I can spot a garden designer’s garden a mile off. It’s the experiments that generally give it away. Designer’s gardens (in my experience) don’t tend to be the perfect havens that we create for our clients. Rather they are the try out zones for the latest of ideas. My own garden is mish mash of things that are in various proving stages of scientific theory – postulation doesn’t always cut it.
Last year, I set out to prove that I could have a soft mossy look in a high sun area. Miniature stonecrop (Sedum requieni) was planted between the cobblestones of a new path and I have been awaiting fresh green mounds mixed with stone ever since. But it’s not happening….turns out the Stonecrop doesn’t spread very fast and more importantly it doesn’t choke out weeds. Crab grass and clover are having their way with it. It’s pretty if perfect, but good luck with that.
Scratch another hypothesis from the list.
On to something else – which brings me to today’s Garden Designers Roundtable Topic: Lawn Alternatives. Last summer I spent a beautiful couple of evenings at an inn in northern Vermont. Looking out the upstairs bedroom window you wouldn’t immediately notice that the lawn that rolled right up to the forest edge wasn’t grass. But when we headed over it on the way to the swimming hole, a wonderful smell arose, and on closer inspection, I realized the whole thing had a purplish hue and was, in fact, a massive field of creeping thyme.
In awe I peppered the hostess with questions. She was far more casual about her 2+ acres of perfect, ‘lawn-like’, mow-less field than I was. How did you plant it? Plugs, seeds? She shrugged … “it’s just always been there” (she, in her 70’s was the 5th generation of her family who had lived their whole lives on this land). What variety is it? I pressed on (confounded by her harsh zone 3 climate). Another Shrug. Ultimately, the conversation went no where and she went back to preparing breakfast.
But coming back to my cobblestones, I have decided to find a better home for the stonecrop — I am thinking that maybe if I plant it closer to itself, I will survive the excruciatingly long time it will take to get it to grow to a solid mat. I just need to find the right place….
But taking inspiration from the inn in Vermont, I am starting a new experiment. I am acquiring large bags of Mother-of-thyme (Thymus serphyllum) seed. I am on the hunt for Thymus ‘Coccineus’, and woolly thyme (Thymus psuedolanuginosus) seeds too. These aren’t great edible thyme varieties (for that, I have my beloved Lemon Thyme for seasoning my famous Beef Bourguignon). My new theroy is that together, they will make an aromatic, drought tolerant ground covering for between my cobbles that I can stretch into the lawn for a nice transition. My new scientific experiment is to see who, in a plant on plant throw down, will choke the other to death. The fledgling grass, the thyme, or the persistant other weeds – not sure where to put my money – but I will let you know. I am a lazy overwhelmed gardener so I am always curious to see how things work with the least amount of physical input. I want to determine the natural hierarchical order. I am also curious to see how the seeds stack up against planting plugs or tiny plants for achieving coverage, fast. But one thing is proven – Thyme makes for a fantastic grass like ground cover – even in zone 3.
I’m taking every opportunity to play with it, mix it up, and get to know it better.
images: Checkerboard thyme from guim. Thymus serphyllum from desert tropicals. Thymus pseudolanuginosus (THYME, WOOLY) from Thienemans.com, Thymus praecox coccineus – degentiaan., Thyme Lawn from gardens co. creeping thyme from hume seeds.
Today is a big day of garden designers and writers posting about lawn reform and lawn alternatives. I hope you can take some time and make the rounds to my colleague’s sites and see what they have to say on the subject.