Dry shade in the garden? A checkered solution.
Recently I took a client who's an inspired gardener with great experience to a local tree nursery to look at some big trees for her future woodland.
After looking at and tagging a few beautiful trees, my friend Linda (who owns the tree farm and can operate a big forklift with the best of them) showed me her latest grand idea. She had a difficult dry, shady area under a large tree with her house flanking one side and wanted both a solid but attractive pathway.
So she built a great checkerboard! See first photo above.
Alternating stone pavers with Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana,' (dwarf mondo grass), Linda installed a broad, easy-to-negotiate path while adding an attractive and interesting design element to this very shady area. And in autumn, she can easily remove fallen leaves from the slick surface with a blower.
Hidden behind an elegant and welcoming weeping Atlas cedar and explosion of cleome (see Photo No. 2 above), the pathway is nearly secret. Only when you reach the front door are you able to view it from the side. It’s so clever and well executed, I immediately asked if I could take photos and write about her.
Her grandbabies bring out the Xs and Os whenever they visit so they can play checkers – not on a computer monitor or even a TV but here, outside, positioning the pieces with hands and whole body movement and fresh air. (See Photo 3 above.)
The Ophiopogon is a slow grower and remains very short so mowing is never required. Anything taller would drape over the stone and need cutting back. Moss might work, but I think that this little ornamental grass is the best choice.
Also, the whole arrangement drains well, as rain can readily soak into the grassy areas.
Linda used cut bluestone here, but folks could also use the square concrete pavers available from big box stores. A steel edge is installed around the outside of the checkerboard so it remains tidy. The pavers are set in sand over soil; the grass is planted in native soil.
This could not be more fun. Congratulations to Linda, a great plantswoman and an inventive grandma!
Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She's also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of "The Virginia Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia." She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
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