‘Spillers and weavers’ knit garden together
From the street, your eye moves up my south slope garden from ground- to eye-level, and then on up to the house. You see the two stone walls and winding steps framed and defined by trees and big shrubs and accented by strong, showy perennials. … Almost a condensed lesson in garden design. What holds it all together and what knits it into a cohesive whole are what I call the “spillers” and “weavers.” I’m pretty sure I didn’t invent these names, but, for the life of me, I haven’t been able to find the reference. Sounds like something Lauren Springer would come up with.As individuals, spillers and weavers don’t grab your attention, but, in aggregate, they can be dramatic. Cerastium tomentosum (snow in summer) holds its own against the last of the purple irises contrasting beautifully with orange-red Austrian copper roses and Oriental poppies. It integrates the granite boulder retaining wall with the rest of the garden. The wide swath of soft silvery leaves broke out in a blizzard of small white flowers in early May that will last well into June. It wanders among perennials, junipers and grass before spilling over the boulders. It has an interesting trait; as days shorten so do the nodes between leaves. The leaves grow in smaller and the whole plant tightens up to hug the ground more closely. This is when I love it best. It continues to look good most of the winter, getting ratty only briefly before resuming growth in spring.Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ears) also has soft silvery leaves but more substantial ones. It throws ruffles around a boulder, echoes the huge leaves of a rosette of mullein and is pushing unopened flower spikes through a prostrate juniper pouring down the wall like a prickly waterfall. The Cerastiums and Stachys bring out the silvery cast of its blue-green needles.The mounds of green leaves on maroon tinged stems of pink-flowered rock soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) go well with both the local red stone of the steps and the grey stone of the wall.Creeping Turkish veronicas form little grey puddles studded with azure on the sidewalk. The startling acid green nubbins of Delosperma nubigenum, a hardy ice plant, which almost forms a skin over the ground and rocks as it creeps, is covered in intense yellow flowers. They are relative newcomers to my garden and just beginning to show what they do. For the time being they are more specimen plants than unifying elements.Groundcover sedums and thymus don’t bloom until later. Thymus vulgaris, the common cooking thyme, along the steps, is practically a dark green, crisper version of Cerastium, with charming tiny pink flowers. The other species of thyme and the sedums are a bit touchier and fussier. They would probably do better if they were protected by a covering of snow all winter. They take awhile to recover in the spring.I am ruthless with the Cerastium and the Saponaria. Preferably when the majority of blooms (but not all) are finished, I grab them by the handful and give them a buzz cut. Even though I know it is the only way to prevent a close-knit carpet from losing its coherence by becoming loose and shabby, not to mention keep gazillions of seeds from germinating, I always have to steel myself for this task. It feels ungrateful somehow, to attack plants which so recently blessed me with a bounty of loveliness. The pitifully shorn plants only look awful for a mere few weeks, and then they are rejuvenated. The cooking thyme needs tough love, too, but in early spring before the new growth gets underway. The neatening up of the other plants is not quite so drastic or important.The plants that sprawl and spread and can pull an unruly garden together are a boon for an undisciplined gardener like me. They are certainly no sissies, but they’re no thugs either. I’ve had to learn when to leave them alone and when to interfere. They mingle and blend, making a rich tapestry. It is an effect in which, as Christopher Lloyd, British gardener extraordinaire said, “All the units touch or intermingle and no canvas shows through.” It is an effect that takes more time than money and a fair share of serendipity, both of which Lloyd was comfortable with. It is the effect I’m after.Anna gardens in Basalt with her husband Gerry. You can contact her at email@example.com
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