Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

End of the Month View, February, 2015 -- Gravel Garden Makeover Plans

I meant to do an End of Month View post way back in January about all the plans I have for making over several different areas of the garden. I used the EoMV meme last year to show the changes in my Bottle Tree bed as I made it over in the first half of the year, and then to show how it shook out over the second half of the year. It was a very successful way to make sure I actually accomplished something in that bed, rather than just contemplating it ad infinitum and ad nauseum. This year I have four or five areas of my garden where I want to make some big changes, adding plants, moving plants, etc., etc., etc.

So I'm going to use the EoMV meme this year to push myself to make lots of changes. The first of those is in making over my gravel garden. I'm satisfied with the hardscaping features in this bed -- the gabions, stock tanks and culvert planters -- but the actual plants, not so much. Somehow, it just didn't turn out the way I first envisioned it, and I want to try and get it closer to that vision this year by pulling out some of the plants and replacing them with others. Part of the problem is that I used plants that, while drought-tolerant, have more of a cottage garden feel and look to them, such as Nepeta 'Walker's Low' which gets enormous and floppy and blowsy very quickly. Because the bees love it so much, and it never really stops flowering, I never cut it back for the entire growing season. And because the bees love it, I've been reluctant to remove it. But this is the year.

I want the entire bed to have a more austere, ascetic look, which is how I first pictured it way back when. So, here's my post about how I'm going to redo it.

Wide shot of the gravel garden from the driveway, in all its winter ugliness

From the front door

The soil in both culvert planters has settled way too much, so I need to take all the plants out and top them off with soil. There's at least 6-8 inches of settling. There are Alliums in there that I'd like to move to the front garden, where I think they'll look better surrounded by grasses like Panicum. What's in there now? An Agave parryi 'J.C. Raulston,' a Stipa (or is it Nasella?) tenuissima, a Sedum of some kind, and some clumps of Sempervivum. I'd like it better if it matched the planter on the other side of the driveway, which has a Chaemerops humilis, a Nolina 'La Siberica,' and a few Agave havardiana.

The Alliums have already sprouted! I hope they survive being dug up and moved.

The other culvert planter, which needs topping off, as well as re-planting. What should I put in it? Maybe a Yucca rostrata? It doesn't get quite as much sun as the other culvert planter.

Another problem with the gravel garden is its weediness, which is a challenge. My neighbor's bed, which borders the gravel garden, particularly well-cared-for. It is just chock-full of weeds every year, which go to seed, throwing gazillions of little babies into the gravel bed. The roses in their bed are basically dead. I've thought about offering to weed the bed for them, and maybe even plant it up with some of my over-stock of plants. I always have seedlings and divisions going begging for a home. My neighbor has even commented a few times, sort of wistfully wishing that her garden looked like mine. How do I offer to care for that bed, without offending her, and without biting off more than I can chew?

Not a ground cover. Weeds. I need to put something vigorous here to compete with the weeds, maybe Sedum Angelina? Or some kind of Delosperma? I have a purple one in a pot that is quite a strong spreader.

Ugh, more weeds.

Here's another problem that needs addressing in the gravel garden -- plants that were put too close together. What was I thinking when I planted this Grevillea 'Marshall Olbricht' so close to the Ceanothus? The Ceanothus looks like Pepe LePew trying to kiss his paramour. Actually, I know what I was thinking -- I was pretty much expecting the Grevillea to die on me. But instead it's thriving, and keeps getting bigger. I'd like to move it about 2 or 3 feet to the right. Of course, moving it will probably guarantee that it will indeed die, as I originally expected. Behind the two shrubs is a Kniphofia caulescens that would like to be enormous, but it doesn't get enough light with these two mammoth shrubs in front of it.

Recording the pretty Grevillea flowers, so that when it dies, I can prove it was once thriving.

Nepeta 'Walker's Low' on the right. It's coming out this year and is going to find a new home elsewhere. Last year it completely engulfed that plant on its left, which I think is a Dasylirion.

