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Gardening Encyclopedia
Plant a Pocket Garden

Plant a Pocket Garden

When you think you have exhausted all the spots to plant, you haven’t.  Look at areas trod upon—a walkway or stair risers.  Between the cracks of a walkway or in between garden steps, thyme, sea thrift or chamomile can be planted.   Even in the niche of a stone well,  dianthus, campanula or sedum spurium can be grown. These are all likely candidates for creating a pocket garden.


Filling in the nooks, crannies and crevices is best achieved with rock garden or alpine plants.  Rock garden plants are slow growers ideally sized for pocket planting.  Many bloom from spring through summer.  True alpines are found growing at high altitudes above the timberline and are early bloomers in order to flower and set their seed before the arrival of winter. 

Plus side to Pocket Garden

There are many good reasons to try pocket gardening.

  • It offers as huge scope for an enthusiastic gardener with a passion for plants.   
  • The color of plants can provide a contrast or complement the color of brick, stone or wood.
  • Plants lend a different texture to contrast with the solid look of brick, stone or wood.
  • Planting in mini spots is ideal for gardeners with limited space. You can plant dozens of plants in the space taken by one medium-sized shrub.
  • Pocket planting can improve the appearance of your property.  A brick walkway prone to winter heaving, or a forlorn stone wall enclosure can be enhanced with a filler of flowering plants and greenery.

Here are some suggestions for horizontal planting for fragrance and foot traffic—all perennials:

  • Chamomile  (Chamaemelum nobile) releases apple scents when walked upon; lacy foliage and daisy-like flowers spring from low growing, spreading mats.  Plant in between path stepping-stones or walk crevices.  Chamomile can also be a fragrant lawn substitute.
  • Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) has a strong peppermint fragrance and is a mat-forming, creeping perennial suitable for planting between walkway crevices  in partial shade.
  • Thyme (T. caespititius) is highly aromatic and ideal for walking upon its one-inch mat with lilac-pink flowers.
  • Thyme (T. x citriodorus) fills the air with a lemon scent when its gold and variegated leaves are crushed underfoot.

For sun-loving plants for vertical gardens—on a bank, wall or slope, consider these perennials:

  • Aubrieta x Cultorum ‘Joy’ known as Purple Rock Cress is a spreading, vigorous, mat-forming plant with soft green leaves and short-stemmed double mauve flowers that prefers a sunny, well-drained area.
  • Rock Cress (Arabis x Arendsii ‘Rosabella’) is robust and compact, good for spilling its rosy clusters down a dry bank or wall; pretty in crevice plantings, too.
  • Saponaria Ocymoides referred to as Soapwort or Tumbling Ted  is true to its name and rapidly spreads a mat of pink flower clusters 3 inches high.

Here are some shade seekers for vertical gardens:

  • Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is a perennial that does best in partial shade and reaches to 2 feet tall with chartreuse flowers.
  • Mazus (Mazus Reptans) isa groundcover or lawn substitute with lavender or white flowers, very nice in a naturalistic garden.  This perennial grows to 2 inches tall and 12 inches wide, can withstand light foot traffic and is well-suited between pavers in a shady, moist site.

There are plants with low tolerance to heavy foot traffic.  For horizontal planting out of harm’s way, some good choices to place between risers, stair treads or at edges of walkways and steps are these perennials:

  • Hens and chickens (Sempervivum tectorum) is a succulent whose red-purple rosettes prefer sun and a well-drained soil.
  • Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’ blooms of white or lavender on variegated foliage reach to 12 inches and like partial shade.
  • Sea Thrift (Armeria maritime) has globular rosy pink or white flowers on compact, tufted foliage and grows to a height of 6 inches.

Planting your Pocket Garden

Forget traditional tools.  Try a butter knife, a tablespoon or a putty knife for reaching into tight, vertical spaces.  Make a small cardboard tray and place seeds on it.  Blow seeds into a crevice that has been filled with good soil.  Mist with a spray bottle.  Add dampened newspaper for mulch.  Mist seeds regularly during germination and until well established.

Establishing plants in pocket gardens can be tricky.  To prevent plants from falling out of crevices, roll the roots of the plants in turf cut from the lawn.  It should resemble a jellyroll.  Give the roots a good soaking, and place plant inside the crevice.  Continue to give the plant good soakings until firmly rooted in place.

Pocket gardening affords you the opportunity to plant an array of plants in unexpected places without taking up much space.