Poll: What To Plant Along The Sidewalk?

There’s a flower border along my front sidewalk. I’m not satisfied with it.

Sidewalk border
Sidewalk border

The issue is what to plant up against the sidewalk, between the Bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana) at one end and the Monarda, Short’s Aster (Aster shortii), and Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) at the other.

It needs to be something relatively low-growing. When I first put in the border, I filled the spot with Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).

Wild Geranium
Wild Geranium

But then I saw the River of Salvia at the Lurie Garden in Downtown Chicago, which looked like this.

Lurie Garden Salvia
Lurie Garden’s River of Salvia.

I wanted my own River of Salvia, so I pulled out the Wild Geranium and put in various Salvias. What I got looked like this, more of a stream or sanitary canal of Salvia.

6d Salvia

Not bad, but not the same. Now I’m feeling dissatisfied with the Salvia. It gets kind of floppy and untidy looking. I like informal gardens which involve a fair amount of untidiness. However, there’s the right kind of untidiness and the wrong kind. How can I tell the difference? I just can.

Also, the Salvias don’t have a very long bloom period.

So I’m thinking I would move the Salvias to the parkway across the sidewalk. They should grow happily among the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)  and other low groundcovers there.

For the Salvia replacement, I have three main criteria: blue (or close) flowers, low-growing, and a reasonably long bloom time.  I should mention that behind this spot (to the north) there are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Also, I’m going to be transplanting two Phlox paniculata ‘David’ from another location where they are obscured.

So right now I’m considering the following replacements.

Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'
Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’

Geranium ‘Brookside’ or ‘Johnson’s Blue’. One advantage of this choice is that I already have a big clump of ‘Johnson’s Blue’ in a nearby spot, so this could provide some good repetition.

'Lavance Purple' Lavender. Photo from Bluestone Perennials.
‘Lavance Purple’ Lavender. Photo from Bluestone Perennials.

Lavender ‘Lavance Purple’ (Lavandula angustifolia). This is supposed to be a low-growing lavender, just 12″. However, I wonder if the soil here is too moist and rich – I’d like to plant some lavender, but it may be happier in the parkway, where conditions are more challenging.

Dalmatian Bellflower
Dalmatian Bellflower. Photo from Bluestone Perennials

Dalmatian Bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana). Low-growing, long blooming. Can’t think of a downside.

Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue' and Lanceleaf Coreopsis
Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ and Lanceleaf Coreopsis, displaying my favorite blue/yellow combination.

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ (Scabiosa columbaria). Love the pincushion flowers. Only thing is, I wonder if the Switchgrass will throw too much shadow. Hmm … that could be an issue for the lavender, too.

So what do you think? Please take the poll (my very first poll!), then explain your answer with a comment.

59 Comments on “Poll: What To Plant Along The Sidewalk?”

  1. How fun to have a poll. I picked the lavender. Providing it would grow there, I think it would give you long lasting blooms, a bit of a free form look, but without being untidy. In my hands, Scabiosa and Johnson’s Blue, can sometimes get leggy and unsightly as they wane. Look forward to seeing the results. I have the same problem with Salvia. I like it, plant it, and them I’m unhappy with it. I really need to stop buying it and get something else. Lurie Gardens seems to have the most perfect “river” as you call it. I think there it’s all about the space and sheer number of plants they have.

  2. Hi Jason, I voted for ‘other’ as I have a suggestion for you, the RHS plant of the century is the violet blue Geranium Rozanne (‘Gerwat’) with a very long flowering period – June to at least September. My neighbour gave me one as a gift this year and I have it protected and its still in flower now! Although I am not sure thats entirely normal. All of your choices are lovely though and I can see why you wanted a river of Salvia, its gorgeous.

  3. I voted for other. I never have had luck with the Scabiosa. My Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue does the same as the Salvia where it just flops and the crown of the plant is left exposed. I think you should check out Geranium × cantabrigiense Bergarten’ (dark pink),’Biokovo’ (light pink more of a blush),or ‘Karmina’ (medium pink). All of these Geranium’s I have mentioned above are very good evergreen growers for me. As for the Lavender I have heard of a new cultivar that everyone is raving about called Phenomenal, that does not end up dying out like some of the others. A nice complementary plant for the Phlox ‘David might be the Centranthus or Jupiter’s Beard. If you are looking for a nice blue, Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Sentimental Blue’ is a great plant that stays short and has not flopped for me.

  4. I voted other because, though it’s not one of your options, I think your border as it appears in the photo could use some hotter colors here and there. Or at least warmer. Maybe I just think that because of all the snow I’ve been shoveling.

    Do you use annuals? I don’t know of anything that will bloom longer.

  5. I voted “other” because I have some ideas, too. Phlox divaricata might be a good choice. I also have some pussytoes that do very well next to the sidewalk, but they have silver foliage and the blooms are not blue. I’m trying to remember now whether they are yellow or whitish. Another plant that looks good year round is Heuchera richardsonii.

  6. This is fantastic! I have been thinking of pulling out my grass along the sidewalk and have dreams of what I want to plant. I really think that everything that you have done has been beautiful but I too get a bit frustrated with salvia. I can’t wait to see how the voting turns out! I voted for “Butterfly Blue” Have a great weekend!!!

