A mailbox garden that delivers

Send a message with curbside landscaping.

Isabelle and Mary Casey powers fetch the mail from their mailbox, covered in vines, in Fortson, Ga. A mailbox can be turned into a floral focal point by adding a small flower bed or climbing plants such as mandevilla and clematis.

Enthusiastic gardeners find it hard to resist any area of their yard that will take to a bit of landscaping, whatever the challenges. And challenges there are aplenty when beautifying the area around a mailbox.

But that hasn't stopped keen gardeners like Colleen Heck. She created a small bed around her mailbox and it's now in full bloom. Wanting to attract birds and butterflies, she selected shasta daisies, Whirling Butterflies (gaura), marigolds, gladioli, balloon flowers (platycodon), salvia and day lilies that light up this mini landscape as they wave gently in the breeze.

"My idea is to make a bouquet in the ground with something always popping up — like the fireworks on the Fourth of July," Heck said. To achieve this, she changes out the plants seasonally so that there is always something in bloom.

The Star-News of Wilmington reported that Colleen, her husband Charles Heck, and their two children, Caroline and Carson, live in a quiet neighborhood off Greenville Loop Road where her little curbside garden really stands out.

Colleen Heck, who does all the gardening, loves it so much that she is thinking of starting a part-time business creating and maintaining small flower beds for people who just don't have the time or the inclination. She even has a name picked out: "Razzle Dazzle Gardening." Currently, Colleen works part-time as a teller at RBC Bank, but she hopes to get Razzle Dazzle Gardening off the ground sometime this year.

As for her mailbox masterpiece, "it took me three solid weeks, but that included (another) small island bed and putting in the stone surround," she said. The "stone" is actually a man-made material that looks like the real thing, but without the high cost of genuine stone and being much easier to install.

As every gardener knows, creating and planting a new bed is only the beginning. Flower beds need to be maintained — fed, watered and weeded, not to mention some judicious deadheading. But Heck doesn't seem to mind that aspect of landscaping either.

"It's my relaxing time," she said. "I come out early in the morning and water and touch the leaves." Did she say "touch the leaves?" ''Yes, it's my connection to nature. It's my passion," said Heck said.

If you are thinking of landscaping the area around your mailbox, there are a couple of rules to follow. First, the front panel and flag must be kept clear of plant material so as not to impede delivery/pick-up of your mail. Secondly, if your irrigation system does not reach the mailbox, you will need to water daily, "unless you plant all drought tolerant plants, like lantana and purslane," said Charlotte Glen, consumer horticulture agent with the Pender County cooperative extension service.

Climbing plants, like mandevilla and clematis, are popular for mailbox landscaping and do a great job of softening the lines of the post or column, but be sure to train — or trim — them away from the front panel and flag.

"Making it a raised bed is a good idea," says Glen, "so that you can amend the soil. And you are going to have a lot better result than if the soil is at sod height, with people walking all over it."

Because of the conditions surrounding mailbox landscaping — hot, dry and dusty with fumes and rocks emanating from passing traffic — the choice of plants is particularly important.

"One thing that does well are some of the ornamental grasses," said Glen, "just make sure you plant them behind the mailbox (so they don't cover the front)."

Her suggestions include muhly grass, zebra grass, a small miscanthus called "Gold Bar," Karly Rose (all perennials) and the annual pennisetum rubrum. "Wind doesn't bother them, they just blow in the wind."

Glen also recommends the lower growing lantanas New Gold and Silver Mound, a smaller pink gaura named Passionate Blush, purslane, scaveola, Spanish lavender, penta, shasta daisies, dwarf daylilies such as Happy Returns, the spreading or trailing Blue Daze, and gomphrena (very tough, dries well, and makes a good fresh cut flower).

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