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Thinking About the Front Slope

March 8, 2018

As the spring equinox approaches, the days get longer, the sun gets stronger, temperatures rise, the snowpack begins to melt, and I feel impatient for spring. But warm spring-like days at the end of February have been followed by a series of winter storms that provide a reminder that March is still winter in Maine.

While new snow has been falling, I have been getting my garden fix by making plans for this year’s big garden project, the creation of a large area in the new front garden that I am calling the Front Slope. The slope is a roughly rectangular area 36’ x 20’ that is bordered by the patio retaining wall and a walkway at the top, the driveway on one side, and the clover path on the opposite side and at the bottom.

front slope site

This southwest-facing slope is the sunniest part of my property, providing an opportunity to use sun-loving plants in a hotter color palette than is typical in my garden. I am also experimenting with a strategy that will allow me to include some native wildflowers that do not grow well in rich garden soil; I am dividing the slope into four horizontal bands with varying amounts of soil amendments. The richest garden soil will be at the top, where the slope borders the entrance garden. The bottom band will not be amended at all, providing a home for plants that thrive in my native lean loamy sand.  The borders between these horizontal bands undulate so that they weave into one another.

I began making lists of plants for each horizontal band last summer. This week I have been developing those lists more fully, using reference books, notes from last summer’s class with Bill Cullina at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens on how to use Maine native perennials in the garden, nursery catalogs, and an online list of native plants available for purchase from the New England Wildflower Society. My focus has been on creating a planting design for the lower half of the slope, and here is what I have so far:


The planting area is not a perfect rectangle; the driveway curves, as do the edges of the clover path. But this rectangular diagram is close enough for planning purposes. The bottom band will be planted primarily in spring wildflowers. (The exception is the fall blooming stiff flax-leafed aster (Ionactis linarifolia).) Most of these plants are already growing nearby. The only risky addition is the relatively rare native sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis), but it prefers exactly the kind of growing conditions I have here. Although most of these plants are spring bloomers, they are not spring ephemerals. The bluets (Houstonia caerulea) and moss phlox (Phlox subulata) leave behind mats of grassy foliage after they bloom.  The wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) and their yellow-flowered look-alikes, dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), send out runners of foliage that weave around taller plants providing an attractive groundcover.

The next band up will be planted in showier native plants that are happy in dry, sandy soil but don’t mind a little extra fertility. Most of these are plants that I have not grown before, so we will see how they do. As I move up to the top two bands, I will be dealing primarily with plants that grow elsewhere in my garden. I will be on more familiar ground both in preparing the soil on the top half of the slope and in choosing plants to grow there.  The alternating orange and green plants along the edge of the driveway are the common orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) and a simple green hosta that flowers profusely with tall wands of lavender flowers in July. This is a combination that blooms together along rural roads in Maine, so growing them together provides a sense of place. The hostas will also link this planting with the Side Slope planting that borders it as you continue up the driveway; there the hostas alternate with the hardy geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense) ‘Biokovo.’ The orange daylilies tie the hot colors of this planting to a patch of Hemerocallis fulva growing at the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the driveway.

The size of this new garden area makes it a bit daunting, but having the beginnings of a design leaves me eager to get started.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. janesmudgeegarden permalink
    March 8, 2018 11:28 pm

    I am new to your blog. I would like to follow though and see the end results on that front slope. I think it’s going to be very colourful!

    • March 14, 2018 8:53 pm

      Welcome, Jane. The plan probably exaggerates the color of this planting because not everything will be in colorful bloom at the same time and there will be lots of green foliage to go with the brightly colored flowers.

  2. Claire permalink
    March 9, 2018 7:40 am

    How are you going to manage thinning and weeding with such intense plantings?

    • March 14, 2018 8:59 pm

      Claire, Good question. I don’t do a lot of weeding. Usually I do it once in the spring as soon as plants are up out of the ground and then mulch to suppress weeds. I’ve also been experimenting with groundcovers as weed suppressors. If plants need to be divided, I’ll do it in the spring or in the fall, when it will be easier to get into the flower bed. Because my soil is so sandy, I don’t have to worry much about compaction and can just step into the planting and walk between the plants. I think the bigger problem will be getting in when plants are at the height of their bloom to deadhead. I may need to consider including some stepping stones into the center of the planting for accessibility.

  3. Joanna @ Gingham Gardens permalink
    March 9, 2018 10:19 am

    Jean – this sounds so exciting. I’m excited to see your pictures and watch your progress. I’ve got big plans too this year. Now, if the snow would just melt and the temps would rise, so we could be on our way… Happy gardening (or dreaming about it)!

    • March 14, 2018 9:00 pm

      Joanna, it is so hard to wait to get started at this time of year. We just got another 2 1/2 feet of snow in the past week, so it will be a while yet.

  4. March 9, 2018 3:51 pm

    Jean, I love your planting plan, particularly the alternation of hosta and daylily alongside the driveway that links your garden to its broader location. Not many people think of doing this but I wish they would — making this kind of connection is part of what gives a garden integrity.

    • March 14, 2018 9:04 pm

      Thanks, Pat. Using native plants is another way of linking the garden to the local environment. In the past, I’ve tried just transplanting some wildflowers into the garden, but it doesn’t usually work very well. I’m happy to have more effective ways to include native wildflowers thanks to my classes at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

  5. March 10, 2018 6:42 am

    Very exciting! Good luck – it is a big scale, but a good plan always cuts the effort in half, I think. Can’t wait to see it!!

    • March 14, 2018 9:09 pm

      720 sq. feet is a big area for me to complete all in one season, so we’ll see if I can manage to get it done. Planning on paper first is a way to get past being paralyzed with uncertainty.

  6. March 12, 2018 6:29 am

    Hello Jean, the varied bright flower colours are going to look amazing with the gleaming white backdrop of your house. The planting reminds me a little of the long alternating rows of lavender, rosemary and other mediterranean plants that have been seen in France and Spain. I don’t know what it the style is called, but it’s very distinctive, it’s a variation of the lavender fields.

    • March 17, 2018 8:29 pm

      Sunil, I wasn’t consciously trying to create long alternating rows of color, but I can see the effect now that you point it out, and I think I will probably go with it.

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