Need advice - carpet phlox or alyssum??

kimcocoFebruary 15, 2008

Ok, let me preface this with - I know that Allysum are not perennials.

We have a retaining wall along our front walkway. I am going to be planting small boxwoods for the entire length of the wall. In front of the boxwood I was thinking of planting either Allysum (Carpet of Snow) or Carpet Phlox (white delight).

Any advice, recommendations, opinions, etc. I do not have a green thumb, and I've never planted either of these, so I'm looking for advice/feedback at this point. I've read that these are both excellent ornamental groundcovers and that they'd do well along the retaining wall. Thoughts???

The retaining wall faces east.

Feedback is appreciated!

Here is a link that might be useful:

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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I'd personally use alyssum because it smells good, and it blooms all season vs phlox which only blooms once.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 7:02PM
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Most definitely alyssum! It does smell nice...blooms all season....reseeds!! What more could you ask for?

P.S what is growing between the wall and the sidewalk?

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 9:20PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Sorry, I'm a bit confused. Is the boxwood and the groundcover going in front along the base of the wall, or along the top?

I love phlox, but I can't seem to get it really going. There is a fast food restaurant in town that has the most beautiful swath of creeping phlox, huge and flowing down over a wall, and it kills me that their's looks so wonderful and my little patch looks so pathetic, lol!

Alyssum is beautiful also, and as mentioned above, does smell lovely and blooms all summer.


    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 10:03PM
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Put me in the alyssum column - it doesn't disappoint. I do have creeping phlox cascading down a retaining wall on my patio, but can never seem to get it to establish anywhere else in the yard. And once it stops blooming, the phlox is simply a green mat.

The alyssum self seeds so freely and I get untold volunteers which I usually pot up and scatter around the different garden borders. I did add the larger flowered "Snow Crystals" last year. Beautiful, fragrant, non flopping mounds from May till the first killing frost. I've never had luck with the colored - rose or purple - alyssum though; they would gradually stop flowering and disappear over the course of the season.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 12:53AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I can tell you a Alyssum story that may explain their popularity. A landscape contractor friend bought a beautiful yacht and named it Alyssum. When I asked why he would name his boat after a flower, he explained using Alyssum in his landscape jobs is how he made the money to buy the boat! Al

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 10:30AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Guess I'm odd woman out - I don't have luck with Alyssum. I *love* the scent, and it looks good for a few weeks after planting out, but when the hot, humid summer weather hits it stops blooming and looks like cr@p.

If you want annuals, wax begonias would look nice next to a retaining well, and they can take sun or shadier conditions, always look neat and tidy. If the conditions are hot and dry, a shorter cultivar of vinca would be a very good choice. Both bloom like crazy once they get revved up for the season, and both have white cultivars in addition to other colors, should you feel like going more colorful.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 11:07AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Hmm, somehow I missed the photo the first time around, lol! Nice wall - and it looks like you live on such a charming street!

Just a thought - you could have both. Put the phlox above the wall, so it flows over, and put the alyssum on the ground near the sidewalk.

What do you have planted along the front of the wall now?


    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 1:35PM
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jan44(z4b WI)

definitely alyssum - phlox, although beautiful, blooms for a short time, then tends to turn brown as the weather gets hotter, so gets to be an eyesore. You could mix some of each, so that when the phlox is done blooming, the alyssum would take over, however, alyssum is an annual and phlox a perennial, so alyssum would have to be replaced every year.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 1:53PM
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Thanks all for the feedback - very helpful. I love this site.

To answer questions - I have two boxwood at the top of the retaining wall, but I'm going to add more - like a hedge - all along the top for the entire length of the wall. In front of the boxwood (between the boxwood and the retaining wall) is going to be the Alyssum.

At the bottom of the retaining wall, I've planted Pachysandra. I just planted them last year so they haven't filled in yet - this year will be their first full growing season, but I've had wonderful luck with these, and once they fill in they look spectacular for a groundcover. They spread like mad, so you have to keep them contained, but they grow wonderfully in shady and sun areas, and areas under trees where it's difficult to get other things to grow.

