This low-maintenance garden is designed to soften the edges of an existing patio, plus provide a feast for the senses when you're sitting nearby. Each plant in the plan appeals to sight, hearing, smell or touch. Plus, you can tuck in an edible herb like basil or lemon balm in place of a few of the small grasses to add taste!
Many of the flowering plants bloom for long periods, and several offer fall and winter interest. A small tree (both suggested varieties offer attractive bark and ironwood's bark is smooth to the touch) provides shade, and shrubs offer a sense of enclosure. The grasses rustle as they're stirred by breezes. A butterfly house serves as a low-maintenance accent, but you can substitute a piece of sculpture or a solar-powered bubbler as a water feature.
The plan is easy to install. No hardscaping is involved, and the bed can be adapted to any shape patio edge. Here, the 6' x 28' bed is angled to fit around the corner of a rectangular patio, but you can curve it to frame a rounded edge or run it straight along one side. No patio? The sensory garden would also make a pleasant freestanding destination spot elsewhere in the yard.
No garden is completely maintenance-free, but this beautiful bed needs little. The plants won't need much water after the first season when they establish themselves. You'll have no deadheading to do and little to no pruning. The groundcovers will weave together to form a mat that will reduce weeds. The planting list specifies natives, which usually are disease- and insect-resistant and aren't invasive; if you substitute a non-native plant, be sure it's not invasive, and to keep your garden low-maintenance, choose those that are resistant to pests.
A. Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Alternative: River birch (Betula nigra), dwarf variety like 'Dura-heat' or 'Little King', or other small accent tree
B. Dwarf summersweet (Clethra alnifolia 'Hummingbird')
Alternative: Medium-sized shrub, three to five feet tall
C. Dwarf summersweet (Clethra alnifolia 'Sixteen Candles')
Alternative: Shrubby St. John's wort (Hypericum frondosum 'Sunburst') or other small shrub, two to three feet tall
D. Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)
Alternative: Creeping mint (Meehania cordata) or other groundcover 6 to 12 inches tall; non-native options include perennial thymes or annual groundcover petunias
E. Little bluestem (Schyzachirium scoparium 'The Blues')
Alternative: Prairie dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis) or other small ornamental grass, one foot tall
F. Pick a different choice than D. Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)
Alternative: Creeping mint (Meehania cordata or other groundcover 6 to 12 inches tall; non-native options include perennial thymes or annual groundcover petunias
G. Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensi)
Alternative: Alumroot (Heuchera americana) or other herbaceous plant, one to two feet tall, interplanted with woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata 'Blue Perfume')
H. River oats(Chasmanthium latifolium)
Alternative: Other grass or fern, two to three feet tall
I. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) 'Honey Bee Blue'
Alternative: Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) or black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii) or other herbaceous plant, two to three feet tall
J. Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
Alternative: Impatiens or scented geranium or other herbaceous accent plant, one to three feet tall
K. Green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum 'Australe')
Alternative: Alumroot (Heuchera americana) (a cultivar with inconspicuous flowers and evergreen foliage) or other groundcover, 6 to 12 inches tall
1. Butterfly house
2. Existing patio
Landscape plan by Leah Gardner
Illustrations by Simutis Illustrations