Stone Wall Beauty

Create a cascade of color and fragrance by planting a stone wall with herbs.

| June/July 2008

  • No garden space? The sky's the limit when you use a stone wall as your planting site for lavender, sage, thyme and other hardy herbs.
    Diane Guthrie

Lavender bursts from the crevices of a 600-foot-long stone wall at Powell Gardens in Kansas City, Missouri, filling the air with intoxicating fragrance. Hens and chicks add exotic punch to this vertical garden, while thymes lend delicate beauty. But don’t let their looks deceive you. These plants are tough!

When planning this living wall, director of horticulture Alan Branhagen selected more than 250 different plants for their beauty and adaptability. Home gardeners could scale down this project easily and use herbs exclusively, he says.

Any stone wall made without mortar could be planted this way, whether a freestanding fence, retaining wall or raised-bed border. If you don’t have a wall already, you can build one—it isn’t that difficult (see “Create an Herbal Rock Wall”). Either way, if you plan and plant well, your herb wall will be a perennial source of beauty and virtually carefree once established.

Branhagen offers these expert tips for making your own herbal rock wall.



1. Rock solid. If you’re building a new wall, select or buy rocks that are hard, relatively flat and suited to the surrounding landscape. The Powell wall, for instance, features gray and golden-brown limestone, its warmer tones serving as a counterpoint to a winding concrete path. A garden supply center or stone quarry can help you choose the best rock for your site and project.

2. Look for plants that like hot, dry conditions. Drought-tolerant lavender and thyme are both excellent choices for a rock wall. Thymes of nearly any variety are especially attractive in a stone wall; their delicate runners cascade over the stones “like little waterfalls,” says Branhagen. For a taste of something different, try lemon or caraway thymes.



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