Part of a series: Living the Good Life with Chris Olsen
You may not think a lot about walls, but they work on many levels at a property. They can keep something in or out, provide demarcation and boundary, and serve as punctuation for a landscape. They’re the very definition of utilitarian. But I have a question for you: do they have to be strictly about purpose, with nothing left for aesthetics or pleasure? I think a wall can become part of your plantings, which will mean seasonal interest, color, and a bit of something unexpected in your landscape.
Here’s a wall at my house that’s tasked with creating a visual sensation. It serves its purpose well—defining and helping create more area for a patio right outside the door—but it’s not all about function. It has typical construction components, but a cavity was left at the top, so I could plant directly within it. Since it is stucco over brick, natural porosity exists, meaning water will drain down. All I had to do was add soil and annuals. You’ll want annuals because, since they only last one season, they won’t have aggressive root systems that can degrade and crack walls. Plus, annuals will give you riotous color for a longer time.
I used a wall that will command attention from the street, but also one that is not too tall, so it’s always within sight for me and my guests. Planting atop a ten-foot wall would defeat the purpose. And would also mean me having to climb a ladder to water. And you can’t beat that unending froth of bloom in this photo. No row of pots, not matter how densely lined up along the top of a wall, would give you this much color.
This photo gives me an opportunity to do a bit of preaching. If you want great color from the top to bottom of your plants, you have to start with the basics. Use the best potting soil and amend it for better nutrient content and drainage. Use timed-release fertilizer, which will feed your color all season. And water. A lot. Extravagant bloom—which you always will want—means consistent and generous care and feeding. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’d like you to take a look at this planting in mid-season. The individual plants have all tumbled over each other and the blooms have begun to cascade over the edge. Perfection.
Is there anything in a landscape happier than blooms spilling over a wall? Anything more welcoming to guests ambling up the walk? I don’t think so. And you don’t have to reach for anything exotic to get a great punch of color. These pedestrian petunias in an average range of pinks work long and hard every day. At the height of the season, you’ll find cheer atop your wall. And it just keeps getting better with each passing day, as your plants tumble over each other to greet you and the sun.
Using a wall for direct planting is a bit of luxury, I know. And you may not be able to get to a wall before it’s completed and the contractor moves on to another area. But if you can create a cavity on top, and then fill it with annual color, you’ll be happy very time you see it. And that’s the key to personalizing your landscape; that it evokes joy and even a bit of surprise from your guests. And that you love it.
Enjoy Every Moment,
Chris H. Olsen