blooming Armeria maritima, Acaena ‘Purpurea’ (not available), and Pratia pedunculata with its tiny blue star flowers. More of the Pratia Little Blue Star can be seen to right of the Thyme ‘Coccineus’ flowing off the third step.

    If you are planning to create or expand your own sunny rock garden or similar area, look for other cultivars and species of the plants used here, particularly the Sedum, Sempervivum, and Delosperma. Other perennials to consider for your design include Allium, Callirhoe, Dianthus, Gaura, Iberis, Phlox subulata, and Yucca. Be sure to pay attention to a plant’s eventual height and width at maturity so that as your garden develops the plants fill in nicely and don’t become overcrowded for the design. Although all of these plants can tolerate drought or dry soil, they will need adequate moisture while getting established. Check the root ball of new plants regularly, particularly during hot, dry periods to be sure they have some moisture. If they are very dry, give them enough water to moisten the root ball and the soil around the planting hole. Usually, after a few months the plants will have extended their roots into the surrounding soil and will not need supplemental water.

    Perennials for Winter Containers

    I am an avid gardener of many years who is always looking for an easier way to give me the gratification of gardening with much less physical output. Much of my effort is now centered on growing interesting plants on my shady deck. I am especially enjoying an 18”x 6” outdoor container I purchased at a home goods store. I filled it with soil and added pots of small, low growing plants and tall, textured accent plants on December 4th. We got about a foot of snow one week later so I was a bit worried about how the plants would look during the rest of the long winter months facing me. When the snow finally melted, I was very pleased with the plants’ appearance.


    The Carex ‘Everillo’ was the bright yellow focus of my design and the Arum italicum still stood a few inches tall despite the weight of the snow. Contrasting with the yellow Acorus minimus ‘Aureus’ and Veronica ‘Sunshine’ on the left is the very small, dark Heuchera ‘Coco.’ Anchoring the Carex ‘Everillo’ is the one-inch tall Leptinella potentillina which cascades over the edge of the container. On the right, the tiny green leaves of the Cymbalaria aequitriloba and the shiny leaves of the Sedum tetractinum surround my favorite small Heuchera, ‘Blondie.’

    I look forward to watching my miniature garden each day this winter and know that I will continue to enjoy these evergreen gems as the weather warms up. Even on a dark rainy day, the yellow and chartreuse tones outside my window find a way to lift my spirits. I smile at how much enjoyment the 20 minutes of work and design are able to bring me.