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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Brunnera, Stachys, Liriope, Epimedium, Lamium, Alpine and rock gardening, Shade gardening, Ground cover plants, Geranium

I'm looking to plant in a narrow strip on our retaining walls some "spiller" plants which will overhang the walls (which face north).

I'd prefer evergreen plants which would fill in fairly quickly, but I could also mix in slower-growing and deciduous plants. There's great drainage since I have gravel reservoirs behind each wall, and the part of the plant above the wall will get part to full sun, though I could overplant them if necessary for a plant that couldn't handle full sun.

I would like plants with interesting foliage and form to soften the look of the walls, and so would prefer a furry look to a spiny one. Flowers and fragrance are less important though always nice, and I'm hoping to have at least 2 or 3 different plant types with different colored foliage (shades of green are fine).


Some of the plants that occur to me, based on the description of your site, are Brunnera macrophylla, Epimedium, Geranium phaeum, Stachys byzantina, Lamium maculatum, and Liriope. Of these, the Geranium and Lamium will trail somewhat, while the others are essentially upright.

Graham Rice's article on the Royal Horticultural Society site features a selection of recommended trailing (or spilling) plants. Here is another good list of trailing plants for walls.

You could also try entering your site requirements into the plant-finding and plant selection web pages below:

Great Plant Picks (a local site)

King County's native plant guide

Missouri Botanic Garden Plant Finder

Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder

The Miller Library has many books on gardening in the shade, so you may wish to come in and do some research to help you in your plant selection. Here is a booklist that may be of interest.

Date 2017-12-09
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Liriope, Ground cover plants

A client, who planted a small Liriope "lawn" heard from a different landscape professional that this plant does poorly in our climate because we don't have enough summer humidity. I haven't used it a lot in my designs, and haven't grown it in my own yard, but have considered it a tough and versatile plant. Is it true it does poorly here? (Why have I not heard this before?)

They used small plants for their lawn. I've suggested they give it two years since I think it is an interesting idea. We all realize it won't take the kind of foot traffic regular turf will take. What do you think?


My personal experience with Liriope is not altogether positive. It pokes along in partial shade in my garden, looking rather ratty most of the time. It may be that I don't provide it with enough water to make it happy. It's hard to say, based on one person's garden, whether the same will hold true in other soils, and other light and irrigation patterns. I don't see it planted in large public spaces, or even in large quantity in home gardens in our area. And I agree with you, it's not a turf substitute--its common name 'lilyturf' is a misnomer, as it's not a lily and neither is it a turf plant.

Missouri Botanical Garden's information about two commonly grown species suggests it does well in the South (where it's humid in summer).

Liriope is included in Perennials: The Gardener's Reference by local authors Susan Carter, Carrie Becker, and Bob Lilly (Timber Press, 2007). There are several species. Liriope muscari forms clumps a foot and a half wide; Liriope spicata "spreads rapidly by underground stems and will cover a wide area; it is therefore not suitable for edging but is excellent for groundcover." It grows 8-12 inches tall by a possibly infinite spread, meaning it can be aggressive if the conditions are right. The authors say all Liriope flowers best in sun, and prefers moist, well-drained soil though it may be drought-tolerant once established. "Ragged with neglect" accurately describes the way my own plants look, so perhaps I'm just negligent. The authors say it may be cut back to the ground in spring before new growth begins, but "if there's no winter damage, do not cut back."

Date 2018-05-04
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May 31 2018 13:14:08