There's no denying that gardens with walkways are inviting and quaint.
Most modern garden designs include winding paths made of many different materials, from intricate brickwork designs to simple gravel or mulch pathways that lead through and around the landscape. Not many can resist following the walkway through the garden to see what's at the end. Some like to meander slowly, enjoying the view along the way. Others like to move along quickly in anticipation of what's waiting around the next corner.
Several years ago, when backyard gardening gained in popularity, infomercials promised that for only $19.95 plus shipping, you could have instant pathways simply by setting down a plastic form and filling it with cement. People who bought the plastic forms gave mixed reviews. Some liked the variety of shape of the individual man-made stones while other hated the unevenness, claiming it was nearly impossible to walk on the paths as the stones moved and shifted underfoot.
A common method of laying an instant walkway is to simply place flat flagstones wherever you want your pathway, putting them together like a puzzle. The problem is what to do next. Regardless of your diligence in designing your pathway, you will (and even with the landscape fabric, I'm afraid)?have weeds growing between the stones or bricks.
Here are a few to think about if you are looking for plants to fill in-between those walkways.
Elfin Thyme (thymus serpyllum), also called creeping thyme, is another species of the herb, common thyme. It has a pleasant fragrance and loves to be stepped on. It grows in zones 4 to 8, which means it will thrive well in our zone 5 gardens. In early summer, the carpet-like plants are filled with tiny pale lavender flowers. This plant only gets one to two inches tall, making it the perfect size for between those stones. It sometimes creeps up over the stones, giving the impression that it's been there forever and making the walkway even more rustic.
Another common walkway plant is Corsican mint, another fragrant ground cover with tight leaves that give it a carpet effect. I find this plant a bit fussy, needing more water than I have the time to provide and it pays me back by quickly dying anyway. I've given up trying to put Corsican mint between my stepping stones and prefer Elfin Thyme instead.
Mazus repens is a cute little plant that, like Elfin Thyme, prefers full sun to part shade and has lavender to pink flowers that bloom in June and July. This plant, however, is hardy to zone 5, which is where we are here, so it should be OK. I?often buy perennials that are described as hardy even to zone 6, which is just south of us, and consider those plants a challenge. But I feel more comfortable if the plant is hardy a little further north rather than right on the edge. It makes me think this plant will need a little more tending, even though it is described as being low maintenance. If it survives a harsh winter, all the better.
But suppose your path winds into the woods where sunlight is not often available. A good choice for those areas would be Leptinella 'Platt's Black,' commonly called Brass Buttons because of its tiny, button-like flowers. In keeping with the woodland theme, Leptinella has fern-like leaves, but like the other steppable plants, only gets about two inches tall. It will grow in sun, but needs watered more often due to its shallow root system. But if your walkway is shady, this little plant will love living in your path.
These plants weren't cultivated just to grow in walkways. They were discovered growing everywhere from Siberia to the Himalayas to the shores of the Mediterranean.
Choose your plants based on their origins, and they will love where they grow for many years.
Kathleen Evanoff's column will return on March 3. This column originally ran on Aug. 10, 2009.