I also want to either remove or move most of the grasses that are in the gravel bed. They don't fit my vision for the bed either. I planted them thinking they were great drought-tolerant perennials, but while they do fine without water, I think they do better with it. Many of the grasses haven't increased in size in the 3 years they've been planted. I'll either put them elsewhere or give them away.

I like Chasmanthium latifolium, but it gets way taller than I thought it would, and doesn't belong right in the front of the bed. It also flops terribly, and this past year I tied it up with ribbon. I have at least 3 clumps of it. I'm either going to move them all into the front bed, along the street, or further in the back of this one, right along the border between me and my neighbor.

Here's another clump sticking out like a sore thumb.

Here's a third Chasmanthium looking like it doesn't belong

Another grass growing in the gravel garden that I'm not sure about is Stipa gigantea. There's lots of floppy blades, but very few of the fabulous tall seed clusters, which are the reason I planted it. I'm not sure where it will be happier, or if the enormous floppy blades and paltry seedheads are a feature.

Stipa gigantea

I started collecting some replacement plants last fall, and they've been living in pots in a corner of the gravel garden all winter. I hope to find more at the Yard, Garden and Patio Show in Portland.


Beschorneria, Chaemerops humilis var. cerifera, and two Yuccas, Yucca torreyi and Yucca brevifolia, which according to their tags both get tall very slowly

Speaking of Yuccas, I need to figure out what to do with the three 'Bright Star' Yuccas planted in this bed. They also seem to be in the wrong spot, visually, but they're thriving (except for one, which gets those nasty spots in the winter). The problem with them visually might just be the rest of what's planted around them. You can see the one that gets the worst spots in the third picture of Chasmanthium above, planted next to the stock tank. They're supposed to get pink highlights too, but mine never get much pink beyond the tips of the leaves.

Here's a closeup of the 'Bright Star' with the spots.

Yucky Yucca surrounded by weeds

Slightly fewer spots, and with fresh healthy foliage coming up in the middle

The healthiest looking foliage of the three

Peter The Outlaw Gardener recently posted about keeping one in the greenhouse over the winter in a pot, and I might try that with the one with the worst spots (Maybe I'll name that one Spot.)

When I first put the gravel garden in, I had plans to put a stepping stone path through the center of it. Without that, I don't think visitors realize that they can walk IN the gravel garden to get a closer look at things. Right now, it's just an expanse of gravel and weeds. I'll plan to get that done this year.

This open area full of weeds was originally supposed to be a path

As I was taking pictures for this post, my neighbor's two kitties came over to say Hi. They're so sweet. They're both essentially still kittens, and quite friendly. I see them often playing in the gravel garden. They're terrified of my other neighbor's cat Lucy (short for Lucifer) who I showed in a recent post here.

I know this one's name is Frankie. He's very affectionate and curious, in fact, he runs to me enthusiastically as soon as he sees me.

He even lets me pick him up and purrs like a motor.

He poses adorably beside the orange Carex, which matches his coloring

This one, whose name I don't know, is a little more stand-offish.

Don't point that thing at me!

So, I've definitely got my work cut out for me rejuvenating the gravel garden. There's plenty more changes in the offing in other parts of the garden too, which I'll talk about in another post.

The EoMV meme is hosted by The Patient Gardener's Weblog, on the last day of the month. You can view her most recent post here.


  1. That is an ambitious list! I know it will be amazing when you're done. I love your wire globes filled with stones. I've never seen anything like them! And, the kitties.....what can I say? They are beautiful......Around here, everyone except one neighbor keep their cats indoors. Happy Gardening!

  2. Yes, it will be quite an undertaking. If you love gardening as much as I do though, you will be glad for the excuse to do a project! ;) Creeping thyme may be a good option for a ground cover.

  3. I like that - the EoMV meme. You do have a lot of work ahead but fun work it looks like to me, the kind I enjoy at any rate. I think you'll like your results and the grasses and nepeta will probably be better elsewhere, I agree. As for your neighbor's weed situation, hmm...that's tricky but you could offer the one time then quickly plant some angelina or some Escholzia seeds or something and run like hell. Love the kitty pics!

