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Finding a Place for Tiny Treasures

Diminutive plants fasincate me. But they need careful siting: bigger ones easily smother them, or simply draw all the attention.

Around a stone with a birdbath carved into it, I collected several low-growers. Creeping potentilla had 1.5-inch, strawberry-like leaves, and bright yellow flowers. Dunce caps grew flat, silvery rosettes — like sempervivums with blunt, rounded leaves; then in fall raised the funny, four-inch tapering flower stems which give the plant its common name. Both of those have disappeared, probably because there's not enough sun on that site since I put the rose arbor south of it.

But two dianthus survive: 'Pike's Pink' with blue-gray foliage and double soft pink flowers reaching six inches in June; and a deltoides, about the same height, but with smaller, dark green leaves and smaller, single flowers in a brilliant fuchsia. (This one self-seeds all over my garden, and I love it!) In contrast to pinks' wispy leaves, white-flowered Arabis sturii's shiny lance-shaped ones grow in tight, three-inch mats.

Beside downspouts I managed to keep two moisture-lovers going a while. Mazus reptans has half-inch leaves, and flowers a little larger — shaped somewhat like a lobelia flower, and held above the matted foliage — in mauve with a white throat, or all white: those always looked to me like tiny doves hovering. Swamp isotoma, three inches tall, produced romantic, half-inch blue stars from spring to fall.

My dish of mini sempervivums has given me one excellent solution to the siting problem: set on the steps to the porch, it draws the eye, and protects its contents, which also include Sedum dasyphyllum (one or two inches tall, with dense mounds of pebble-like leaves, an eighth to a quarter-inch each, in grayed blue-green).

For some thyme-leaf speedwell — one inch tall, creeping, with dark blue flowers — I built a very small raised bed of three rocks on a slope. This year a true thyme has almost overwhelmed it, but some veronica remains trailing over one of the rocks into the sun.

Three-inch-tall 'Sylvia Hart,' a violet with silver-veined leaves, died in two places, but is holding on beside a big 'Gold Standard' hosta. The soaker hose helps, and the tall gold-and-green leaves are just the right distance to provide afternoon shade. But you have to know to look for Sylvia.

Photo by C.H. Clark - Silver-veined leaves of viola 'Sylvia Hart'

Text and photo © Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 5 August 2005

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