Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sidewalk crack blues

Last summer my husband (with a little help from me) laid a patio in our front garden, thereby "completing" the front garden project started in 2007.  You are probably smart enough to know that laying a patio should be one of the first projects, not the last, in creating a new garden space.  You may even be smart enough to have done it that way once or twice.  But in our case, knowing that it takes a major effort to scrape together enough time to do any project, we actually did this on purpose, and it worked out all right. 
The patio was made with concrete pavers and I asked for some gaps to be left for tiny plants.  Somewhat poor drainage is a chronic problem in my garden and I was looking forward to seeing if some new things might thrive in the gravelly gaps.  Wooly thyme for example.  Will this survive for more than one season this time?  I got that and another kind of thyme for two of the gaps.  For another, I kind of wanted something like this:
The above photo was taken in Sintra (Portugal) at the Sintra Palace in 2009.  These adorable pink and white daisies are growing at the foot of balustrades one storey above ground level, and there is no soil here.  This is sharp drainage indeed.  But since I don't actually know what this adorable plant is, I don't have it to plant in my patio.  I did see something similar in this winter's catalogs, but what I saw didn't really seem appropriate to hot and humid Virginia.  I think I need a little more information before acting on this impulse.

Meanwhile, I had another crack to fill.  This one is right on the edge of the patio where an aster keeps flopping, so it seemed too high-risk for a new, special, catalog-bought plant.  But what to put in it?  By coincidence I read hints that two plants I already grow and love might like these conditions even better.  In the heat of June just as the patio finished up, I tucked a sad-looking sprig of the spring blooming "Georgia Blue" speedwell (Veronica umbrosa 'Georgia Blue') into the crack.  It didn't look too happy the rest of the summer, but started perking up in the fall, lasted through the winter, and bloomed in the spring.  Here it is in March:

This creeping speedwell is a favorite of mine.  I first noticed some in my next-door neighbors yard where the carpet of sky blue so early in the spring was very charming.  I never got around to asking her about it and ended up buying some on sale out of bloom without realizing it was the same thing.  How pleased I was to have my own!  What I hadn't noticed on my neighbor's was the lovely reddish foliage it keeps all winter.  I'm still in love with this plant, although I have noticed that this year it has spread alarmingly.  It stays very low so it doesn't seem to be a threat to nearby plants, but I was surprised to lose track of an entire stepping stone that has a mat of speedwell draped over it.  Probably not a good plant to put in my bed of annual self-sowers, not if I want to see new seeds sprouting next year.  On the other hand, it seems to do a good job smothering weed seeds.  Interestingly, "Georgia Blue" is not named for the state of Georgia, but for the country.  This species is native to Eastern Europe and Siberia.  Not the kind of birthplace I would expect for something that likes my garden.  It seems to like the patio crack as well.  
On an even more random impulse, I dropped a bulb of Ithuriel's Spear (Tritelia laxa) into the same crack.  Now where did that name come from, I wonder?  This may be the only plant I know whose Latin name is easier to pronounce than its common name.  Who is Ithuriel?  Looking on Wikipedia, I see "Ithuriel is one of the 3 deputy sarim of the holy sefiroth serving under the ethnarchy of the angel Sephuriron" -- so I still don't know.  But it goes on to say that John Milton portrays Ithuriel in the Garden of Eden where touching Satan with his spear he forces him to take on his true shape.  I have Ithuriel's Spear in my garden, too, and snakes as well, occasionally.  I hope they don't touch, because I greatly prefer snakes to Satan.
I ended up digging some small bulbs up unintentionally as we were preparing for the patio.  This is a beautiful plant and does very well in the regular garden bed where I first planted it, but it's a California native and I read some lyrical description of it blooming among summer-browned grasses in California.  That was enough to make me drop one of the displaced bulbs into the crack: after all, it must like dry conditions, right?  I thought the bulbs seemed small and imagined myself in two or three years being surprised to see its blue blooms coming out of the patio (but that more likely they wouldn't survive).  I was even more surprised to see them bloom already this year!  This unusual placement gives a more intimate view of this lovely flower and bud.  I love the stripes on the backs of the petals and on the buds.