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To save time and money each spring, I decided to upgrade my mailbox with a creeping phlox garden bed: a plant that will fill in the garden bed over time and return every year!
For the last six years, it’s been kind of a ritual for me to periodically change the annuals in the garden bed beneath the mailbox. From geraniums to vinca to marigolds to snapdragons, this little area has been a neat spot to help me learn the basics of what flowers grow best in my yard, the kind of care they need, etc. And as much fun as it has been to put my growing (pun-intended) gardening skills to the test, I felt like spring’s early arrival signaled a major shift in this house.
For one, my front yard no longer looks like a drab, brown mess thanks to a blanket of pine straw:
Now that the pine trees have been (for the most part) removed and the remaining foliage pruned back, the bright sun has been beaming down on my front lawn and pouring light into the front windows. Sure, to the uninformed eye, it’s still just a lawn full of weeds. But to me, it’s also a lawn… and seeing this much green outside of my windows is making me very, very happy.
With each passing year, I feel like I have sufficiently proven to myself that I can, in fact, grow healthy and beautiful (even sometimes overgrown!) flowers. I also realized that unlike many of the other outdoor projects I have spent my time on, the mailbox and the front garden are the only two spaces where I have deliberately avoided making a permanent decision on. I guess I kind of always expected that to be the case—adding new flowers as I saw fit each season—but until I found a good enough reason, I was content to just keep trying out new ideas. That is, until I saw this:
Every (or nearly) Monday, I hop in my car and meet up with a running group in another part of Atlanta. Once I started working from home, I realized how important keeping a regular schedule and getting myself out of the house is, so it’s been a great way to get out, meet new people, etc. During the winter months, the sun has already set, and we usually run in the dark. But now that the days have gotten longer, I have the opportunity to run past lots of homes with different landscaping plans and see them in colorful detail. Even though I can often picture how something on the interior of my home is going to look, it’s always been more of a struggle to picture landscaping. So, I look forward to my run and the mental notes I take from the homes I pass by, hoping for something that will strike me as a good option for mine.
I snapped a quick picture of the lawn above and kept glancing at it over the last week, growing more and more infatuated with the little bluish-purple flowers. Phlox comes in several varieties and I’ve experimented with growing them before, but had not really ever considered them for the mailbox. After all, they are a perennial, and I had largely been expecting to continue to try out annuals. Since the intent with annuals is that they aren’t going to grow back the next year, I usually go for the cheapies of whatever’s on sale, never spending more than about $5-7 at a time for whatever I plant (I can often find six-packs for $1.50 if I time my visit to the home improvement store correctly). But if I were to plant something that can and would grow back (and my confidence level has grown over time to make this less of a risk for me), I could splurge on something a little pricer—especially since places like Home Depot and Lowes have guarantees on perennial plants (if they die in the first year, just take in your receipt & the plant for a replacement). At $5 per plant, I picked up four of the Emerald Blue cultivars (there are over 100 cultivars out there, but I had about 5 different color types to choose from at the store I went to, and these caught my eye the most).
First, I had to dig out the remaining dusty miller I planted last fall, but they were still growing strong, so I put them aside to replant (I absolutely LOVE the soft leaves of this plant, but if they die, they die… they are inexpensive and sold around here as an annual, but can also last a long while once established). I also took this opportunity to clean up layers of extra mulch I simply never removed from the multiple seasons of replanting (I’d scrape a small amount away, but over time, the mound just got bigger). I had a small, empty spot in my front yard from where I tree had long since been removed (it wasn’t part of the removal I did last year), so I took the mulched soil and weeds and tamped it down with my feet. On top, I threw down some grass seed and fertilizer—the expectation being that the area will grow in and no longer risk being stumbled into (my dad’s done it once or twice when not watching his footing).
Next, I took out my new garden edging tool and finally got to work on securing the scalloped edging that decorates every part of my front and back yards. I don’t necessarily like them, but I also don’t feel like spending lots of money replacing it all because it’s the edging used everywhere—front garden, side of the house, around the trees that were removed, etc. I dug the ones around the mailbox out a long time ago when I first moved in, intending on either replacing them with ones I liked or making the garden bed slightly larger and digging them back down again (the mower kept knocking them loose).
But soon after, my wallet spoke up and gently suggested that I hated them less than I hated spending all of that money. So, a mere five years later, I finally actually dug them back into the dirt again. #slackerprojects
The edging tool made this a much quicker job than I expected, so I’m definitely going to be making the effort to do this in other spots soon. Just a few stomps every few inches allowed me to create large voids in the soil, which I then sunk the stones into.
I re-used clumps of the dirt I’d dug up and filled in the space on both sides. Red Georgia clay isn’t super awesome for planting in, but it sure can secure loose edging! Little things, amirite?
I then went on to add the border of the dusty miller and phlox. Since phlox can be divided in spring and fall, I went ahead and split the roots down the middle of each plant and spread them open (kind of like opening a book), which allowed me to sort of plant them into more of a crescent shape, each circling the mailbox post. I have no real basis for thinking this would be at all helpful in the future when I do divide the plants completely (once they have had a chance to grow in a little), but I figured that creating a wider expanse for the roots to take hold would be helpful. I also added some fertilizer on top of the soil before throwing down the now-regular method of newspaper and mulch to keep weeds at bay.
So, this might be sayonara for annual plantings at the mailbox, but I also think that it’s an impactful change that will fill in nicely and require less maintenance going forward (phlox is drought-, pest-, deer-, frost-, etc. tolerant, so they are a pretty perfect choice for someone like me who won’t pay them much attention). It’ll take some time for these to grow in as full as the lawn I was inspired by, but it’s called creeping phlox for a reason. Win-win. What have you been planting lately?