  7. I voted for the lavender, but I would also suggest veronica ‘Watersperry Blue”. Also as you just bought “Plantings”, I think Kingsbury discusses the Lurie Garden plantings and give the actual cultivar name of the salvias used, I don’t think you picked the same one. I’m not sure the one Oudolf used is easily sourced . I don’t remember which one it was though, but yours and the Lurie’s do not look similar. I will also mention I had what I think was veronica “Eveline’ bloom June through September in my garden. Check some of my posts mid-July for pictures.

  8. How fun–a poll! I was going to say the Geraniums, but that would be too much like what you had there before, so I picked Scabiosa. They’re fascinating plants, and as you say they look lovely with yellow companions. You can’t go wrong with any of those choices, except maybe the Lavendar, which could get too wet if we have a rainy growing season. Lovely photos, too.

  9. I voted for the campanula. I tried it once and was enchanted with it, but it didn’t care for the humidity of a North Carolina summer and packed its bags about the first week of August. I think it would fare much better in Chicago. I do like the suggestion above of Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low,” which is a great plant: resilient, long-blooming, and fuss-free. The lavender might work well in that spot also; I think it secretly wants somewhat luxurious conditions, despite its reputation. Its foliage does brilliantly along my gravel walkway in unimproved clay, but it never blooms. My neighbor’s blooms its head off in a standard garden border, mulched with compost once or twice a year.

    • I do have a long stretch of edging consisting of ‘Walker’s Low’ and ‘Kitkat’ Nepeta. I agree that it is a great plant and certainly takes hot sun in its stride. Interesting thought that lavender claims a preference for a spartan life but secretly covets luxury.

  10. I voted for the Geranium, one of my favorite perennials, but I would choose Rozanne rather than Johnson’s Blue. Lavender looks ratty very quickly. I’ve actually had Scabiosa grow so huge it overshadowed and killed its neighbors. Someone mentioned Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ which is very long-blooming here. I like that suggestion too.

  11. I voted for the lavender simply because I love the blue of the flowers and the grey foliage… long flowering period if not in full sun, very resilient, nice shape and smell and great for the bees! I wouldn’t choose Scabiosa as it tends to get very tall and untidy, but my second choice would be Johnson’s Blue. Great idea to have a poll Jason.

  12. I voted for the Dalmatian Bellflower. They bloom for months on end, and you can just cut them back, and they will look fresh again. I have heard that Johnsons Blue is quite floppy. Catmint Walkers Low is another good suggestion. I have it myself and it is a great plant.

  13. Lavender is great but probably not a good idea if your soil is too rich. Blue Geraniums are great but I think ‘Orion’ is better than ‘Johnson’s Blue’. I had one on my post wrongly labelled as ‘Buxton’s Blue’. Thank you for your comment it made me notice my mistake. But ‘Buxton’s Blue’ is lovely as is ‘Rozanne’. Probably on balance I would go for ‘Rozanne’. She seems to have no faults.

  14. Scabiosa is a fine choice. It does get floppy later in the season and needs to be cut back for regrowth. As for Salvia and a short bloom, “Snow Hill” blooms all summer if cut back one time. I also have the same luck with the blues, they need a trim to keep going. You will cut off new bloom, but side shoots come and make a nice show. The massing is the appeal and that is impossible in a small city garden though. You should check out posts on Garden Walk Buffalo for ideas. Buffalo is the king when it comes to hell strip plantings. Hundreds of them in that city.

  15. Before you start digging, did you cut your salvia back at all last year? Salvia does well with very hard pinching to avoid the wide-open look. It needs to be kept in line or it will flop like a cheap hooker. Maybe you need to live with it another season before making any changes.

    Also have your soil tested. It may be too alkaline since it’s next to a sidewalk that leaches lime into the soil. Salvia like slightly acidic soil. Don’t bother with the cheap DIY kits. Call your local extension office and they should have a better method. That may be why it was slow to rebloom. I’ve had the same problem and had to add a soil acidifier to solve it.

      • Salvia can take a soil pH as low as 6.2. Before spending $ on new plants, experiment with lowering the soil pH with a soil acidifier. I use one by Espoma that works well. Even if you have snow cover right now, just throw it on the snow, break it all up a bit and leave it be. Apply again in the spring and during the summer. If it responds well, then it wasn’t your lack of design talent, but a soil problem. The results of your experimentation will also guide you in making other plant choices for that spot. 🙂

  16. I enjoy your site, and a pity about the Salvia because it looks quite effective. I have a blue and yellow border and the main blue plant is Anchusa ‘Loddons Royalist’ that flowers all summer for me, in North Wales, Great Brittain. Another blue suggestion might be Salvia Patens, but not sure about its hardiness in your district.

  17. I voted for scabiosa. In North Carolina, anyway, it is the longest blooming perennial ever. The bees and butterflies love it. The only downside is that the rabbits adore it as well. The lavender might work because the reflected heat from the pavement might help dry things out. But you’re right – the soil cannot be moist. If it is, better to go for Scabiosa.

  18. Another plant to consider is knautia macedonica. It’s super easy to grow and takes full sun and dry, alkaline soil. Plus, it attracts hordes of pollinators. It looks like a giant pincushion flower. Because it’s so much taller, it’s much easier to deadhead. I have both the red and pastel cultivars in my garden. It’s one of the first and last plants to bloom. It’s a very undervalued plant.

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