Based on everyone's feedback, I will plant the Alyssum. Maybe I'll try the Phlox in my planters this year with ivy and potato vine plant. ??

Thanks again for the wonderful advice. I can't wait until spring ..... *sigh*

I've attached pics of the pachysandra that I've planted on the side of my house along the driveway (for those who asked about the pachysandra), and another pic to show what it looks like once it has filled in along a retaining wall.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 1:54PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Kimcoco, IMHO, you need to plant some spring bulbs in that pachysandra, lol! (In both spots!)


    Bookmark   February 16, 2008 at 4:17PM
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You are making the right choice with the Alyssum.

I've grown lots of creeping phlox and find that the whites are difficult to establish. They are not as dense as the lavenders either.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2008 at 8:35PM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

Well... Hedges say "Keep Out." Your street is so cheerful and welcoming- your house should be too, right?

I'm going to be painfully honest here. I can't think of anything more unwelcoming and boring than a horizontal line of boxwoods, even with flowers in front of them. Straight lines of anything are not appealing to the eye, generally. If you want something beautiful, you're going to need to get more creative and be brave: design something! Don't worry, there's a forum for that :) (see link at end).

To create a welcoming feeling, you want to beckon people to your front door. Rather than create a barrier along the retaining wall, it would be better to make a long, undulating bed along the walkway.

As for what would go in the bed, that's up to you. Definitely a few small trees (the green circles) for height, getting larger as you get closer to the house. Everywhere else, plant either a variety of shrubs/conifers (low-maintenance) or a mix of shrubs, conifers, perennials, and annuals (high-maintenance).

Whatever you do, play up that gorgeous retaining wall where it meets the bed. There are so many wonderful plants that would look exquisite spilling over and breaking up the straight line of the wall. Phlox and alyssum are only two - use both and more!

Here is a link that might be useful: Landscape Design Forum

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 12:45PM
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Dee - I would not plant bulbs in my pachysandra - I don't know why anyone would want do that, to be truthful. The pachysandra is bare simply because it hasn't had a full growing season yet, but it will fill in really nice (no bare spots). All it needs right now is a little TLC and patience (ok, and maybe some mulch for the interim). IMHO, I think too many flowers is just too much.

Ladychroe, I disagree that a straight line hedge no more than 2-3 feet tall is boring or says keep out. By that standard, formal says keep out and the latter says welcome. Not so. While it's appealing to have varying textures and heights, that shouldn't rule out straight lines in landscaping when integrated correctly.

Our 1920's English Tudor architecture is all about clean, straight lines. When integrating landscaping plans, it's just as important to look at the whole picture (existing landscape as well as architecture), and not just one aspect of the property (the retaining wall). Your plan would definitely not compliment our property, but I appreciate your attempts.

Best Regards

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 2:23PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

"...Dee - I would not plant bulbs in my pachysandra - I don't know why anyone would want do that, to be truthful.."

Oh my goodness, lol! Why? Because it looks great! I wasn't making the suggestion because your pachysandra was bare - as a matter of fact I was thinking for when it did fill in.

We've got lots of stone walls around here, and lots of pachysandra, and many gardeners plant clumps of spring bulbs in their pachysandra. It makes such a colorful splash in spring, and IMO looks especially nice when the daffs are against the stone wall. It's a lot easier to hide the ugly foliage too when you've got the pachysandra there.

Ah well, but I guess we all have different tastes. :)

Best of luck with your alyssum and hedge!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 7:01PM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

It's okay, kimcoco, it was just a suggestion. There is no doubt that formal, straight lines have their place in certain contexts; to delineate a deliberate shape in a symmetrical French garden, for example, or highlight the way perspective affects a long, perfectly straight pathway or road.

