This Is For You, Mom
When my parents were in their early seventies and my father had retired from his job in a steel forge, they sold their house to my younger sister and bought a mobile home in a nearby retirement park. This mobile home park really was park-like. The lots were generously sized, and when the place was built, each lot had been landscaped with several specimen trees. My parents had a hemlock, two flowering hawthorns, a flowering dogwood, and an enormous blue spruce that dominated the back of the lot. The family that owned the park included at least one gardener who created interesting plantings in the public spaces. (I was particularly fond of several places where clematis had been trained over boulders.) And many of the people who lived in the park planted flower gardens. I remember my parents taking me to look at the park before they decided to buy there and being wowed by the beauty of the landscaping.
The unit my parents bought had a clump of lilacs (a plant my mother could not be without) outside the bedroom window, and rhododendrons growing under the windows at the front. It also had perennial plantings of peonies, bearded irises, and lily of the valley. Over time, my mother added some additional perennials – hostas, rudbeckia, and shasta daisies. After the blue spruce tree came down one year in a winter storm, I created a circular perennial garden for her to fill the space and ease the loss of the tree.
One plant my mother always wanted to grow at the mobile home was lavender. But, although I bought her gift plants of lavender on a number of different occasions and tried out multiple varieties in a number of different places, we never succeeded in getting lavender to grow in her garden. So, when I was thinking about my new front garden, I knew that I wanted to create a planting of lavender in memory of my mother.
The realization of this desire is the Lavender Walk, two small flower beds that flank a narrow 10 ft. long section of walkway that leads from my new patio to the fragrant garden under my bedroom window. The fragrant planting of lavender provides a transition from the front entrance garden, which includes relatively few fragrant flowers, to a planting focused on fragrance.
The Lavender Walk features eight plants of Lavendula augustifolia, four on each side of the walkway. In designing this planting, I had to figure out the best companion plants to go with the lavender. One side of the planting sits at the top of a retaining wall, and here I chose sedums as companion plants. The three plants of Sedum x ‘Autumn Fire’ planted behind the lavender are looking very happy and will bloom after the lavender has finished. In contrast, the four plants of the beautiful groundcover Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ that I planted at the top of the retaining wall, in hopes that it would not only spread across the ground between the taller sedum plants but also trail down the outside of the wall, are looking very unhappy. Earlier this summer, when Craig Cote and Rex Beisel of Barred Owl Daylilies gave me a division of another groundcover plant, Delosperma (ice plant) x ‘Table Mountain,’ I divided it into three small pieces and planted them between the lavender plants at the front of this planting. The results have been very gratifying, as the plants have not only settled in, but grown dramatically and bloomed profusely. If the groundcover sedum does not survive or continues to look sickly next year, I may replace it with pieces of the ice plant, which I think would be happy to cover the top of and trail down the outside of the retaining wall.
On the other side of the walkway, the Lavender Walk planting backs up to the front deck of my house. Here I used Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ as a companion plant. This choice was inspired by one of my mother’s neighbors in the mobile home park who had lavender and echinacea growing together by her front door. I always loved the way the combination looked and knew I wanted to replicate it here. The four lavender plants are at the front of this border, with three of the taller echinacea plants behind them. The echinacea has just begun to bloom, and I am very happy with the result. At the front of this planting, I added another Sedum spurium variety, ‘John Creech’ as a groundcover between the lavender plants. Unlike ‘Tricolor,’ John Creech is looking healthy and happy and is covered with pink blooms.
Because the Lavender Walk has special meaning to me, I had a big emotional investment in its success as a planting. In its first year, it has exceeded my hopes. Each day, as I walk through this part of my garden, I am filled with wonder at its beauty and filled with love for the very special woman who inspired it and in whose memory it was created.