Easy Plants for the Garden Path

Our front garden has two very shallow, very narrow beds alongside the path between the gate and the front door.

When we moved here, these narrow beds were filled with some old and gnarled lavenders. They had been lovely, and a very good solution to the cramped conditions and poor soil. But I wanted a bit more variety, and interest through the seasons. I planted spring bulbs like narcissus and tulips, to be followed by low-growing spreading plants, like helianthemum, forget-me-nots and aubretia.

Myosotis (forget-me-nots) are a brilliant solution for shallow, dry soil. I treat them as annuals. They flower from late March to June. When they are starting to look raggedy, I tug them out and compost them. They will have left dozens of seedlings behind, which will soon fill in the gaps, providing fresh foliage for the rest of the year.

Myosotis (forget-me-nots)

Coming up through the forget-me-nots is Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle). This is one of my favourite low-maintenance plants. It has beautiful scalloped foliage which collects dew and rain-drops. It sparkles. In June it will be feathered and airy with plumes of lime-green inflorescences, but for now it is the foliage I am enjoying.

Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) holding dew-drops

Alchemilla is so called because the water droplets caught in its leaves were thought to be an important ingredient in alchemy. They do look like they might contain the elixir of eternal life.

Alchemilla leaves, with mercurial dew

Helianthemum (sun rose; rock rose) is my other key plant for alongside the path. It also tolerates a very shallow root-run. It spreads out in a wide, low mound, producing a profusion of flowers from May to July. The silver-grey foliage is the perfect foil for the sizzling flowers.

Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’

When the sun shines, the flowers all open their slightly creased petals to show a lovely shimmering range of tones. They are slightly iridescent, with a suggestion of coral-red through the warm orange. They have the texture of Indian silk.

I love them with the forget-me-nots. Together, they are like fire and ice.

Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’

Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ is another favourite with the helianthemum. This provides a sultry, sobering purple. Whilst the helianthemum is low and spreading, cerinthe arches up and over with its curious, pendant bracts.

Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’ and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’

The bees adore all three: the forget-me-nots, the helianthemum and the cerinthe.

Cerinthe being visited by a bee

Because cerinthe self-seeds quite readily, it has taken itself up to the front of the house, where it also associates well with Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and the last of the tulips, ‘Antraciet’. Forget-me-nots and cerinthe are the perfect partners for tulips. They provide the colours that tulips can never be: sky blue and really dark, blue-purple.

Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’

The tulips have hung around forever in the front garden this year. They have probably been out for five weeks. They appreciate the bone-dry soil and probably the shade from the house through the hottest part of the day.

Tulip ‘Antraciet’ with Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Geums are another low-maintenance perennial. All they need is to be split every three to four years to make new plants, and to have their blooms cut back once they are past their best.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ with Tulip ‘Antraciet’ and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ behind

I love the simplicity and freshness of a geum. Don’t worry about the greenfly aphids on their stems: these will provide food for beetles like ladybirds.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Like all single flowers (where they have an open cup and visible stigma and stamens) geums are also bee-friendly.

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

Ziggy has been trying to get in on all these photos. I am going to indulge him for a moment.

Tulip ‘Tambour Maitre’ with Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’ behind.

I just have one more plant to show you. This is Geranium himalayens ‘Graveteye’. It is one of my favourite hardy geraniums. I especially love it with the sun shining through, looked at from behind. There will be many more flowers, but for now I love the grace of this very first flower, opening to the sun.

Geranium himalayens ‘Graveteye’ with forget-me-nots

All of these plants are incredibly easy if you are new to gardening. They are tolerant of less-than-ideal conditions, and perfect for dry, shallow soil. These plants get only a few hours of sunlight a day, but very obligingly light themselves up when I am leaving the house and coming home in the evening. The only maintenance I do along this front path is to tug up the cerinthe and forget-me-nots in midsummer, and cut back the aubretia and helianthemum when they have stopped flowering. I dead-head the geums and geraniums and the alchemilla once, maybe twice: midsummer and autumn.

It is not hard to have a lovely garden path from the front gate to the front door. These plants take so little, yet give out so much.

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22 Comments Add yours

  1. Jo Shafer says:

    Lady’s Mantle is so charming for the spring/summer garden that I really could use more, but I thought forget-me-nots were for shade, only. It’s soon getting time to add summer annuals to my beds. I often wait until they’re on sale; by then, alas, they’ve grown rather leggy in the garden centers.

    By the way, your lovely little doggie is cute among your flowers! Charlie, my cocker spaniel, enjoys my garden, too, but only to follow me around and keep me company when I’m sitting on the grass to work along the flower beds.

    1. Forget-me-nots are happy anywhere and everywhere in my experience! Ziggy is very much a garden dog. Ruby less so.

  2. A lovely post and a lovely collection of plants. We have taken on an allotment and it’s full of alchemilla, it’s considered a pesky weed by our fellow allotment holders, it spreads quite aggressively, but I am definitely not getting rid of it, at least not all. I struggle with the definition of weed anyway. Unfortunately, I never get to the plot in time to enjoy the dew drops. I might start growing one plant on my windowsill at home. Your photos of the plants covered in dew drops are wonderful. Forget-me-nots grow on the plot in huge quantities too and are in full sun, so that doesn’t seem a problem.

    1. I struggle with the definition of weed too, Katya! There are lots of beautiful weeds.

  3. Emma Cownie says:

    I love taking “walk” around your garden. You notice the details too – like the wonderful dewdrops. I love the contrast between the Helianthemum ‘Fire Dragon’ and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ too!

    1. Oh, good, I am glad your artist’s eye enjoyed that!

  4. Ann Mackay says:

    Loved seeing your front garden! Our soil is very dry here and some of these are amongst our most reliable – especially the geraniums. I recently discovered a cerinthe seedling in the garden – used to grow it years ago – so now I’m waiting for the seeds so I can get it established again. It’s like a little gift from the garden! 🙂

    1. Oh, that’s lovely! I have them in greater number this year. I am going to collect seed and spread them around more.

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    A pretty and cheerful garden to greet visitors. Love that color of rock rose!

  6. Beautiful post, Ali! I particularly love the dew drops on your Alchemilla foliage!

    1. Ah, I am pleased you enjoyed that!

  7. Ziggy is adorable, and I love that there is a flower called Alchemilla!

    1. It’s funny but I never thought about the origin of its name until I read that about it very recently.

  8. Lovely to see Ziggy. This is a great post and one I find very useful. I have the perfect conditions for the Cerinthe and I have always liked it but have never planted one. Must rectify this.
    I accidentally found a great plant association for this kind of area, and both plants seed into nearby paving cracks: Chives and the white form of Erinus alpinus.

    1. It is great when nature gives you a clue and you follow it, isn’t it?

    2. Oh good! Glad it was useful! Ziggy sends sniffs and a little sneeze.

      1. Sending virtual treats back to Ziggy!

  9. Cathy says:

    You are right, Ali, and your pictures show just how well the planting combinations work.

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