Planting The New Front Steps
Come with me and I'll show you how we planted this hillside.
When designing this slope I had to take into consideration that much of this space gets full-sun and is well-drained clay soil. This hill has several different grades ranging from steep to gently sloping, which requires a selection of different plants suitable for the varying conditions. The area at the top of the stairs is flat and connects to the walkway leading to the front terrace.
It begins with three large flagstones where I selected groundcover plants that wouldn't distract the view. Since I am keen on incorporating herbs in the landscape and not just confining them to the kitchen garden, I included creeping thyme (Thymus praecox 'Cocineus'), which has a spicy fragrance and bright magenta blooms and woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) with lovely soft gray foliage. I was inspired by a garden in Toronto, Canada that used thyme as a lawn substitute. I'm not going for anything that big (at least not yet) but it works well planted around the flagstone, is very drought tolerant and will brighten the path with its aromatic foliage and delicate flowers servicing bees and butterflies.
I nestled a few hen and chicks between the flagstones to fill the gaps without covering up the stones. These succulents mix up the space with their rosette shape plus they have an amazing tolerance for unwelcoming conditions. So they should thrive here.
As we make our way down the first few steps, to the right you'll find rosy coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea), white doll daisy (Boltonia asteroides), and dwarf blazing star (Liatris microcephala) in front of my husband's prized Japanese Maple. These natives are showy and will attract a variety of pollinators as they bloom and will standout against the purple foliage of the weeping maple.
|rosy coreopsis & white doll daisy|
On the other side of the steps at the peak of the slope is Quail Fame Flower (Talinum teretifolium). This is a threatened species in its native range. I first saw this plant at the granite outcrop at Thompson Mill Forest Arboretum, which is just a few miles from us and loved its dainty blooms. I've already observed hoverflies visiting the flowers in the heat of the day when the blossoms open.
|Quill Fame Flower|
Several excellent native creepers were added to hold in the slope. Blue moneywort (Lindernia grandiflora) with its heart shaped foliage hugs the ground and its cute blue flowers will bloom through spring and summer. The stems of the powderpuff plant (Mimosa strigilosa) will trail nicely around the steps while the purple flowers will be used by bees. It is also a host plant for the little sulphur butterfly. Creeping phlox (phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue') was incorporated on the steepest parts of the slope for erosion control and will eventually create a carpet of flowers that will attract early spring butterflies.
|view from base of stairs: stokes aster, finestem needlegrass, creeping phlox|
Mingled between these pollinator plants is Finestem needlegrass (Nassella tenuissima), which was included to provide movement and soften the harder edges in the space. Stokes aster (Stokes laevis) 'Klaus Jelitto and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), still allow a view of the stairs from the road yet have showy blooms to add color and attract a variety of pollinators.
|looking down stairs toward pollinator hill with view into the woods|
As the bed widens at the base of the steps, we were able to add several larger plants. Fothergilla major 'Mt. Airy' was incorporated for seasonal interest. The inflorescence of summersweet (clethera alnifolia) to bring in bees and butterflies, which will result in seed capsules in fall to attract birds. Spring blooming Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera) for a showy springtime element at the foot of the stairs. This area is part sun as it is protected from the towering tulip poplars and hickories. Like the established buttonbush, which is just in the background, it will benefit from the water run-off yet still remain well-drained. We enriched the soil here with lots of organic matter.
To fill the gap between the end of the retaining wall and the stairs, help with erosion, and provide further interest we added a tall container. Using the design concept filler, thriller and spiller, perennial verbena 'homestead purple' and beard tongue 'purple' were planted in the container. Still looking for a native perennial as a filler for foliage contrast against these two pollinator friendly plants. Would love to hear your suggestions.
In Autumn, when fall blooming perennials are more readily available at nurseries, we will add a few more plants to support pollinators, birds and beneficial insects for a full three seasons.And then wait for it all to fill in.
I like being different and living in a neighborhood where everyone has your standard builder landscape, it is my hope that our front garden will be an inspiration to those who are looking for ways to support pollinators and birds and simply create a more eye catching design.