I was just concerned that your beautiful retaining wall plus a hedge would produce a 5-foot barrier that would effectively hide your house from the sidewalk.

Here is a link that might be useful: Again, please seek the opinion of the Landscape Design forum. They have so much more expertise than I do.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 8:11PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

I do love alyssum, but i have never detected any scent from them. They bloom a long time, though. Why not plant both?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 8:26PM
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Wow... really, fledgeling? Alyssum's always the scent that knocks me backwards the first time I head into the nurseries in the spring, and it's the scent that I can pick up even when I'm at the opposite end of my garden.

Unless you're talking the purple/lilac "Easter Basket" alyssum, which I think has very little scent compared to the white varieties.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 2:43PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

Nah, it was seed-grown 'carpet of snow' but i have never had a keen sense of smell, nor smelled any kind of alyssum in the nurseries even when i put my nose to them. They tell me my cheddar pinks smell good too, and they do but I pretty much have to inhale whole flower to smell it.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 3:39PM
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Ladychroe, the retaining wall isn't as high as it looks in the picture. The hedge would be no more than 2 feet tall at best - nothing that would abscure the view of the backdrop from any passersby.

Dee - I've been thinking about the bulbs. My initial thought was that you were telling me to plant bulbs because the pachysandra aren't filled in. Do you have any pics of bulbs in Pachysandra so I could visualize it? I like the idea of a splash of color, but I really don't want anything high maintenance (or too costly). While I appreciate a well maintained perennial garden, one of the primary reasons I don't like a lot of flowering perennials is because once they've finished blooming, they look like weeds to me - I don't want to (or have time to) have to prune and deadhead regularly, which is why I try to opt for little or no maintenance!

With that being said, I did some research on bulbs (I've never planted before), and it looks like the most popular are daffodils and tulips. I like the color combo. I'm definitely not looking for anything purple or lilac. Reds and yellows are nice. These are typically supposed to be planted in the fall. Does it make sense for me to plant them now in the spring? Will they still bloom?

Got any pics of daffodils and tulips planted together? Other suggestions? They would have to be something fairly tall to stand out over the pachysandra.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 2:50PM
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I should also mention with regard to the spring bulbs - I also like orange (a combo of orange, yellow and reds would be nice), however, keep in mind that the retaining wall faces east - this area only gets a couple of hours of morning sunlight at best. Typically daffodils and tulips need a lot of sun, right?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2008 at 2:55PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Hi Kim,

I didn't realize that the wall faced east. You are right in that this may hinder the spring bulbs somewhat. Bulbs need to be planted in the fall for spring bloom.

I'm sorry I don't have any photos. Daffodils are VERY easy - easy to plant, easy to maintain. I personally find that tulips don't perennialize for me very well. You could, though, dig them up say every two years and plant new bulbs if they didn't perennialize for you.

There is a house down the street that has some form of early red tulip, perhaps a species tulip, in the pachysandra and it's very nice. I'm thinking it's a species tulip because it's quite early and they are there every year, and the species usually naturalizes better. I've only ever driven by the house, not walked, so I've never gotten a close enough look to identify the tulips.

As far as daffs, there are SOOOOOO many to choose from. King Alfred is always a good choice - big, bold, bright and yellow! I also love one called Quail, which is a jonquilla, is a late-bloomer, a very long bloomer, and has a wonderful fragrance. You could plant several varieties for a very long bloom time.

The one drawback is (as usual with bulbs) the foliage after bloom. You could hide it somewhat in the pachysandra, but in such a prominent spot along the sidewalk, if you think its too messy, you may not like the daffs. And you can't cut it back if you want the bulbs to come back.

But... one idea is to pot up the bulbs and drop them in the ground pot and all. You could even leave empty pots in the ground year round, and then place slightly smaller pots with daffs and tulips in these empty pots, then remove when the bulbs are done blooming. The empty pots would be very easily covered by the pachysandra. The potted bulbs could be overwintered in a garage or shed.

