So, you think you have problems? Yes, your backyard is so shady that moss grows underfoot. Or maybe it’s so sunny that it bakes. Perhaps you have a breakneck hill that makes lawn-mowing downright dangerous. Or, possibly, you’ve got a soggy area that refuses to drain. You’re not alone. There is no such thing as the perfect landscape, but you don’t have to grin and bear it. Instead, turn Mother Nature into an ally, and let plants do your dirty work.
For those souls who have endured the slings and arrows of foliage fiascos, garden gaffes, and horticultural horrors, here are some cures, courtesy of Mother Nature herself.
Shade can be a blessing. Trees cool a house in summer and wrestle winds before they shiver your timbers in winter. But shade is not necessarily the best for lawn grass. Instead, consider a ground cover that kicks up its heels and scampers in the shade. Some super-rambunctious shade lovers include ajuga (bugleweed), ferns, and lily of the valley. But these aren’t necessarily polite plants. They will muscle out bedfellows, so think twice before planting and use only where they can roam without threatening the competition. If you want shade-loving plants that play well with others, go for alchemilla (lady’s mantle), hostas, epimediums, liriope, heuchera, tiarella, or Solomon’s seal.
Let the Sun Shine
Got a spot where the sun beats down brutally all day long? In locations where plants dry out in a flash and soil is pitifully parched, you can still host something horticultural. Want something grass-like to mimic real lawn? Try fescue — it puts a blue-silver spin on the grassy theme. You can add flowers to the game if you tuck in some sedums. Another idea: Double your dividends and go the herbal route, with sun-worshipping nepeta (catmint), lavender, sage, or thyme.
(L to R) Sage, nepetas, and thyme.
Faced with a mucky place that never drains properly? Amazingly, some plants dote on soggy toes. In fact, they slurp up the moisture and make conditions better for their neighbors. Try astilbe, painted fern, hostas, ligularias, tiarella, primroses, or Solomon’s seal to solve your water woes while featuring great foliage and impressive flowers.
How Dry I Am
Sometimes dry soil can sneak up on you. A location might seem absolutely perfect for a garden, with bright sun or dappled shade, but then you realize that its soil is parched or tree roots are stealing all the drinks. Unless you plan smartly, plants will brood and fail. Fortunately, plenty of plants thumb their leaves at dry situations. Try growing ornamental grasses with deep, water-seeking roots, such as miscanthus, panicum, and pennisetum, which has plumes of flowers in late summer. Want something more colorful? Try echinaceas, rudbeckias, geraniums, or dianthus. They perform when the going is dry.
(L to R) Echinaceas and geraniums.
With a slope that defies the lawnmower, making a grassy lawn mission impossible, try ground covers that fill the space but don’t require that you slip and slide to care for them. Creeping phlox and trailing junipers cover the earth’s nakedness while requiring minimal water. Ditto for liriope, creeping sedums, and fescues. Or try hiring a vining plant, such as clematis, and let it sprawl rather than climb.
Get out there and plant! No excuses. You can make every square foot of your property shine (or dwell happily in the shadows) if you match the right plant to the right place.