One Gardener to Another

As I was taking down my holiday decorations this year, it didn’t escape my notice that the boughs of greenery draped over the mantle, down the banister and around doorways leave a big mess when removed.

It seemed like a giant ball of needles, glitter and dust exploded and settled into every nook and cranny in every room.

So, room by room, corner to corner, I dusted, vacuumed and mopped, and much to the chagrin of my family, I rearranged the furniture. Couches went from one room to another, pictures were repositioned, and odds and ends were moved to new spaces. I like it when a room gets a new look.

I think about my garden areas as rooms, too. I have the back room where the herbs and vegetables reside, the main room where the large trees and garden art live, and there are corridors, the beds surrounding the house. Then there is the mailroom, that small, remote island at the end of the driveway that is in direct sun, with a brick structure in the center that holds both mail and heat and is just out of reach of the hose.

A few years ago, I put in some ground cover that has worked well in filling the space. But the area is starting to look straggly and, like my indoor rooms, needs to have the furnishings removed, replaced and revamped. It’s all about keeping it interesting after all.

The logistical problems of this space are that it is in full, blazing sun and it is a good distance from the house. My options are planting full-sun annuals or perennials, which I will need to carry water to, buying a longer hose and reeling it in and out, or filling the space with full-sun, drought-tolerant shrubs. Let’s just say “set it and forget it” is the winner here.

I dallied with the idea of adding a small ornamental tree to provide the area some shade or expanding the area a bit and putting in a pollinator garden. The mailman, as well as the digging crew — meaning my husband — would both be happy if I just papered and bricked the area. What kind of gardener would I be if I did that?

The tree option is not good because there are lines buried close to the area that tree roots may affect, so full-sun shrubbery it is. There are a few ways to plant a mailbox area. If your mailbox is enclosed in a solid structure that sits directly at the curb, plant taller plants to the back and place plants of decreasing height in front. This can also be done when the mailbox is situated on a post, or the taller plants can be placed close to the post with smaller plants encircling them to achieve balance.

Interesting plants to consider:

Large plants

Elephant ears are seasonal plants that add a big wow factor to a space. They can be cut to the ground and mulched over in winter for a return in late spring.

Weigela is an old-fashioned plant making a new statement in the landscape. Generally growing between 6 and 10 feet in height, new cultivars range in height, with dwarf varieties starting at just 2 feet. The pink blooms appear in May, with longer blooming varieties lasting until fall. This is a deciduous plant that requires some pruning.

Grasses such as Northern Lights, Pampas and Flames are also good backdrops for smaller plants.

Medium plants

Butterfly weed grows between 1 and 3 feet in height and sports brilliant orange flowers on spiky green foliage from spring until first frost. It will require watering the first year but is self-sufficient once established.

Lavender is a wonderful evergreen shrub that has both fragrant flowers and scented silver-green foliage. It grows up to 2 feet in height and spread and is a good companion to evergreen ground-cover plants.

Powder Blue Festuca, which grows 6 to 10 inches, and St. John’s Wort, which grows to 12 inches, are other medium-to-low-growing plants that pack a big punch.

Low-growing plants

“Nana” dwarf Japanese garden juniper is an evergreen, ground-hugging cover plant that reaches a height of only 6 to 8 inches. Left to grow naturally, it can spread up to 6 feet, making it ideal if trying to fill a larger space with low-maintenance plants.

Moss phlox is another low-growing, evergreen ground cover. It reaches a height of only 4 to 8 inches and comes in a variety of colors and shades, including magenta, emerald blue, lavender, pink and white. It spreads to just over 18 inches, so plant several plants to cover the area. Sedum and Purple Ice Plants are also colorful ground-cover options.

A mix of height and texture, evergreens and annuals, and a splash of color surrounding your mailbox will bring distinct curb appeal to your landscape. Until next week, happy gardening.

— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at Visit for more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners.

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