All Kinds of Wallflowers

  • Post published:05/28/2009
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             The stone wall is a New England icon. Our soil is rocky and early farmers spent a lot of time clearing planting and grazing fields of stones and piling them at the edges to make walls of varying durability. Actually, we New England gardeners are still pulling stones out of the soil and piling them where they won’t be in the way, or using them as another resource.

            Here at End of the Road Farm we have lots of stone walls, at the edge of old fields, some of which have grown back into woodland. The old barn which was struck by lightning and burned down in 1990 left us with three five foot high stone walls. We have two dug wells lined with beautiful and amazing stone walls. I cannot imagine how they were built.

We have even built two small stone walls of our own to edge and hold the piazza pavers, and the new entry walkway pavers. Since the pavers are very regular and the stone walls are not, I have planted common thyme along the edge where they meet to disguise that irregular border. The thyme is handy for kitchen needs, and very pretty, when it is in purple summer bloom or not.

Thyme is a big family of good low spreaders including wooly thyme, lemon thyme, French thyme, silver thyme, gold thyme and more.

There are other plants that could act as this kind of filler. Rock cress, Arabis alpina, is a low growing perennial with small white flowers that bloom in the spring. It likes sun, or light shade and a well drained soil which means that planting at the edge of a stone wall will suit it very well.

In case you want color there is a false rockcress, Aubretia, which is also low growing but comes in a variety of blue, purple and plummy colors. Butterflies love it.

Snow in Summer, Cerastium tomentosa, is similar with spring blooming white flowers. It likes hot dry places so planting by a stone wall is again ideal. Give it a shearing after it blooms for an attractive appearance in the summer.

Basket of Gold, Alyssum compactum, is very easy to grow. It was one of the plants in my very first garden back in 1965. I didn’t have a clue about what to do, but  this graceful 14 inch plant with its extravagant spring flowering didn’t need any help from me. Cut it back by about one third after blooming.

Larger graceful plants that would be happy on top of a stone wall where the drainage is good are the catmints.  Nepeta Walker’s Low is not low, it is about 30 inches tall with an equal spread. It was a Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year in 2007 because it is beautiful and dependable in a wide variety of situations. I have only one caveat about catmints.  Cats love them. My cats have lolled and rolled and slept on top of my catmint and killed it dead.

There are a number of sedums that are suitable for growing around a stone wall. Sedum kamtschaticum has scalloped yellow-green leaves and yellow flowers that mature to  bronze. I have this plant (I think – it came from a plant swap) and it makes a good groundcover – or plant for a wall.

Sedum Sieboldi has gray blue foliage with pinky gray flowers that appear later in the summer. It should not be deadheaded right after blooming, but cleaned up in the early spring.

For even more color there is Sedum spurium ‘Dragons Blood’ with red edged foliage and red flowers in summer.

While the plants I have mentioned are all perennials and will come back year after year, there are familiar annuals that will also work well on a wall. Think about annuals that work in hanging baskets like petunias that come in a full range of color and form.

Licorice plant, Helichrysum petiolare, has trailing, slightly fuzzy silvery or gold foliage that is often used with bloomers like petunias, verbena and nasturtiums.

I love trailing verbena with its cascading stems and flowers in many shades including, pink, rose, red, purple, lavender and white. The variety with a plumy purple is a standard at garden centers in the spring.

There is even an annual named wallflower, easily grown from seed. The old fashioned Erysimum grows about one to two feet tall and has brilliant orange flowers in the spring. Pinch it back as it grows for a bushier plant.



If you are reading this with your breakfast coffee you still have time to pot up a bit of some boisterous grower in your garden and bring it over to the Plant Swap at the Energy Park this morning. You can even bring flower pots, baked goods, anything, to swap for plants. The swap will begin at 10:30 AM.  Some people usually bring more items than they want to bring back which means new gardeners can take away extra plants. Bring some dish to share and stay for the pot-luck lunch and lots of plant talk.


The Shelburne Falls Women’s Club is also holding their famous Annual Plant Sale at the Baptist Lot (near the post office) beginning at 9 AM. Plants are from the Bridge of Flowers and members’ gardens and a few other places as well. Get there early.

May 16, 2009

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