  4. Frankie is so pretty! And I love the amber eyes on both cats. What do you think of moving the kniphofia forward and out into the gravel garden? I'm going to enjoy seeing the results of your work in these areas. Good gardening!

  5. Your neighbor's cats are gorgeous. I love their bright orange eyes.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who is often planning garden overhauls! I have to vicariously enjoy gravel gardens in other people's gardens because Bermudagrass would make that impossible here.

  6. How glorious to be out in the garden at this time of year. All my garden is sprouting right now is a foot of snow. Whatever you do, it'll be great. Love your culvert planters.

  7. You've set out quite a bit of work this year. The gravel garden looks good even in winter and your changes will make it better. My galvanized tank loses so much soil over time it's a pain to build up and replant.

  8. I remember being very envious of your Chasmanthium last year so it's a shame it is so badly behaved.
    The EoMV is brilliant for keeping us on track.

  9. I like the idea of making this kind of a (confession?) at the beginning of the season. I made myself a similar kind of a list about three years ago, only it was private and I am still working on it.

  10. Your plans sound more ambitious and lots more fun than mine.

  11. I really like your gravel garden and those gabion columns are wonderful. And the balls too! Great ideas. I want to do that. I think it is easier to weed when I pull them from gravel too.

  12. This will be fun to follow along with Alison..I can't believe how many plants I've either dug up or moved starting last fall..dug out 3 more today. And the weeds--oy ! I feel your pain.

  13. Liking the sound of your plans Alison! A Dasylirion or Yucca would look great in your second culvert planter :)

  14. Ok....let's see what happens this year! You got such great plans :)

  15. If you don't like it, change it. Definitely go with your gut. Unless your throwing up. Then reconsider. I'm curious as to what your austere garden will look like.

  16. This is always the time of year when I go on a rearranging binge. Must move all the things. It's not gardening if it's finished, right?

  17. Well, you've got a big job ahead of you, but some sweet company while doing it.

  18. How exciting! I can't wait to follow along and see what you do.

  19. What wonderful plans you have for the year. Love the gabions and the culvert planter, very stylish! Have you ever read Beth Chatto's book about her Gravel Garden, hers used to be the car park to her nursery, such an inspiring book.

  20. I am looking froward to seeing more of this garden and your redo. I know in my gravel areas I cringe when I see weeds as it is not so easy to remove them. Love those culvert planters.

  21. Its great to read all your plans Alison and If anyone can get all that work done, it's you.
    I always love the images we see of grasses in other folks gardens but by the time I get them to mine, they never look quite the same. It frustrates me!
    I think stepping stones will make a heck of a difference in drawing visitors into your gravel bed.
    Looking forward to seeing things moving on as the months go on.

  22. It'll be fun to watch what you do with the gravel garden, Alison. I was a little surprised by your comments about the rambunctious Nepeta as mine got eaten to the ground by a neighboring cat, who could be found sleeping next to the plant (when there was still some left) in complete abandon. As to your neighbor with the weed patch, I think you could offer to plant some of your excess for her - she has the option to decline of course but I'd lay odds she won't.

  23. Oh boy - it will be exciting to follow you along in making these changes happen! I have such a long list of things to do in the garden that it always intimidates me into inactive stupor. Not sure how to break that behavior - maybe I should try following your example and make it public...?

  24. How interesting to hear all your plans, Alison. I love gravel gardens. They do get weedy though. One of the best gravel gardens I know is at Beth Chatto' s nursery in Essex. It has some really inspired planting. If you google Beth Chatto' s gravel garden you might get some ideas to help you with your project.

  25. I love seeing your garden makeovers! Can't wait to see the latest projects unfold!

  26. Wow that looks so nice. You did a great job. It really came together nice. Such a pretty orange and white cat. Thanks for sharing.


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