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This Is For You, Mom

July 23, 2016

Lavender WalkWhen 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.

lavender & ice plant2The 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.

Magnus bloomOn 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.

lavender inflorescense John Creech & lavender

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.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2016 12:52 am

    A lovely tribute to your mother, my mother also loved gardening all of her life.I enjoyed reading about all the plants that could be grown in the mobile home park …. So important for people to be able to grow & enjoy plants and flowers at all stages of life.

    • July 25, 2016 8:57 pm

      Gerrie, My mother was more of a flower lover than a gardener. She did a little weeding and puttering, but generally left it to others to do the heavy-duty gardening work (my father when he was alive and me near the end of her life). “Trailer parks” generally have a bad reputation in the United States, but this one belied those negative stereotypes. When I visited my parents there, I always enjoyed walking up and down all the streets in the park and checking out what was growing and blooming.

  2. Ellen Bear permalink
    July 24, 2016 6:35 am

    Bwautiful

  3. July 24, 2016 7:54 am

    Your project turned out beautifully. What a wonderful idea! I now have new visions of herbal walks of all kinds.

    • July 25, 2016 8:59 pm

      Nell Jean, This really did turn out better than I could have hoped. And because the lavender plants flop over onto the walkway more than I expected, I brush up against them when I walk through, which creates clouds of wonderful lavender fragrance.

  4. Astrid Bowlby permalink
    July 24, 2016 8:37 am

    Hi Jean, I grew up in Maine and visit often. I love reading your blog. I have found Sedum tricolor extremely fussy. I think John Creech is a much better bet. If that Delosperma be hardy for you? I am wondering if you have considered Sedum Angelina as a companionable low grower for your lavenders. It’s color would contrast in a nice way with the purples of the coneflower and lavender I think. Thank you for your blog! Warmest regards, Astrid

    • July 25, 2016 9:06 pm

      Astrid, I’m happy to be part of your continuing connection to Maine. 🙂 Thanks for the information about Sedum ‘Tricolor.’ Before this experience, I would have considered the phrase “fussy sedum” to be a contradiction in terms, but all four of these plants seem well on their way to being dead.
      We’ll see how the Delosperma does this winter. ‘Table Mountain’ (a.k.a. ‘John Profitt’) us a cultivar that was bred in Denver specifically to be more cold hardy. Most sources say it is hardy to Zone 5 (which should work for me) and some even claim Zone 4. I am encouraged that it has been winter hardy for Rex and Craig whose location up on a ridge in western Maine has harsher winter conditions than mine. The critical issue seems to be whether the plant has good enough drainage when the ground is frozen.
      If the ice plant comes back in the spring, I may try two divisions of it and two divisions of Sedum ‘John Creech’ in place of ‘Tricolor’ and see how they do.

  5. July 24, 2016 3:55 pm

    Very nice, touching and inspiring! Thank you Jean! Your Lavender Walk is lovely!

  6. July 24, 2016 4:15 pm

    I love the lavender/Echinacea combination. I was surprised by the Delosperma as I think of it as hot climate plant. The ice plant looks great with the lavender – and it’s also an idea I can borrow for my own garden.

    • July 25, 2016 9:10 pm

      Kris, There aren’t many plants we can both grow, so its fun that this combination would probably work for you. Probably the reason that Delosperma wasn’t on my radar before I got it as a pass-along plant is that it’s usually a hot climate plant. This cultivar was bred to be more cold hardy, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will survive our winter. I’m totally smitten by it and would be heartbroken to lose it.

  7. debsgarden permalink
    July 24, 2016 8:19 pm

    The park surrounding your parents mobile home sounds wonderful! Your mother would be so pleased that she inspired you. I love your lavender walk; how I wish I could do something similar! I dream of lavender and have planted it several times. The fragrance is heavenly! Unfortunately, it always succumbs to our humidity.

    • July 25, 2016 9:12 pm

      Deb, There are only two varieties of lavender that are reliably cold hardy here, and I have both of them. We have been having an unusually dry year and are in mild drought conditions, so it remains to be seen if the lavender will do as well in a more normal year. Meanwhile, though, I’m loving it.

  8. August 12, 2016 5:53 pm

    Table Mountain looks good with your lavender.
    Winter storms promised for Saturday night … and there may be snow on the mountain.

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