A Warm Welcome

When we moved into this house, there was a double row of lavender up the path to the front door.  In late June it was a cloud of colour and scent, nose-high, positively abuzz with bees.  This created some distress for very small visitors and those with a stinging insect phobia, but was rather lovely.

For the rest of the year these straggly specimens were a sad affair.  Their bark was peeling and the stems were brittle, and the growth had become a bit uneven.  There was a dusty fustiness that did not inspire me with good cheer when I left for work each day.

I had a little accident with one of them.  You know, when you just give something a tentative nudge, and then the whole thing comes away in your hand?  So then I had to tidy up a bit, and before I knew it, there were a dozen gnarled lavender bushes in the wheelbarrow.

And a new planting opportunity!

It is not an easy planting opportunity.  I now know that there is a soil depth of about 10cm, which combined with a width of 30cm is not much.  Underneath is concrete.  The soil is baked clay for most of the year.  If I mulch, then most of this ends up on the path, redistributed by dog paws.  Water runs straight off the ‘beds’ and down the drive.  It is North-East facing, with shade from the house at the top and a tree to one side.  It gets some morning sun, and part of it gets low evening sun.

I now know that annuals will not work.  Whilst Cerinthe, Calendula, Californian poppies and Cosmos do look dreamy in my mind’s eye, their growth is stunted and their flowering is sparse in such cramped conditions.  No amount of watering is going to change this, particularly if the water just dribbles off down the drive.

In the second year, I remembered practicalities.  The spring bulbs stayed, Scilla siberica and Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ doing just fine.  I brought in Aubrieta and Helianthemum, both ground-cover plants which can be sheared back after flowering to make room for summer-flowerers.  Forget-me-nots were encouraged to colonise.

Aubrieta ‘Kitte Blue’ and forget-me-nots

Alchemilla mollis was prevailed upon to green things up.  It self-seeds marvellously, and I leave a few chancers in the brick paving of the path and the gravel of the driveway.

Alchemilla mollis with Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’

I also brought in my favourite electric blue-indigo Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’.  How I love this geranium.  It is beautiful from every angle, and particularly ravishing in low sunlight.  Look at the overlapping petals and magenta veins!

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’
Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ with forget-me-nots

And I decided if I couldn’t have cosmos, I could get the same vibrant pink from Lychnis coronaria.  This will grow in pavement cracks, so is not phased at all by my mock-concrete bed.

But for now, in May, it is Helianthemum, also known as rock-rose and sun-rose, that is stealing the show.  The crushed silk petals are as lovely as a poppy’s, and it gives a wonderful warm glow in the sun.  The grey-green foliage provides the perfect foil for the flowers.

Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’
Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’ with forget-me-nots


Occasionally I get pangs for those lavenders, and I certainly understand now why they were put here in the first place.  I have learnt a lot from replanting these beds. Repetition is key in a narrow space.  You have to plant in zig-zags.  Sometimes one side of a double bed grows faster than the other.  Helianthemum is my friend.

Now I leave for work with a spring in my step and return to a warm glow.

What have you learnt from a difficult area of your garden?  What are your go-to reliable plants?

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors. 

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder. 



37 Comments Add yours

  1. Lavender is great, but you’ve created something far more interesting along the path and so pretty! That combination of alchemilla mollis and helianthemum is gorgeous. I would say alchemilla has always been one of my go-to plants, it’s so reliable and attractive – just love those water droplets in the leaves! – , a great planting foil and very forgiving (including footballing boys and the lawnmower running over it!). I’ve just planted one here, a tiny seedling that stowed away in a pot of mint so fingers crossed it will look as good as yours in time.

    1. Ali says:

      Once it gets going alchemilla is so generous, and as you say, resilient. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  2. Hydrangeas. They’re perfect. I’ve yet to be able to kill one and they grow anywhere. Plus, they’re beautiful in bloom. 😃

    1. Ali says:

      Confession time: I have killed several hydrangeas. Most in Sydney on the edge of the bush, which was asking for trouble, but two here in Kent. Forgot to water – we don’t get that much rain in Kent. The clue is in the name, isn’t it?

      1. Hahaha! This is true. 😃😃

  3. Your border is beautiful and, I agree, while Lavender has its place, this border is vibrant and very lovely. 🙂

    1. Ali says:

      Thank you. 😘

  4. Chloris says:

    Lovely ideas for an alternative to lavender. I find lavender to be gorgeous for a few years and then it gets woody and straggly. To keep it really neat you have to prune it when it is looking its best which seems rather pointless. I have just lost patience with my lavender hedge and pulled it all out.

    1. Ali says:

      That makes me feel better, Chloris!

  5. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I pulled my lavender out too, Ali, and planted small salvias with mauve flower which are going really well. I’m not familiar with helianthemum. Down here we have cistus, which is also called rock rose, with lovely flowers, but it becomes a huge bush in time. Your new plantings make a very welcoming entrance.

    1. Ali says:

      Cistus is lovely too, and does have similar (larger) flowers.

  6. Heyjude says:

    I have never managed to keep lavender looking good for more than a few years,l then it goes woody and hardly flowers. I brought one with me here (it was in a pot as all my plants were) and just stuck it into a sunny part of the garden. After the Beast from the East wreaked havoc it appeared to be completely dead so I have pulled it out along with the not so hardy osteospermum. The soil here is too heavy and rich and wet for such a plant so the only way I can have lavender (which I love) is to get some back in pots. My go-to plant in this garden has to be the hardy geraniums, though I’m not sure which ones prefer shade and which ones prefer sun.