If desired, you could then take it one step further and drop in pots of something else for the summer season, and then again in the fall, and even winter. And this way you could experiment with color combinations too.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 7:48PM
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As someone with a fairly messy garden but with formal bones I like the hedge along the wall and the plain pachysandra below it. I would prefer allysum over phlox 100%. If I was going to think of a perennial ground cover I'd go with Lamium 'White Nancy' or Iberis. The allysum would also give you a chance to experiment with other low white annuals down the line. I work with a woman who likes a lot of white in her fairly formal landscape. We've had good luck with trailing verbena, callibracoa, bacopa and Diamond Frost euphorbia (all in white, of course) in similar situations.

Have fun!!


    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 8:19PM
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So many great suggestions! What to do???!!!

Dee I think I'll try the daffodils - I'll have to look into other bulbs and perennials mentioned here as I'm not familiar with all of them as of yet.

I'm trailing of on various subjects here - all apologies, but so many questions...

Please see the first pic below. This is a pic of a house I got out of a magazine - notice that the retaining wall is similar to my own (second pic is my house). I was thinking of planting the same trees on each side of my walkway (on the retaining wall) - I think these trees were identified as compact Tanyosho pine. Just beneath the trees I'd plant Alyssum. Below the retaining wall would be my pachysandra and bulbs.

My next question - I really do want a hedge along my wall for various reasons - just a very small hedge - 2 feet in height at best - this will likely be some variety of the boxwood. Anyway - I'm asking for opinions of others on this - how would the hedge AND the trees I've mentioned above look together??? I was initially going to go the entire length of the wall with the hedge, but now I like the way those trees look and if I plant the trees similar to the picture here, would the hedge look funny on the wall if I stop just short of where the trees are planted? Or, should I go around behind the trees with the hedge (the hedge will follow around the back of the tree and end at the sidewalk), kind of like a border?


Retaining wall (picture from magazine):

MY existing retaining wall (just installed this past summer):

Thanks again for everyone's feedback.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 11:35PM
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You can end the hedge at the trees, or forget the trees and plant taller box next to the steps, where you already have the 2 boxwoods. That would give you a similar effect to these trees as "sentinels" at the entrance to your garden.

If you really want the pines, and you're planning to limb them up as shown in the magazine photo, though, it might look odd for the hedge to end next to them; planting the pines behind the hedge might be a better alternative. I'm not familiar with that pine, and don't know why you want it - is it for a foliage contrast, or a vertical accent, or something else?

When planting trees on the sides of an entry path, be sure you leave enough space for their mature width. Nothing says "amateur" quite like a path that's throttled by trees and shrubs that need to be butchered to allow people to pass; I know because I've made this mistake!

I'd personally like to see one of the long blooming, low growing, silver leaved perennial dianthus along that wall. The foliage would complement the color of the stone beautifully, and would contrast with the deep green boxwood leaves really nicely. Alyssum will bloom in shade, but not as well as in sun; it will require a lot of extra water, and will be bare all winter.

I like your plan for the hedge. Ladychroe's design would have made the lawn difficult to mow, and I agree with you that curves are not always more appropriate OR more attractive than straight lines.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 10:49PM
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I like the idea of the box hedge too, and I think the alyssum is a fine plant for what you want it to do.

One thing I don't think we've asked--what kind of soil do you have? A lot of zone 5 people have clay, but if you're around the Great Lakes, it might be a bit sandy. I ask for two reasons. One, because wondering if a nice yellow or white-blooming azalea or rhododendron might be nice for you, either near the box hedge or elsewhere--they like eastern exposures. They seem to sort of like Great Lakes soils, but usually not enough to get really large. And they give you a great shot of color in the spring. Otherwise, I think the suggestion of taller box is a very good one.

