Creeping phlox, saved from the compost pile, makes the perfect ground cover behind this new wall.
Stucco wall and phlox

Creeping phlox, saved from the compost pile, makes the perfect ground cover behind this new wall.

This spring, I hired a local mason to make a stucco wall to enclose a new patio at the back of my house. I had imagined letting the meadow grass grow right up to the wall, but once the wall was finished, I didn’t want to hide an inch of it.

The same week the wall was completed, I removed about 30 square feet of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) that had been covering my rock garden like a lavender lava flow. I was able to lift big, 2-square-foot square sections intact, and stacked them on the grass nearby. Because I already have plenty of creeping phlox in other parts of the garden, I was headed to the compost pile with the first load, when I was struck by an idea. How about encircling the back of the new wall with creeping phlox?

The plants still had just enough lavender blooms to help me imagine the beautiful contrast I’d enjoy next spring: lavender against deep orange terra cotta. The soil behind the wall had been raked smooth in a 6 ft. wide band, ready for grass seed. Instead, I roughed up the soil and laid in big chunks of phlox, extending out almost 3 feet from the wall.

I watered it well every couple days and, three weeks later, it has really taken hold. My current plan, for keeping the meadow grass from taking over the phlox, is to place a 12” wide band of recycled rubber mulch on the smooth soil between the phlox and the meadow grass. I’m modeling it on a “burn belt” and am hoping that if I also add some edging on the outside of the mulch, it should keep most of the grass from creeping into the beds.

Having the phlox on hand made my plant choice easy. But I had also read that creeping phlox has been found to be one of the most rugged herbaceous ground covers you can plant. The recommendation came from a 5-year study of ground covers conducted by Cornell University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Plants in the study were evaluated based on their ability to thrive on roadsides, slopes and other difficult locations. Other ground covers (besides creeping phlox) that formed a dense carpet in these challenging sites, included Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’), Catmint ( Nepeta x faasenii ‘Walker’s Low’), Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina) and coral bells (Heuchera ‘Chocolate Veil’).

Catmint, lady’s mantle and creeping phlox are deer-resistant, too!

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Thanks to one of my very favorite gardening publications, The Avant Gardener, for bringing this information to my attention. Unfortunately you can’t access this monthly newsletter online, but you CAN subscribe to it for a very reasonable price and I guarantee you will find it to be an excellent investment! Send a check along with your mailing information to: The Avant Gardener, Box 489, New York, NY 10028. Subscriptions are $24 per year.

-Kathy LaLiberte, Director of Gardening