    1. Ali says:

      Geranium phaeum and oxonianum are good in shade; also ‘Rozanne’ and ‘Orion’ do well anywhere, and ‘Ann Folkard’ is also good in shade – she will thread through other plants nicely. All others like some sun, but don’t seem to care how much. I love hardy geraniums. I’m waiting for a few more to flower and then will write a post!

      1. Heyjude says:

        I inherited several so no idea what their names are, and they were all in the shade. I divided one and planted it in the sun and it has gone mad! I bought a phaeum, but it got eaten, which surprised me as the S&S appear to leave geraniums alone.

      2. Ali says:

        That is surprising! I have never known them to get munched. Wonder what it was…

  7. pommepal says:

    Gorgeous colour combinations along your border, they would make the day start with a zing. My fill in plants are bromilliades in all shades, types and sizes. They can live forever in trees under trees in full sun, anywhere with no water for months, never need much care or fertiliser and reproduce pups slowly to replace themselves eventually. In the unreliable climate here they are a perfect solution. Good for lazy gardeners too!!

    1. Ali says:

      I planted bromilliades in Sydney too, and they were fab. Each houseda frog. Does that happen to yours?

      1. pommepal says:

        No frogs but suspect mosquitoes

  8. plantbirdwoman says:

    What a beautiful combination of plants. They would put a spring in anyone’s step!

  9. Eliza Waters says:

    Helianthemum with the alchemilla is lovely. We might be one zone too cold for the helianthemum, alas. I have a problem area with ledge underneath, so little soil. There are also deer and rodents that munch the area. I’ve been using lots of sedums and sempervirens, as well as yarrow ‘Moonshine.’
    As far as my favorite all purpose plant, that would be Geranium macrorrhizum. It will grow ANYwhere, dry/moist, sun/shade. Great scented foliage and red fall color, bright pink blooms in spring.

    1. Ali says:

      They are good choices, Eliza. Sedum ‘Red Cauli’ is on my wish list, and I love Achillea ‘Terracotta’. I think I need some Geranium macrorrhizum too! I love the bright pink one with the orange anthers.

  10. annpappas says:

    I have one completely dead lavender that needs to be pulled out. It’s also a tricky spot the length of our north garden wall, which gets plenty of sun in summer but none in winter. For now, the nasturtiums are coming up again which will make that section look beautiful until summer.

    1. Ali says:

      Lavender does seem to be good at dying. I suppose Iike all of us! Nasturtiums will be beautiful.

  11. Sam says:

    Lavender is incredibly low-maintenance but it can look rather tatty after a few years. And if you’ve invested in a load of them, you can’t really (well, I can’t) hoik them out if you get bored of all the sameness. We have two long low borders which look spectacular from about now, with the fresh foliage, until August but then I do get bored of them… I love what you’ve done in these beds – the low mounds of colour and different textures work really well together, and you have a much longer season of flowers to enjoy. My go-to plants are Verbena bonariensis and grasses.

    1. Ali says:

      I love Verbena bonariensis too. I have yet to be bitten by the grass bug, but am sure it will come. I tend to be a late adopter!

  12. FlowerAlley says:

    I will share that I helped a lovely woman in a big box store, since no paid help was available. She exclaimed,”My, you know everything”. My replay was, “Yes, I have made many mistakes”.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, you don’t learn if you don’t make mistakes.

      1. FlowerAlley says:

        I should be a genius by now. Ha

  13. I love your Helianthemums! Are they related to Cistus do you know? I had a lovely Cistus until last year but I either over-pruned it or it didn’t survive the winter – or both…..

    1. Ali says:

      A little Wikipedia yhas revealed that they both belong to the Cistaceae family, also known as the rock-rose family! They are all fairly low growing and like dry and sunny habitats, primarily from the Mediterranean basin!

      1. That makes sense! They’re lovely. Will look out for them at the garden centre 😀

  14. Your house sounds so beautiful. I loved all the photos in this post, but my favorite one was the picture of the blue pot and red flowers. So gorgeous.

    I learned an important lesson from my wildflower garden last year. I have had the idea that one can just plant wildflower gardens and let them go (because they are wild, right?). Well, let’s just say that this plan did not go so well last year. So I realized that even wild things need some structure and boundaries to thrive. This is a good lesson for me.

  15. A. JoAnn says:

    Love the Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’. I will definitely be looking for that one!

    1. Ali says:

      It is beautiful. I like ‘Orangina’ too!

  16. Geraniums have to be our go to plant , there is one for almost any situation.
    We garden on shallow limy soil over limestone. Very little shade and on a slope. Daphne do well for us, and bearded Iris. The cracks in the concrete path have a wonderful and totally accidental combination of chives and the white form of Erinus alpinus. They flower together and loom wonderful. Other self seeders in this path include Cyclamen and Cistus, which just shows how well Meditteranean plants do, though many do not like our wet NW winters!

    1. Ali says:

      That sounds lovely! Interesting that geraniums do well on your limey soil – they seem to be fab no matter what you throw at them! I am drafting a post in their honour. They are my favourite herbaceous perennial.

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