Two, because if your soil is a bit sandy, a lot of tulips may last several years, especially the "Darwin" hybrids and the botanicals (I love tulip 'Tarda,' which is an early low-growing yellow that spreads). It seems like you like to keep your yard pretty low-maintenance, and you might find daffodil foliage a bit of an eyesore as it's dying back, though you can probably tuck it into the pachysandra to hide it once it gets limp. I think tulip foliage dies back a little faster.

Finally, if you're still open to bulbs in the groundcover, I think a bunch of tall white allium, maybe allium Mount Everest, White Giant or White Queen (a bit shorter), would look great, and right up your alley (except that they might cost a bit to plant). They can look very formal, too, and they'd probably look nice with alyssum. But you wouldn't really be able to plant those until fall.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 8:24AM
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BTW - thanks for not laughing at my two pathetic looking boxwood! LOL I appreciate everyone's kindness, and amateur prevention advice is always welcome!! First time homeowners, thank you very much. :)

I'm no professional, but I found an interesting article about landscaping & flowers (the link is below) I thought I'd share. It reads that a general guideline to follow is that flower beds should be kept to the rear of the home, or simply to keep the colors in harmony with the home so as not to compete with the home itself. So, maybe I'll have to reconsider the reds and yellows, and add something softer or more neutral, like whites. I think oranges would be nice too (our front door is rust), but I'm not familar with too many flowers in that color range.

Anyway, I do like the idea of the white allium in the pachysandra and the dianthus along the wall, combined with the alyssum. I might save the tulips and daffs for my back yard where they'll get more sun. Our soil is very rich, not sandy or clay.

With regard to the Tanyosho Pine (pinus densiflora compacta), I just like the way they look - they have sort of a classic elegance to them, but I also love the contrast in foliage as I think that would compliment my yews and boxwood. I also like the vertical accent...and the simple fact that I'm limited with what will grow well with only morning sun! As an alternative to this, I do think taller boxwood is a good suggestion as accent plants, but since we're replacing dwarf alberta spruce with upright boxwood this year in the backdrop (see pic and explanation below), I'm hesitant to use two of the same accent plants in the background and forefront.

As for the hedge, I'm either going to plant the hedge along the wall and wrap around the backside of the Tanyosho, or I'll just have the Tanyosho without the hedge. I really love the hedge idea, but I'm unsure of these two together. I'm torn.

I've pasted a pic of my house below. Please excuse the overgrown ferns in my planters, the front door in restoration, and a few other things in progress. The dwarf Alberta Spruce next to the stairs didn't survive this nasty winter (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) - one on each side of the stairs, but one is hidden by the overgrown fern. The spruce will likely be replaced with upright Green Mountain boxwood. The Japanese barberries to the left are being replaced with small, low yews (no higher than the platform).

I like the idea of adding contrasting foliage along the retaining wall to perk it up - hubby is dying to play up our new wall.

Diggingthedirt - What species of dianthus do you recommend with the silver leaves and long bloom time?

I know this is probably too much information, but this is actually the shortened version! :)

Thanks again for your feedback. Now, if only spring would arrive! *sigh*

Here is a link that might be useful: flower bed planning

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 2:01PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I won't say anymore because design and planning is really a weak spot of mine, especially with shrubs and trees, but I did want to say that you have a very charming house! Can't go too wrong with that as a backdrop! Make sure you post some "after" photos.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 3:00PM
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Thanks Dee. Interested in seeing a "before" picture of my house? It really was a fixer-upper (neighborhood eye sore), but well worth it.

I think I'll be planting the tulips and daffodils in the back of my house along my fenceline, thanks to your advice. I'm thinking of using them as the base by clematis vines. Thanks again for your ideas! :)

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 4:42PM
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Lovely house!

Now, about that link ... I think you have a very good eye yourself, and you could be a little more adventurous than taking design advice from the county extension service. That article is awfully outdated; it was "last updated" in 2002, but could have been written in 1950! It is simply repeating truisms that have made our neighborhoods awfully boring over the last 50 years or more.

