Make the “In Between” Green05/19/2021 12:20PM ● By Cathy Wiedemer
A pocket garden featuring annuals surrounded by perennials: vinca, dianthus and a few strawberry plants.
Story and photography by Cathy Wiedemer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – When thinking of the ideal landscape garden, typically what comes to mind are large to medium-sized mulched (and weed free – ha!) beds that bloom spring-to-fall with abundant color, flowering trees and shrubs interspersed among thoughtfully placed decorative boulders, annuals planted here and there for additional pops of color, and maybe a garden gnome to keep an eye on things.
While achieving the ideal landscape garden is every gardener’s goal, there are some not-so-obvious spaces in the landscape that have the potential for just as big an impact. Often, they’re in plain sight – you just have to look closely to find them.
Each spring when our flagstone patio, walkway, stairs and rock terraces are finally clear of snow, I look forward to seeing and welcoming back the seemingly delicate plant life between the stones that has endured another Routt County winter. Hearty clumps of ajuga, creeping Jenny, dianthus (Bath’s Pinks), pussytoes (Antennarie), sedum (acres), Veronica (speedwell and repens), vinca and violas, just to name a few, faithfully return year after year to enjoy the “in between” life amongst our red rock slabs and boulders.
Newly completed pathways, patios or dry stone walls are exciting in themselves, but I think the really fun part is planting them. Planting between the stones not only adds color and dimension, it will also help keep those pesky weeds at bay. Landscape rock projects are designed with drainage in mind, which is essential for rock garden plants. As with all plant species, remember: “Right plant, right place.” Exposure, water needs and the proper soil environment will dictate the success of plantings.
For high foot-traffic zones, opt for plants like woolly thyme, which develops into thick mats and can withstand wear and tear. Speedwell is also a good choice on foot paths. Less busy areas can support more vertical growing plants, like dianthus, pussytoes, sedums, and violas. Trailing and cascading creeping Jenny and Veronica varieties are perfect options for softening the edges of rock walls and terraces.
Planting “in between” is as simple as using an old kitchen knife or one of my go-to hand tools, the Diggit Duck garden/ weeding tool. Excavate approximately one to two inches of soil between the rocks, carefully bury the roots (these plant roots tend to be long), add a top soil/peat moss/sand mixture, pat down lightly and water gently. Be sure to space the plants four to six inches apart, as they will spread. I love the ability to move, divide or share rock garden plants – it keeps the “in between” flourishing in so many ways.
Initially we planted just a few plants in random locations, with the hopes that, over time, the cracks and rock wall pockets would fill in as the plants matured and self-propagated. This indeed happened, along with Mother Nature doing a bit of planting on her own. I'm not sure if it was the winds, birds or critters who spread the seeds and plants apart, but the resulting occasional surprise bonus plant is always something I celebrate.
Another method to get the "in between" green on a larger scale is with a crevice garden. A few summers ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation at the Yampa River Botanic Park with plantsman and Czech crevice garden master Zdenek Zvolanek. Known worldwide in the field of alpine gardening, he is one of the originators of the Czech crevice gardening technique – think rock gardens adorned with attractive, colorful, drought-resistant, native, high altitude alpine plants able to withstand harsh environmental conditions that thrive in coarse soil. Some common alpine garden plants include: campanula, dianthus, buttercups, hen-and-chicks, stonecrop sedum and varieties of thymus. Crevice gardening is not a new practice; it origins date back to the late 1800s. A crevice garden can be grown in limited space or can be acres large. Along with these gardens' low maintenance requirements, the combined aesthetic of rocks contrasted by vibrant hues makes crevice gardening very appealing to novice and expert gardeners.
We gardeners tend to have a never-ending to-do list that overshadows the more important wish list. This season, vow to check off a few items on that wish list. Fill in some vacant spots among the rocks and make your "in between" nice and green.
Cathy Wiedemer is a graduate of the Colorado State University Extension 2018 Master Gardener program. She holds a Colorado Gardener Certificate.