I highly recommend Gordon Hayward's "The Welcoming Garden." It's well written, makes sense (unlike some design books on my shelf), and it debunks some of the old myths about the "rules" for front yard gardens.

Like you, he considers the house as the main feature and explains how the house and garden relate to each other; he also discusses the concepts that you've mentioned (formal vs informal, straight lines vs curves, the role of color) and goes well beyond that.

Since I'm in zone 7 I probably can't be much help suggesting a variety of dianthus for your area, but this info should be on line, either at one of the good nurseries (PDN, Bluestone, etc) or at the MOBot or other botanic garden sites.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 9:02AM
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Dianthus of many types are easy to pick up in any garden center, big box garden center, or at the seasonal plant shops that crop up in parking lots. Most will have the grey-green foliage and blooms ranging from white to every shade of pink, red, salmon; blooms with ruffles, blooms with fringe, double blooms. The common ones that you are likely to readily find locally can be kept blooming for an extended period of time by keeping them deadheaded.

Dianthus alpinus - Alpine Pink
Dianthus amurensis - Amur Pink
Dianthus anatolicus
Dianthus arenarius - Sand Pink
Dianthus armeria - Deptford Pink
Dianthus barbatus - Sweet William
Dianthus biflorus
Dianthus campestris
Dianthus capitatus
Dianthus carthusianorum - Carthusian Pink
Dianthus caryophyllus - Carnation or Clove Pink
Dianthus chinensis - China Pink (usually sold as a hardy annual at KMart, WalMart, etc.)
Dianthus deltoides - Maiden Pink
Dianthus gallicus - French Pink or Jersey Pink
Dianthus giganteus
Dianthus glacialis
Dianthus gracilis
Dianthus graniticus
Dianthus gratianopolitanus - Cheddar Pink
Dianthus haematocalyx
Dianthus japonicus
Dianthus knappii
Dianthus monspessulanus - Fringed pink
Dianthus myrtinervius - Albanian Pink
Dianthus plumarius - Common Pink
Dianthus pungens
Dianthus repens - Boreal Carnation
Dianthus seguieri - Sequier's Pink
Dianthus simulans
Dianthus superbus - Large Pink
Dianthus sylvestris

    Bookmark   March 4, 2008 at 8:46PM
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Thanks all.

Diggingthedirt - the internet is just a wealth of information and you never know what to believe. I'm willing to expand my horizons....I just ordered the book on Amazon, so hopefully it will give me new direction and ideas. Decisions! Decisions! We'd like to hire a landscaper, but at the same time doing it ourselves is nice too - somewhat therapeutic.

Duluth - I noticed there are so many pinks! I'm not a big fan of pink, but I did see some reds online. Thanks for the list - I'll have to look into these closer.


    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 4:53PM
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We're almost finished with the retaining wall. We decided to plant a small hedge of boxwood - Green Gem - instead of the Tanyosho pine. It's not trimmed yet - we were told to wait until the end of June before trimming, but we plan to shape into a rectangular hedge. As you can see, we still need spring clean up.

We also planted some lamium white nancy along the wall with Goldilocks and a couple of other creepy crawlies per the advice of the experts on this forum.

The pachy are starting to fill out this year nicely.
Dee - we haven't planted any bulbs in the pachysandra - I'm debating since I read that the pachy will eventually choke them out - I know they would look stunning there...

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 1:54PM
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I didn't plant Alyssum yet - I may try them along the boxwood though I'm not sure if they will bloom in almost full shade. Same with the Dianthus, but I did plant them in my back yard and I just love the colors. Unfortunately, my wall faces east with a huge maple overhead.
As far as the Allium - I was afraid they would look washed out against the retaining wall, and perhaps too tall??? I'm still experimenting...

Diggingthedirt - I did pick up "The Welcoming Garden" - excellent book as you'd suggested, but I'm using it more for my back yard. Great design ideas and lovely pics.

My lamium and other perennials on my wall:

Pachy filling in nicely:

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 2:10PM
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